Mon, Mar 25, 2019 - Page 3 News List

INTERVIEW: Chinese-made devices pose risk to security

Chinese-made smartphones and other devices pose an unacceptable security risk to the government and private citizens, National Cheng Kung University electrical engineering professor and former cybersecurity head at the National Center of High-Performance Computing Li Jung-shian told ‘Liberty Times’ (the sister newspaper of the ‘Taipei Times’) staff reporter Cheng Chi-fang, adding that in the age of artificial intelligence, information is more useful than money

National Cheng Kung University electrical engineering professor and former cybersecurity head at National Center of High-Performance Computing Li Jung-shian speaks during an interview on March 14.

Photo: Chang Chung-yi, Taipei Times

Liberty Times (LT): What are your thoughts on the attempts by the US to block the spread of Huawei Technologies Co?

Li Jung-shian (李忠憲): The US-China trade war is ostensibly waged over trade deficits, but it is really about the structural changes that the US wants China to adopt.

China has reaped the benefits of free trade following its accession to the WTO. At the same time, it has kept its export subsidies, implemented regulations against foreign investors, used state-owned enterprises to monopolize the market and forced technology transfers from foreign firms, which it achieved by making the companies register in China, instead of allowing outright ownership. An end to the trade war is unlikely without addressing these issues.

More than just a bid to control 5G technology, the US’ attempts to ban Huawei and ZTE Corp is part of a broader strategy of economic warfare against China.

Any modern state’s critical infrastructure would have to include a 5G telecommunications network, and the services the network provides would cover almost every facet of human activity. Therefore, the developer or operator of a 5G network would have great implications for national and information security.

Should the infrastructure, equipment or operation be compromised, a hostile party would be able to effectuate round-the-clock surveillance in the very least or cripple the entire network, which could plunge a nation into a crisis.

The US is a free and democratic state, while China is an authoritarian dictatorship — following Chinese President Xi Jinping’s (習近平) abrogation of term limits, power is being concentrated in even fewer hands.

China is assuredly not a free-market economy. Although the US helped China build its economy, it openly treats the US as its main potential adversary and maintains close ties with Russia and North Korea.

It has established a bloc via massive investments in Africa, and plies the Philippines with cash in the South China Sea, as well as Cambodia and Pakistan. Recently, it has taken to cultivating anti-US forces in Venezuela, practically the backyard of the US.

These signs point to China’s intention to confront the US across multiple theaters. In response, a bipartisan consensus to adopt a common strategy to counter China has formed in the US.

Taking the above into account, it is safe to say that US actions against Huawei and ZTE are not purely motivated by cybersecurity, but by national security as well. Considering the vital importance of 5G infrastructure, the US blockade of Huawei is an inevitable outcome.

LT: What are the security implications of using Huawei products for the government? What policies do you think the government should adopt?

Li: China is Taiwan’s main adversary. Xi has declared on multiple occasions that Beijing does not renounce the use of force against Taiwan.

Research has also demonstrated that Huawei cellphones contain a lot of mystery firmware, including hidden backdoors in complex systems. Without prior knowledge of a security issue that has already occurred, finding those backdoors would be like looking for a needle in a haystack.

If you find one cockroach in a house, you must assume more are in hiding — the same applies to cellphones.

Why is the use of Huawei smartphones banned at government offices? Because even assuming rigorous network security that shuts down suspicious connections made from within an intranet or through backdoors, those cellphones are still capable of collecting information while in the intranet and transmitting them to China after accessing an unregulated 4G environment.

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