Hard News by Russell Brown

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Hard News: The Huawei Question

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  • Sacha, in reply to Lew Stoddart,

    The only thing about it that’s surprising is that it’s the Greens taking point, not Labour

    or Winston

    Ak • Since May 2008 • 16444 posts Report Reply

  • Tony Siu,

    Here is a public talk by a former NSA officer that talks about cyberspace and its problems: http://www2.lse.ac.uk/newsAndMedia/videoAndAudio/channels/publicLecturesAndEvents/player.aspx?id=1418

    Auckland • Since Mar 2008 • 74 posts Report Reply

  • Russell Brown, in reply to Lew Stoddart,

    The Greens might distrust New Zealand and Australian governments of both flavours, and they might fear the American government, but they hate and fear the Chinese government more than almost any other. To an extent that’s fair enough – they’re a pretty far cry worse than anyone in the Anglosphere.

    They are indeed. But I think there's a tendency to see "the Chinese" as a monolithic entity, rather than the spectacular, emergent, heterogenous and not always great thing that China actually is.

    One thing that's struck me in researching this is what an extraordinary company Huawei is. Juha's 2010 story does a nice job of illustrating the limits of its employee ownership structure, but I still tend to marvel at the way a company that began building PBX systems in 1988 can have become one of the world's top three or four providers of the infrastructure through which we're having this discussion -- without ever going near a stock market.

    That said, I also think that Juha's point that going public would solve a lot of Huawei's problems was also sound.

    Auckland • Since Nov 2006 • 18666 posts Report Reply

  • Chris Waugh, in reply to Martin Lindberg,

    but I would like to reserve the right to express concerns about the Chinese government (or one or another of their companies) and their actions without being called a Yellow Peril-shouting racist.

    And all of that is perfectly fair. I'm certainly not complaining about people raising legitimate concerns.

    But you see that phrase "one or another of their companies"? That's where you just stepped a little bit close to the kind of thing that gets me riled up. One or another of whose companies? Both Shanghai Pengxin and Huawei are privately owned. They are Chinese companies, but they are not the Chinese government's companies. Whether Huawei is a front for the PLA or worse is a matter of innuendo and speculation for which precious little evidence has been put forward.

    But I'm certainly not accusing you of anything. I am very frustrated with Labour and the Greens (and totally unsurprised by Winston), and the Greens in particular, because there is so much of their policy and principles I like, because although I think there is a legitimate debate to be had about foreign involvement in the NZ economy (just so you know, I'm all for it), their opposition to Shanghai Pengxin buying the Crafar farms and now the Greens making noise about Huawei reeks to me of Yellow Peril. And the Greens in particular. I have noticed over several years Green MPs, associates, hangers on and supporters making a lot of rather unfortunate comments about China and the Chinese that fail to draw any distinction between the government, Party, state and people.

    But actually Russell just summed up pretty much most of what I try to argue whenever PAS threads turn to China:

    But I think there’s a tendency to see “the Chinese” as a monolithic entity, rather than the spectacular, emergent, heterogenous and not always great thing that China actually is.

    Ah, 'heterogenous', nice word, because one thing I've noticed over a dozen years of living, working, making friends and marrying into China is a huge variety of experiences and viewpoints.

    Beijing • Since Jan 2007 • 2005 posts Report Reply

  • Paul Campbell, in reply to Steve Barnes,

    Got a note to say that high-speed broadband will be passing by our house within days. Lucky bugger.

    Found out this week that next year they will be building it all around my neighbourhood , but not in it - time to rent a back hoe and do it myself methinks - anyone in Belleknowes want to start a fibre co-op? - a friend thinks he can sneak a cable over his neighbour's fence, we could start from there

    (in the our fibre free zone we have the largest concentration of home knowledge workers in the city ....)

    Dunedin • Since Nov 2006 • 2072 posts Report Reply

  • James George,

    Call me a paranoid old fart but I have always assumed that there have been back doors in western manufactured systems since the us legislature backed a way from the clipper chip.

    Apart from the big back off which was pretty unusual for the americans, a couple of other things occurred afterwards that gave pause.

    The first was the Chinese government refusing to allow windows operating systems in any governmental departments because M$ refused China access to all source code so they could check it for such things as back doors. The Chinese used linux systems for quite some time until a quiet deal was reached with M$.

    The 90's are a bit vague now but I seem to remember lending computing time to a project that trying to brute force the encryption system that was all the US government would give an export contract for. From memory it was a 64 bit key which the cypher punks held was insufficient to prevent state sponsored brute force attacks on encrypted communications. Eventually 128 bit keys were allowed and now there isn't any limit but that may be because of a different method of attack.

    The second indication all was not well with encryption systems came when PGP inventor Phil Zimmerman refused to guarantee a version of PGP that was released a year or so after he sold his corporation to Computer Associates (PGP is now part of Symantec). PGP used to release its source code; partly to get around export controls and partly to allow anyone to debug the script to be sure there were no security flaws or back doors.
    That stopped after he sold most of PGP. At first Zimmerman would guarantee each build as it came out and for many Zimmerman's personal guarantee was enough. Then he flat out refused to guarantee one version, resigning from his gig at PGP shortly afterward.
    Many people assumed that PGP had gone the same way as all the other US manufacturers of communication encryption software and had included a back door.

    Reality check! This is more likely to be more a commercial decision by Australia than a security one. Anyone doubts that just has to consider the extraordinarly powerful legislation Australia has to protect US owned intellectual property. The most recent case in point was the ban on sales of Samsung 10.1 tablets until the week before Xmas 2011. That was a blatant sop to Apple who didn't have a case, a fact that Samsung finally bought out into the open after nearly 12 months of trying to get a proper hearing in the High Court. The protection of Sony playstation DRM is another example. And that part of Sony is for all intents and purposes american. e.g. The bloke who sailed his luxury Playstation yacht into Auckland during the last americas cup was an american, not Japanese.

    Why lean over backwards for the US -list favourite conspiracy. . . Knowing how hard some in Canberra work to emulate US political corruption, the most likely theory would be the dreaded kickback.
    That wouldn't preclude ASIO getting onboard. Intelligence services' readiness to participate in capitalist endeavours in a less than honourable way precedes John le Carre's novels.

    The vague rumours about Norman's ties to ASIO have been persistant over the years. From memory - warning this is unproven scuttlebutt - the connection was alleged to have begun when Norman was studying at ANU, which is regarded by some Australian radicals as being the uni that australian defense forces and security services most use to train their staff. Why? Well it is based in Canberra and Duntroon Officer school or whatever it is called sends their cadets to ANU for many courses.

    There is a bit more to the rumour but nothing of real substance and repeating it would add more heat, no light and make it even more difficult to uncover the reality.

    This could just be Norman trying to make the Greens seem more responsible, in which case Norman has shown once again that he doesn't truly understand the kiwi electorate. Kiwis in general aren't nearly as paranoid about security as Australians. There are reasons for that which are not straight out racist but xenophobia has a part to play as well.

    As it does here. I can think of more examples of USuk IT sabotage than I can Chinese IT sabotage yet the old media has never jumped up and down about NZ allowing US defense contractors to build its network infrastructure.

    Which is why I for one am disppointed that the Greens have chosen to get caught up the the silly spy game bulldust.

    If anyone really cares about this stuff wouldn't it be smarter to keep Walter Mitty away from running the Defence Technology Agency, or whatever it is called, than worry about securing the insecurable?

    Since Sep 2007 • 75 posts Report Reply

  • Craig Ranapia,

    I would like to reserve the right to express concerns about the Chinese government (or one or another of their companies) and their actions without being called a Yellow Peril-shouting racist.

    Fair enough, Martin. I’d like the courtesy repaid and not be accused of playing the racist card for sharing Russell’s “WTF?” at Gordon Campbell’s piece on this – which, to put it politely, is well below his usual standard of analysis and argument.

    And this was just… something.

    The Australians have got it right this time. Plainly, Huawei should be barred from any future role in building our telco infrastructure. Put it this way: Huawei is the sort of tainted corporate player that – if it were an asylum seeker – we would be clapping it in solitary confinement and trying to deport it as quickly as possible.

    Let's put it another way, Gordon. The treatment of asylum seekers is an epically shitty analogy to make while you cheer the judgement of the Australian government and security agencies.

    North Shore, Auckland • Since Nov 2006 • 11856 posts Report Reply

  • Steve Barnes, in reply to James George,

    I can think of more examples of USuk IT sabotage than I can Chinese IT sabotage

    I had to do a double take on that.
    But bang on.
    I actually think is good to have people keeping an eye out, helps keep Nations honest, you're less likely to misbehave when you know you are being watched.

    The wireless north ;-) • Since Dec 2006 • 4640 posts Report Reply

  • Lew Stoddart, in reply to Chris Waugh,

    Both Shanghai Pengxin and Huawei are privately owned. They are Chinese companies, but they are not the Chinese government’s companies.

    But that’s just the thing: the nature of the Chinese government-industrial complex means you really can’t say this with any great certainty.

    James George,

    I can think of more examples of USuk IT sabotage than I can Chinese IT sabotage yet the old media has never jumped up and down about NZ allowing US defense contractors to build its network infrastructure.

    Of course you can think of more. The US/UK, other Anglo nations and the EU have pervasive media and independent, reasonably transparent courts and tribunals dedicated to uncovering, litigating and punishing this sort of thing in the open. The Chinese don’t. That’s the fundamental difference, and why drawing equivalence between authoritarian and democratic regimes, however flawed the latter might be, is ludicrous.

    L

    Wellington, NZ • Since Aug 2010 • 105 posts Report Reply

  • Lew Stoddart, in reply to Steve Barnes,

    I actually think is good to have people keeping an eye out, helps keep Nations honest, you’re less likely to misbehave when you know you are being watched.

    This is so wrong I simply don't know where to start.

    L

    Wellington, NZ • Since Aug 2010 • 105 posts Report Reply

  • Joe Wylie,

    Optus, Australia's second-largest telco, has been a wholly-owned subsidiary of the State-owned Singapore Telecommunications since 2001. At the time of the takeover concerns were raised about Singaporean ownership. Evidence was produced of how the Singaporean telco regularly co-operated with its Government owner to monitor its citizens, who enjoyed relatively little legal protection from such incursions.

    I don't recall any Australian State security agency sharing those concerns back then.

    flat earth • Since Jan 2007 • 3357 posts Report Reply

  • Martin Lindberg, in reply to Craig Ranapia,

    Fair enough, Martin. I’d like the courtesy repaid and not be accused of playing the racist card for sharing Russell’s “WTF?” at Gordon Campbell’s piece on this – which, to put it politely, is well below his usual standard of analysis and argument.

    Totally agree with you there. And yeah, that asylum seeker analogy was... umm... unfortunate.

    Stockholm • Since Jul 2009 • 790 posts Report Reply

  • peter mclennan, in reply to nzlemming,

    4. The Search and Surveillance legislation will have far more effect on NZ security than any potential Chinese spying.

    Well said.

    AK Central • Since Nov 2006 • 152 posts Report Reply

  • Steve Barnes, in reply to Lew Stoddart,

    This is so wrong I simply don’t know where to start.

    So, Governments should be exempt from being honest?.

    The wireless north ;-) • Since Dec 2006 • 4640 posts Report Reply

  • Lew Stoddart, in reply to Steve Barnes,

    So, Governments should be exempt from being honest?

    Democratic governments are and ought to be accountable to their people and in some cases their allies, and are therefore as honest as their people demand them to be. Non-democratic governments are accountable to no-one.

    L

    Wellington, NZ • Since Aug 2010 • 105 posts Report Reply

  • Rich of Observationz,

    Non-democratic governments are accountable to no-one.

    They have stakeholders. These might include the members of the government, the army, the wealthy, patron states, even the masses (who, in a non-voteocracy, have few outlets for discontent that don't involve the regime hanging from lampposts).

    Back in Wellington • Since Nov 2006 • 4413 posts Report Reply

  • Steve Barnes, in reply to Lew Stoddart,

    Democratic governments are and ought to be accountable

    And because of that they should be allowed to operate in secrecy?. That seems wrong in so many ways. Like I said, I think there is nothing wrong in people keeping an eye on Governments. Our current bunch of powermongers seem to think that democracy is served by ignoring the wishes of the people and keeping secrets.

    The wireless north ;-) • Since Dec 2006 • 4640 posts Report Reply

  • Lew Stoddart, in reply to Steve Barnes,

    And because of that they should be allowed to operate in secrecy?

    This is getting beyond pointless. No. We should vigilant in holding them to account if they are devious. At least we can.

    L

    Wellington, NZ • Since Aug 2010 • 105 posts Report Reply

  • Russell Brown, in reply to James George,

    There is a bit more to the rumour but nothing of real substance and repeating it would add more heat, no light and make it even more difficult to uncover the reality.

    And yet you did repeat it. Unfortunately.

    Auckland • Since Nov 2006 • 18666 posts Report Reply

  • Matthew Poole,

    I’m getting more and more confused about what the risk is supposed to be. If we’re talking about a fundamental threat to the stability of the communications networks themselves – ie: there’s something built into the hardware that would allow the Chinese government to crash the network by shutting down the flow of packets – that’s quite scary but it’s also a pretty out-there kind of plot.

    If, on the other hand, we’re talking about some kind of built-in interception capability, I didn’t realise that part of the UFB deployment was Huawei supplying hardware encryption systems to our security services and Government. A basic part of communications security is that you don’t rely on the security of the physical network to protect your data. The NZ Infrastructure Security Manual, GCSB’s bible on security of NZ Government information systems, makes it abundantly clear that classified data may only be transmitted through physical zones of a lower security rating than the data itself if the data is first encrypted using an approved product. In other words, to even send classified data within the same building, never mind between buildings, if the end-to-end network is not entirely contained within areas that are approved for a classification level equal-to-or-higher-than the classification of the data, encryption must be applied before the data hits the wire.

    Given the approval processes for COMSEC hardware as laid out in NZISM pretty much preclude Huawei from supplying anything that would do the encryption, the only way their supply of hardware for UFB presents any kind of interception threat is if Murray McCully starts getting classified email sent to his Xtra account. Either that or the US are quietly announcing that they don’t believe their approved crypto systems are truly secure, which is a whole completely different kettle of aquatic life.

    The pit from whence crawl… • Since Mar 2007 • 3898 posts Report Reply

  • Craig Ranapia, in reply to Matthew Poole,

    I’m getting more and more confused about what the risk is supposed to be.

    Quite - and if a New Zealand company or expat Kiwis in IT/telcoms (and there's more than a few out there) were on the receiving end of this kind of opportunistic paranoia I'm damn sure nobody would be very impressed. For a nation that's supposed to be all about the "knowledge economy", this is a wee bit disturbing.

    North Shore, Auckland • Since Nov 2006 • 11856 posts Report Reply

  • Matthew Poole, in reply to Rich of Observationz,

    From talking to people at Telecom, nobody in the senior management structure knew the difference between an RNC and an office chair. Their assumption was that they picked a supplier, ticked a few boxes and a working system would materialise.

    To be fair to senior management it’s not really their job to know the difference, it’s their job to listen to the people who do. The CIO might know the difference, maybe, but even that person is mostly so far removed from the coal face that normally all they can do is nod politely when meeting with their subordinate GMs and then take the business case to the Board for approval.

    The RNCs cost millions of dollars, and that’s not small change. Someone thought they could get away with two RNCs for initial deployment, and that someone was wrong. Turns out that under normal operating conditions the RNC in Christchurch (ETA: controlling everything south of Taupo!) was running ~ 104% nominal load, and the moment that a cell tower fell over it immediately failed as it tried to cope with recalculating the network topology in addition to handling traffic. Exactly where in the design loop the responsible “someone” lies is anyone’s guess, and it could as much have been AL’s fault as Telecom’s. Telecom do have a lot of internal design experience and knowledge, but when you’re building an entirely new network you’re at the mercy of the quality of information provided by your hardware supplier(s).

    The pit from whence crawl… • Since Mar 2007 • 3898 posts Report Reply

  • Sacha, in reply to Matthew Poole,

    Murray McCully starts getting classified email sent to his Xtra account

    a very real breach that seems to have produced no consequences for the plonker involved, nor any widely-publicised commitments to ban such stupidity across the rest of government.

    Ak • Since May 2008 • 16444 posts Report Reply

  • Russell Brown,

    FRom today's Questions for Oral Answer:

    6. Rt Hon WINSTON PETERS to the Prime Minister: Has he had any recent discussions with the Prime Minister of Australia over security and intelligence concerns Australia has expressed over Huawei?

    Auckland • Since Nov 2006 • 18666 posts Report Reply

  • Russell Brown,

    In comments over at interest.co.nz:

    On ABC television last night, political commentator Heather Ewart, stated the NZ Government "received the same advice" as the Australian Government, but chose to ignore it.

    There's a linked video but it's geoblocked.

    Auckland • Since Nov 2006 • 18666 posts Report Reply

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