September 19, 2016

Here we go again (again)...

Last week, a contributor to Bloomberg, ran an opinion piece titled “U.S. Spies Think China Wants to Read Your E-Mail” (link:

The article reports on a supposed new “intelligence community” (so many ironies there) review of “the national security implications of Huawei's potential participation in building the U.S. 5G wireless network.”   

Please recall, I currently work for Huawei, but the views expressed on this blog are mine alone.

The article features no shortage of references to Mike Rogers’ 2012 Congressional “Intelligence” (there’s that word again) Committee “investigation" of Huawei, which produced a report which was aptly dubbed by The Economist as “written for vegetarians,” and has been otherwise pretty much soundly discredited by anyone with half a brain, or even less.

What’s really going on? 

Well, it seems someone somewhere in the “intelligence” (yet again) community woke up to the fact that the world’s leader in next generation networks is a multinational which happens to be headquartered outside the U.S. (which, of course, today, they ALL are), even, shudder, in China.

It's a titillating story, but it’s about nonsense.  


Let's parse the article.

The grand conspiracy suggested between a government and a globe-straddling multinational to inject “microscopic beacons” into hundreds of thousands or millions of units of hardware is unsustainable.

China-based companies like Huawei that operate globally employ many thousands of non-Chinese, just as multinational American-based tech vendors employ thousands of non-Americans. 

Infecting countless units of hardware would be too visible to too many who would clearly object.

This is why we’ve read about American service providers being wittingly (if unwillingly) compromised by the NSA, but we’ve not read the same about U.S. hardware vendors.

“Tapping” a service provider is (or was) as easy as the government telling the C-Suite and the Legal Office that they're going to do it and the company is legally obliged to allow it. A tidy, manageable (until recently) little conspiracy.

Not the same with the hardware vendors.

Indeed, what we've learned instead is that American (and foreign) hardware vendors have been “unwittingly” compromised. 

A quick review of the NSA ANT catalog (linked) shows how Dell, Juniper, Cisco, Samsung, Seagate, etc. – and yes, Huawei – have had their gear exploited by the NSA.

Why the exploits?

Why not just ask these companies (at least the American ones) to implant tiny beacons?

Because, again, that is simply not a sustainable conspiracy and, once exposed, it would destroy a company’s global brand and business.

Get it?

The whole premise is nonsense, regardless of where the global vendor may be headquartered, regardless of which government may aim to compromise them. 

Compromises may indeed happen, but not with the complicity of the multinational vendor - they simply have too much to lose.

For regular readers of this blog, none of this is new.  Sadly, it just doesn’t go away.

So, yet again, U.S. service providers, technology partners, employees, consumers, pretty much everyone, suffers the high cost-low quality result, as opposed to the rest of the world…

February 19, 2016

Applegate: This is Not Sustainable

The hoopla this week around Apple’s grand stand against the Feds’ demand that the company compromise the dead phone of a dead man ( evokes a deeper and more important concern.

At first blush, this would seem a no-brainer: 

Bad guy terrorist gets offed and leaves behind a pin code-protected phone which might host information important to law enforcement.  Why would the maker of that phone not crack the code to enable the government to access whatever intel it might contain?

Simple answer: Because our government has demonstrated that it cannot be trusted not to leverage this particular “one-off” to abuse the privacy of any and all of us, because, well, because they can.

A sad, sad state of affairs.

It’s no surprise that our government (every government) engages in espionage and surveillance.  And, to some extent, rightfully so, if appropriately controlled (a BIG if, as we have all learned in recent years).  

But, as technology has advanced so rapidly over the last couple of decades, control, reason, judgement and laws have been eclipsed, leading to rampant government abuse – because, again, they can.

Ed Snowden has demonstrated time and again that our government has – perhaps unwittingly (I'm being gracious here) - been overcome by technology run amok.

Lawful intercept, review, storage, etc. have all fallen by the wayside as more and more data is gleaned via more and more arcane methods, all justified by the fear-based culture that our government has nurtured over the better part of the last two decades.

So, is it any surprise that Apple battles back against government demands to crack just this one phone?

No, not at all.

American information and communications technology (ICT) leaders are reeling in the wake of all-things-Snowden – their global sales and brands suffering as trust in their commitment to data integrity has effectively dissolved.

Apple is on the ropes.  Others will be.

In the absence of trust, capitulating to this supposed one-off request might well ruin a company.  And Apple knows this.  Notwithstanding government assurances to the contrary, there is very little reason to believe that the one-off compromise wouldn’t become the norm, or, worse, be used by “bad guys.”

Moreover, governments around the world would almost certainly mimic the U.S. demands, as well as abuse of the output, further shaking everyday individual trust in all things digital.

How did we get here?

Governments have always engaged in what might seem unsavory activities in pursuit of the betterment or protection of society, with at times all-too-ready disregard for the rights and liberties of the governed.  The general population simply didn’t know, or perhaps care.

But, today’s remarkable digital world that we have learned is subject to government abuse also facilitates heretofore unheard of transparency – no matter how much the powers-that-be would prefer certain activities to remain in the shadows, they are increasingly frustrated to manage those shadows.

But, knowing that we now know, they still just can’t help themselves.  And we, post-Snowden, are very challenged to trust them.

And that’s why Cook has made his stand. 

Don’t get me wrong – Cook’s not just all about our privacy, rights, civil liberties, moms and apple (sorry, couldn’t help myself) pies.  I believe that he truly worries about these things, but his bottom line has to be preserving sales, particularly overseas sales.

And, in the wake of all-things-Snowden, overseas folk trust our government less than we might.  

Sadly, in this context, the government’s true intent isn’t even really a factor...although they could – and should - have more carefully crafted their demands in such a fashion so as to not raise the spectre of universal compromise.

Indeed, if the Feds had simply delivered the phone to Apple with the appropriate legal authorization to crack it, perhaps we'd be in a different situation. Demanding that Apple create an entirely new version of its OS that compromises built in protections to just crack this one phone seems, uh, unreasonable, perhaps unbelievable.

Bottom line: If Apple bows to the pressure this time, they may well be effectively bowing out altogether…

This is NOT a sustainable situation.  Government needs to take real steps toward restoring trust, for instance, for starters, publicly reining in defense and intelligence community activities and behaviors - particularly here in the Homeland -  that have utterly abandoned the rule of law.

Government needs to rebuild confidence.  Incessant fear-mongering has been the backbone of two decades of unbridled abuse of our privacy and liberties  - anything and everything has been deemed justifiable, including the revoking of American rights and, yes, lives, to ensure that one or another "they"doesn't somehow prevail at something.

Until and unless trust and confidence are restored, the likes of Cook and Apple have little choice but to stand up to the powers-that-be, unless they are willing to go out of business, which hardly seems a result that would be in our best national - and national security - interest.