Wed, Jul 17, 2019 - Page 9 News List

Banned Chinese security cameras almost impossible to remove

By Olivia Carville  /  Bloomberg

US federal agencies have five weeks to rip out Chinese-made surveillance cameras to comply with a ban imposed by the US Congress last year in an effort to thwart the threat of spying from Beijing. However, thousands of the devices are still in place and chances are most would not be removed before the Aug. 13 deadline.

A complex web of supply chain logistics and licensing agreements make it almost impossible to know whether a security camera is actually made in China or contains components that would violate US rules.

The National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA), which outlines the budget and spending for the US Department of Defense each year, included an amendment for fiscal 2019 that would ensure federal agencies do not purchase Chinese-made surveillance cameras. The amendment singles out Zhejiang Dahua Technology Co and Hangzhou Hikvision Digital Technology Co, both of which have raised security concerns with the US government and surveillance industry.

Hikvision is 42 percent controlled by the Chinese government, while Dahua, in 2017, was found by a US cybersecurity firm to have cameras with covert back doors that allowed unauthorized people to tap into them and send information to China.

Dahua said at the time that it fixed the issue and published a public notice about the vulnerability.

The US government is considering imposing further restrictions by banning both companies from purchasing US technology, people familiar with the matter said in May.

“Video surveillance and security equipment sold by Chinese companies exposes the US government to significant vulnerabilities,” said US Representative Vicky Hartzler, a Republican who helped draft the amendment.

Removing the cameras will “ensure that China cannot create a video surveillance network within federal agencies,” she said at the time.

Dahua declined to comment on the ban.

In a company statement, Hikvision said it complies with all applicable laws and regulations and has made efforts to ensure its products are secure.

A company spokesman added that the Chinese government is not involved in the day-to-day operations of Hikvision.

“The company is independent in business, management, assets, organization and finance from its controlling shareholders,” the spokesman said.

Despite the looming deadline to satisfy the NDAA, at least 1,700 Hikvision and Dahua cameras are still operating in places where they have been banned, according to San Jose, California-based Forescout Technologies, which has been hired by some federal agencies to determine what systems are running on their networks.

The actual number is likely much higher, said Katherine Gronberg, vice president of government affairs at Forescout, because only a small percentage of government offices actually know what cameras they are operating.

The agencies that use software to track devices connected to their networks should be able to comply with the law and remove the cameras in time, Gronberg said.

“The real issue is for organizations that don’t have the tools in place to detect the banned devices,” she added.

Several years ago, the US Department of Homeland Security tried to force all federal agencies to secure their networks by tracking every connected device.

As of December, only 35 percent of required agencies had fully complied with this mandate, according to a report last year by the Government Accountability Office. As a result, most US federal agencies still do not know how many or what type of devices are connected to their networks and are now left trying to identify the cameras manually, one by one.

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