March 30, 2006

Chinese PC's May Come With Bonus Feature: Spying On Everything You Do
— Ace

So, IBM sold its PC manufacturing arm to the Chinese -- the most aggressive state sponsor of hacking and computer espionage in the world. The US Government approved of the sale, because, you know, what possible harm could come from the sale of one of our biggest PC manufacturers to the most aggressive state sponsor of hacking and computer espionage in the world?

Well, shockingly enough: Significant harm, it turns out.

The kicker? The US government itself is in negotiations to purchase 16,000 of these possible spy PC's.

The United States government is planning to spend roughly $13M USD on computers from Lenovo. The company, famous for buying up IBM's PC manufacturing arm, is working on a deal with the US government to produce roughly 16,000 computers. Just recently, the U.S.-China Economic Security Review Commission (USCC) has requested that Lenovo be probed for any concerns about possible spying, eavesdropping or worse.

The supposed problem presented by the USCC is that the 16,000 computers are being built by a Chinese-mainland company. The USCC argues that a foreign intelligence like that of the Communist Party of China (CPC) can use its power to get Lenovo to equip its machines with espionage devices. Lenovo has strongly declined that it is involved in any such activities.

Some analysts call the concerns kneejerk and paranoid, but then, it should be remembered that China is the most aggressive state sponsor of hacking and computer espionage in the world.

Did I mention that?

Thanks to DDG.

Posted by: Ace at 10:01 AM | Comments (33)
Post contains 273 words, total size 2 kb.

1 Lenovo has strongly declined that it is involved in any such activities.

I had to laugh at that one. Like they'd say, "Yes, we did it, you Yankee imperialist running dogs! And we're glad we did it! You hear? Glad!"

All of which just underscores the importance of keeping strategically-vital technologies as a local-manufacture item. Or at least buy from South Korea or Taiwan, fer crying out loud.

(Related: the US burned Russia back in the 1980's by getting the commies to steal some "tweaked" mainframe blueprints. When they obligingly manufactured the gear and put it into production, the system was immediately hacked by the NSA. Voyska PVO (I think) was almost completely worthless to the Russians for nearly a year before the Russians found out what was going on and tore the system out.)

Posted by: Monty at March 30, 2006 10:08 AM (UdJCa)

2 Scratch that last: Now that I think about it, I might have been just re-iterating the plot of an old espionage novel. Still, I bet that something similar happened several times over the last decades.

Posted by: Monty at March 30, 2006 10:13 AM (/V4PN)

3 Monty, you're thinking about Operation Farewell, which I wrote about last month in relation to alleged Western intelligence ops to give the Iranians faulty nuclear technology.

Dave at Garfield Ridge

Posted by: Dave at Garfield Ridge at March 30, 2006 10:18 AM (y1hCN)

4 Chinese PC's May Come With Bonus Feature: Spying On Everything You Do

And when they see the amount of porn you guys look at, they will all want to defect.

Posted by: shawn at March 30, 2006 10:26 AM (uLve2)

5 Monty, you're thinking about Operation Farewell, which I wrote about last month in relation to alleged Western intelligence ops to give the Iranians faulty nuclear technology.

Uhhh...I remember watching an episode of JAG that did this.

Posted by: Evil Chihuahua at March 30, 2006 10:28 AM (mAhn3)

6 It's not kneejerk xenophobia.

There are serious problems about our government doing business with China.

1) They have an obvious interest in trying to spy.

2) It is unfair to expect American workers to compete against state-owned sweatshops. It is the exact opposite of a free market.

3) It is unwise for our tax dollars to develop industries in other countries when we are losing strategic industrial capacity that we will need someday.

Posted by: BigTobacco at March 30, 2006 10:34 AM (1WdUw)

7 Dave: Yeah, you're probably right. But there's something else I remember, specifically having to do with PVO Strany (the Soviet air defense grid). Something from James Bamford's book on the NSA; don't have it handy. But like I said: it was probably just a plot from a novel I read a long time ago.

Posted by: Monty at March 30, 2006 10:53 AM (/V4PN)

8 Fix tags.

Posted by: Iblis at March 30, 2006 10:59 AM (9221z)

9 Heh. Don't feel so stupid now.

Posted by: Wilhelm Röntgen at March 30, 2006 11:06 AM (AQGeh)

10 Dave@GR,

Surprised you didn't mention BSG and how the cylons defeated the humans.

First thing I thought of.

Then again, I just finally watched the mini-series last week.

Posted by: Brad at March 30, 2006 11:09 AM (1F8YK)

11 Monty, Dave GR, et al,

Not sure it is the same thing you are speaking of, but the USA did sell USSR some computer managed stuff with a virus that caused their oil pipelines to go bugfuck and overpressurize to explosion....................

Posted by: Colonel Jerry USMC(ret.) at March 30, 2006 11:16 AM (BJYNn)

12 I don't know if anyone has read about Yang Enterprises, but they are allegedly involved in producing vote-rigging software.

Unfortunately, the story is tangled up in partisan disputes over the Florida Election, but the angle that is never considered is the possibility that vote-rigging software might be something that a foreign government might be interested in. Yang Enterprises denies that any of their employees have been arrested, but someone they contracted has been arrested for sending sensitive hardware to China.

Wired Article. I'm only familiar with lefty stuff written on the topic, but I wonder if anyone is familiar with the story or has seen anything written exploring the Chinese angle.

Some of the accusers (Clint Curtis's) allegations check out while others don't. Part of the problem might be from the fact that Curtis is too involved in Democratic politics to see it as anything other than a GOP conspiracy.

It's kind of off topic... but the more I read about it... the obvious unexplored angle is that China might be interested in rigging electronic voting machines. And since all the software is proprietary and few evoting machines have paper trails it would be a hard thing to detect. And given the world history of international meddling in elections, it seems like something that isn't too far fetched.

Posted by: BigTobacco at March 30, 2006 11:28 AM (1WdUw)

13 Saaaayyyy.....think back in time...didn't we sell the Chinese government a really nice jet once that was just chocka-full, I mean BRISTLING with surveillance devices?

I'm sure this shit only happens in one direction, though. Those guys are way less interested in us than we are in them.

Posted by: lauraw at March 30, 2006 11:41 AM (BkmOv)

14 or when we sold them the Long Beach Port and they stole everything they needed to build their own version of the Aegis Destroyer

Posted by: Brad at March 30, 2006 01:05 PM (1F8YK)

15 And just how many US computers "manufacturers" don't off-shore their manufacturing from China already? I know for a fact that Apples are built in the PRC and I'd be willing to bet a large sum of money that they're hardly alone.

Yet another protectionist tempest in a teapot!

Posted by: jason at March 30, 2006 01:47 PM (VrbQP)

16 You can't hide this stuff, Ace. If they were really building spyware into PCs - keyloggers or whatever - we would know, because at some point the PC has to send the data home.

The average user would have no clue, but there are an awful lot of geeks out there who would spot that in an instant. Not to mention agencies like the NSA.

Now, bugging specific individual machines, sure. But mass-producing them that way? No.

Posted by: Pixy Misa at March 30, 2006 02:13 PM (7X4Bl)

17 U.S. intelligence was involved in the Russians swiping some sophisticated, and doctored, software that controls gas pipelines. The result was the largest non-nuclear explosion in history.

Posted by: Michael at March 30, 2006 02:36 PM (pRtzm)

18 Well they are going to be a lot of really bored Chinese in my case, but since I have no intention of running a system without security on it that shouldn't be an issue.

That all said though, I agree having Chinese make the systems is retarded. And if they managed to find a way to fix voting machines I can guarantee a huge upsurge in Democrat winners.

Posted by: Canelone at March 30, 2006 03:36 PM (1Vbso)

19 A few notes.

IBM sold their PC business to Lenovo, but that in reality means they sold their brand name in effect. It's not like Lenovo needed their skills, because they already had their own plants.

We sold the Chinese 747s for their leaders that were bugged to the hilt. Not that that means we should accept a tit for tat, but heh, heh, looks like they are cribbing.

Let's say they did bug these things...all we need to do is to take these computers over to the DoD and have our guys send out false information to them...advantage USA.

Even better would be to install those computers to the customer service department of the social security administration or welfare agencies maybe medicaid?...imagine all those agents in Beijing struggling over the translations of lame-ass e-mails from people bitching about their checks, etc.

Posted by: Aaron at March 30, 2006 04:19 PM (00aoH)

20 I don't see these machines being used in any truly sensitive areas. Commercial PC's don't come anywhere close to meeting the TEMPEST standards.

Posted by: Purple Avenger at March 30, 2006 05:36 PM (WjdPM)

21 I don't see these machines being used in any truly sensitive areas. Commercial PC's don't come anywhere close to meeting the TEMPEST standards.

That is true. However, there are two things here that are deeply disturbing. Federal IT contracts are usually written so that PCs are built and bought in bulk. These PCs might be going to some secretary's desk at HHS, but some might find their way to other more sensitive areas. There is plenty of vital information that happens at the Secret and Top Secret levels that would be deeply informative.

Second, there are several ways a bug might work. In an era of networked computers and email, information gets passed from computer to computer with little thought to security strata. If the bug is sophisticated, this network traffic could be a target.

Posted by: DDG at March 30, 2006 06:20 PM (WoL0A)

22 aside from the offense of the us government using our tax dollars to buy foreign made computers, not dell or apple, etc., if the deal must go down, how about we pay them in $20 bills? in each one we insert a tiny eavesdropping device where the security strip is embedded. imagine where they'll go and what we'll pick up!

Posted by: mcmorris at March 30, 2006 06:23 PM (4io9Y)

23 Navy DoD unclassified currently use Dells contracted through Ross Perot's old empire. Don't see that changing although US Gov't IT contracts have been poisonous to many companies (think Everex, Wang & Micron). Be warned - if this story doesn't pan out then Dean Esmay and Dennis the Peasant will be calling everyone poopy face racists again... in stereo from the left & right.

Posted by: rhodeymark at March 31, 2006 03:31 AM (cqZXM)

24 I know folks don't really care about me on here. But there are a few that I admire and respect. I've a big project coming up... so I will be away for a few months.

But, thanks for the good game, Otho. Left and right, I'm sick of talking to unthinking fascist idiots... so I am happy to meet someone who actually reads and thinks. And everyone else, listen to him, he's smart.

And Canelone, underneath your al dente exterior, is soft white cheese.... just like the rest of us. How you remind me of your cousin, Manicotti! You sometimes make silly assumptions about who you think you're arguing with... but for the most part... you are a righteous person (really, anyone who cares about the unborn as much as you do has a big advantage in my book). Thanks for the conversation.

Finally, Ace. Thanks for making me laugh... and for being fair. Y'all are way cooler than those lead-painting eating geeks at the free republic.

Posted by: BigTobacco at March 31, 2006 06:37 AM (1WdUw)

25 I freakin' love Manicotti. I'd live on the stuff if I could. That and beef jerkey. Damn frontiersmen and their jerked meat! Why does meat quintuple in price when it's smoked and dried???

Posted by: Canelone at April 01, 2006 08:04 AM (1Vbso)


Posted by: spurwing plover at April 02, 2006 08:45 AM (0Wk0b)

27 I think the euphemism for this is 'intelligence gathering' The U.S government is known to have the most sophisticated and extensive ' intelligence-gathering ' network in the world and is known to have been using it for decades. Welcome to global politics.

Posted by: blam at April 07, 2006 04:26 AM (3aGCb)

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