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Chinese spy concerns: Key Australian defence agencies ban Lenovo

A great article from Delimiter today.

blog Wow. Consider us flabberghasted by this one. Under the ownership of United States-headquartered technology giant IBM, the ThinkPad line of laptops was considered to be the iron grade of corporate quality — reliable, secure, stable. But at some point after IBM sold its PC business to Chinese company Lenovo in 2005, it appears that key government agencies have decided that ThinkPads and other Lenovo-manufacturered PCs are no longer secure enough. The Financial Review reported over the weekend (we recommend you click here for the full article):

Computers manufactured by the world’s biggest personal computer maker, Lenovo, have been banned from the “secret” and ‘‘top secret” ­networks of the intelligence and defence services of Australia, the US, Britain, Canada, and New Zealand, because of concerns they are vulnerable to being hacked.”

Obviously this move contains striking similarities to the ban placed on Chinese vendor Huawei from supplying equipment to Australia’s National Broadband Network, and we’re sure it’s related.

Look, to be honest, I am extremely disturbed by this move. It would appear that the decision to ban Lenovo — one of the technology industry’s most respected PC manufacturers — from having its products used in the top-secret networks of Western governments is based upon the suspicion that the vendor is including so-called ‘back doors’ in its hardware or software that would allow Chinese interests to infiltrate those machines remotely.

However, the way that the various Western governments has gone about dealing this issue is simply preposterous. If this allegation is true: If Lenovo does indeed include back doors in its equipment that could be used by Chinese interests, then the governments mentioned in the Financial Review’s article must have evidence of this, and that evidence should be provided publicly. After all, it’s not just governments that use Lenovo gear — it’s everyone! Lenovo ThinkPads, for example, are used extensively throughout the corporate world globally. Banks, law firms, consulting firms, mining firms … everyone uses Lenovo ThinkPads. If those machines are inherently compromised, and evidence exists, that evidence should be made public immediately, for the good of the global business and government community.

If such evidence doesn’t exist and Lenovo is innocent of these allegations, and bear in mind that no evidence along these lines has been presented so far, then by acknowledging that Lenovo has been blocked from supplying equipment, the Western governments are perpetuating, as Huawei has alleged in its own situation, a massive case of corporate defamation perpetuated on Lenovo. With key government agencies blocking the manufacturer on security grounds, how can any other corporate purchaser possibly feel secure buying Lenovo gear? This issue has a massive potential to impact on Lenovo’s reputation and, ultimately, revenue.

We’ve seen so far that absolutely no evidence of this kind has been presented in public with regards to the Huawei case, and I suspect that we won’t get any with respect to Lenovo either. Instead, as Prime Minister Kevin Rudd has acknowledged, government concerns about Huawei and Lenovo appear to be based on a shadowy concept of “risk” — in other words, because these companies are Chinese, that they must be open to working directly with the Chinese Government on espionage matters.

This might be good enough for government agencies. But it’s not good enough for me. And I suspect it’s not good enough for the global business community. I find myself returning to comments made by Huawei last week with respect to its own situation. They could easily apply to Lenovo as well:

“This is tired nonsense we’ve been hearing for years, trotted out anew as a flimsy bright and shiny object to distract attention from the very real compromising of global networks and information that has been exposed in recent weeks. Misdirecting and slandering Huawei may feel okay because the company is Chinese-based – no harm, no foul, right? Wrong.

Huawei is a world-proven multinational across 150 global markets that supports scores and scores of American livelihoods, and thousands more, indirectly, through $6 billion a year in procurements from American suppliers. Someone says they got some proof of some sort of threat? Okay. Then put up. Or shut up. Lacking proof in terms of the former, which seems clearly the case, this is politically-inspired and racist corporate defamation, nothing more.”

The Governments which have blocked Lenovo have a responsibility to say why, and present evidence of Lenovo’s wrongdoing. If they do not, then they are recklessly engaging in corporate defamation that has the potential to massively impact one of the technology industry’s most respected laptop brands. And that kind of thing should never be done lightly.

Image credit: Lenovo

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