Australian parliament reviews use of Chinese-made cell phones

ZTE CorporationThe Parliament of Australia is reportedly reviewing the use of cell phones built by a Chinese manufacturer, after an Australian news agency expressed concerns about the manufacturer’s links with the Chinese military. The cell phone in question is the popular Telstra Tough T55 handset. It is made available to Australian parliamentarians though the Information, Communications and Technology (ICT) unit of the Department of Parliamentary Services (DST). Any parliamentarian or worker in Australia’s Parliament House can order the device through the Parliament’s ICT website. According to data provided by the DST, 90 Telstra Tough T55 cell phones have been ordered through the ICT in the current financial year.

The handset is manufactured by ZTE Corporation, a leading Chinese telecommunications equipment and systems company that is headquartered in the city of Shenzhen in China’s Guangdong province. On Monday, the News Corp Australia Network, a major Australian news agency, said it had contacted the parliament with information that ZTE Corporation’s links to the Chinese military may be of concern. News Corp said it informed the DST that members of the United States Congress and the House of Representatives’ intelligence committee, have expressed serious concerns about the Chinese telecommunications manufacturer in recent years.

As intelNews reported in 2010, three American senators told the US Federal Communications Commission that the ZTE was “effectively controlled by China’s civilian and military intelligence establishment”. The senators were trying to prevent a proposed collaboration between American wireless telecommunications manufacturers and two Chinese companies, including ZTE Corporation. In 2012, the intelligence committee of the US House of Representatives investigated similar concerns. It concluded that telephone handsets manufactured by ZTE should not be used by US government employees due to the company’s strong links with the Chinese state. And in 2016, US-based security firm Kryptowire warned that some ZTE cell phone handsets contained a suspicious backdoor feature that could potentially allow their users’ private data to be shared with remote servers at regular intervals.

A DST spokesman told the News Corp Australia Network that the ZTE-manufactured cell phones had been selected for use by Australian parliamentarians based on “technical and support requirements, [DST] customers’ feedback and cost”. The spokesman added that the DST “is currently reviewing the ongoing suitability” of the T55 handsets, following reports about ZTE’s links with China’s security establishment.

Author: Ian Allen | Date: 05 September 2017 | Permalink

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Australia concerned about Chinese firm’s involvement in undersea cable project

Sogavare and TurnbullAustralia has expressed concern about a plan by a Chinese telecommunications company to provide high-speed Internet to the Solomon Islands, a small Pacific island nation with which Australia shares Internet resources. The company, Huawei Technologies, a private Chinese venture, is one of the world’s leading telecommunications hardware manufacturers. In recent years, however, it has come under scrutiny by Western intelligence agencies, who view it as being too close to the Communist Party of China.

One of Huawei’s most recent large-scale projects involves the Solomon Islands, a former British overseas territory that became independent in 1978 and is today a sovereign nation. The Pacific country consist of a complex of nearly 1,000 islands of different sizes, scattered over a distance of 11,000 square miles. It lies northeast of Australia and directly east of Papua New Guinea. In 2014, the government of the Solomon Islands began an ambitious project to connect its Internet servers to those of Australia via a 2,700-mile undersea fiber optic cable. The ultimate goal of the project is to provide Solomon Islands inhabitants with reliable high-speed Internet. The project was approved by Canberra (Australian government) and Sydney (Australian private sector) and given the green light by the Asian Development Bank, which promised to fund it. But in 2016 the Solomon Islands government suddenly named Huawei Marine as the project’s main contractor. Huawei Marine, a subsidiary of Huawei Technologies, is a joint venture between the Chinese firm and Global Marine Systems, a British-headquartered company that installs undersea telecommunications cables.

The news was greeted with concern in Canberra. The Australian intelligence community has previously warned that Huawei operates as an arm of the Chinese spy services. Intelligence agencies in the United Kingdom and the United States have issued similar warnings. In 2011, a report by a research unit of the US Office of the Director of National Intelligence concluded that Huawei Technologies relied on a series of formal and informal contacts with the Chinese People’s Liberation Army and the Ministry of State Security. But a subsequent 18-month review commissioned by the White House found no evidence that Huawei spied for the Chinese government.

Canberra is concerned that, by constructing the Solomon Islands undersea cable, Huawei would be “plugging into Australia’s telecommunications infrastructure backbone”, something that, according to some intelligence officials, “presents a fundamental security issue”. To further-complicate things, opposition officials in the Solomon Islands allege that the country’s government contracted the services of Huawei after the Chinese company promised to make a multi-million dollar donation to the ruling political party. Last June, the director of the Australian Secret Intelligence Service (ASIS), Nick Warner, visited the Solomon Islands and tried to convince the country’s Prime Minister, Manasseh Sogavare, to drop Huawei from the project. The topic was also discussed in a meeting between Mr. Sogavare and his Australian counterpart, Malcolm Turnbull, in Canberra last week. Following the meeting, the Solomon Islands leader said that his government would “continue to have discussions with the Australian government to see how we can solve that […] security issue”.

Author: Ian Allen | Date: 21 August 2017 | Permalink

Hidden spy software found in Chinese-made smartphones

Star N9500By JOSEPH FITSANAKIS | intelNews.org
A popular brand of Chinese-made smartphones, which are sold internationally by several major retailers, has been found to contain pre-installed monitoring software, according to a German security firm. The revelation was made on Tuesday by G Data Software, which is based in Bochum, Germany, and has a subsidiary in the United States. The firm, which was founded in 1985, said it discovered the spy software hidden deep inside the proprietary software found on the Chinese-made Star N9500. The product in question is a cheap smartphone based on the popular Samsung Galaxy S4, and can be purchased from numerous Internet retailers, including online outlets such as Amazon.com. A G Data spokesperson, Thorsten Urbanski, told reporters in Germany that his company purchased several Star N9500 telephones from an online retailer after receiving multiple messages from users of the telephone in Germany, who said the device’s operating system appeared to contain malicious software. The security firm said the Star N9500’s operating system contains hidden software applications that could allow a third party to access and steal the telephone user’s personal information. There are also secret applications that could permit a hacker to place calls from the telephone, or utilize the device’s microphone and camera without the consent of its owner. What is more, the stolen data was sent to a server based in China. G Data investigators added that their team of experts sought for “over a week” to track down the manufacturer of the Star N9500 but were unable to do so. German media reported that journalists from The Associated Press also tried to locate the manufacturer of the smartphone, by contacting several companies located in China’s southern province of Shenzhen, known as the center of the country’s telecommunications industry. Read more of this post

News you may have missed #805 (analysis edition)

US consulate in Benghazi, LibyaBy IAN ALLEN | intelNews.org |
►►Should the US be wary of Huawei? Regular readers of intelNews know that this blog has been covering the subject of Chinese telecommunications hardware manufacturer Huawei for several years now. During the past few weeks, the United States Congress has flagged the company as being too closely associated with the Chinese intelligence establishment. Other countries have done so as well. But not everyone agrees. New York-based newspaper The Wall Street Journal said recently that “bashing Chinese companies on national security grounds seems like a risk-free strategy” for US politicians and added that, unlike Congress, American governors and mayors are eager to promote investment by Chinese companies. Moreover, Wired‘s Marcus Wohlsenemail suggests that, spies or no spies, US telecommunications companies should fear Huwaei, which is here to stay.
►►Should CIA share some of the blame for Benghazi? For the last month, the US media and Congress have been grilling the State Department for the security failures during the deadly assault on a US compound in Benghazi, Libya. But what if the State Department is the wrong target of scrutiny? According to a counter-theory advanced recently by The Washington Post‘s Dana Milbank, the CIA, not the State Department, bears some responsibility for the security lapse that led to the death of Ambassador Chris Stevens and three other Americans, but is flying under the radar due to the classified nature of its activities in Libya.
►►Could unmanned drones go rogue? Unmanned aerial vehicles, commonly known as drones, have been in the news a lot lately: the US Congress has given the green light for their use by state and local law enforcement, academic researchers, and the private sector. UAVs are rapidly becoming a new tool in patrolling US borders and in NATO military operations in Afghanistan and Pakistan. But non-state actors, including organized criminal gangs and drug cartels, may also be seeing the benefits of UAVs before too long. Read an interesting analysis piece that includes comments by intelNews‘ own Joseph Fitsanakis.

White House review ‘found no evidence’ of Huawei spying for China

Huawei TechnologiesBy JOSEPH FITSANAKIS | intelNews.org |
A review commissioned by the government of the United States has reportedly found no evidence that Chinese telecommunications hardware manufacturer Huawei Technologies spied for the Chinese government. The 18-month-long review, which was ordered directly by the White House, examined the question of security vulnerabilities posed by telecommunications hardware suppliers, which could theoretically harm US service providers and pose a danger to US national security. The report, which was allegedly aided by several US intelligence agencies and other federal government departments, was based on detailed interviews with nearly 1,000 telecommunications equipment consumers across the United States. It was concluded at the start of 2012, but remains largely classified. However, Reuters news agency cites “two people familiar with the probe”, who claim that the probe contains “no clear evidence” that Huawei spied for the government of China. At the same time, however, the probe concluded that Huawei telecommunications hardware contains numerous structural vulnerabilities which could help hackers exploit telecommunications networks supported by the Chinese company. According to one source quoted by Reuters, the White House report found that the telecommunications hardware sold by Huawei was “riddled with holes”. Read more of this post

Situation Report: China’s Huawei Going Mobile? (Exclusive)

Huawei TechnologiesBy TIMOTHY W. COLEMAN | intelNews.org |
The Chinese firm, Huawei Technologies, a provider of information and communications technology, has been constantly under fire in the United States and around for the world for its supposed deep ties to China’s military and intelligence establishment. It is not without some justifiable concern either. Prior to starting Huawei Technologies, the company’s founder and CEO, Ren Zhengfei, served for more than 10-years in China’s People’s Liberation Army’s engineering corps. This reality, rightly or wrongly, has added fodder for concerns that Chinese government interests are intertwined with those of Huawei. On September 13, Huawei Technologies and another Chinese firm, ZTE, were the subject of a Congressional hearing titled “Investigation of the Security Threat Posed by Chinese Telecommunications Companies Huawei and ZTE”. The purpose of the hearing, as explained by the US House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence, was to assess the potential danger of “telecommunications equipment manufactured by companies with believed ties to the Chinese government”. Read more of this post

News you may have missed #790

Abdullah al-SenussiBy IAN ALLEN | intelNews.org |
►►New report reopens CIA torture allegations. A report from Human Rights Watch, which was released last week, said that Libyan fighters opposed to Muammar Gaddafi’s regime were subjected to harsh interrogation techniques while in US custody overseas, during the administration of George W. Bush. The accusations, if substantiated, would suggest wider use of waterboarding than US officials have previously acknowledged. The report, which is based on documents and interviews in Libya after the fall of Gaddafi, includes a detailed description of what appears to be a previously unknown instance of waterboarding by the CIA in Afghanistan nine years ago.
►►Analysis: What does Gaddafi’s ex-spy chief know about Lockerbie? Abdullah al-Senussi became a hate-figure in his home country as head of an intelligence machinery responsible for the mistreatment of thousands of opponents of the regime of Muammar Gaddafi, his brother-in-law. He is nicknamed the “butcher” and known as Gaddafi’s “black box” because of the secrets he supposedly holds. The new Libyan regime had been negotiating for months with Mauritania where al-Senussi had fled following the fall of the Gaddafi regime last September. But now that al-Senussi has been flown back to Libya by private jet, he may at last be able to face questions by British police about Lockerbie.
►►Chinese hardware manufacturer denies spying allegations. The Chinese hardware-manufacturing firm Huawei has released a 24-page report, written by John Suffolk, a former British government chief information officer who has now turned Huawei’s global security officer, which states that protecting the network security of its worldwide customers is one of company’s “fundamental interests”. The report follows allegations in the United States, Australia, India, and elsewhere, that the company maintains close operational ties to China’s intelligence establishment.