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Should the US Really Limit Chinese-Government Influenced IT Systems? 220

Posted by samzenpus
from the don't-bring-that-in-here dept.
coondoggie writes "New federal restrictions now preclude four U.S. agencies from buying information-technology (IT) systems from manufacturers 'owned, directed or subsidized by the People's Republic of China' due to national-security concerns. But is this a smart tactic? It's clear that some in the U.S. government, including the House Intelligence Committee — which issued a scathing report last fall that called Huawei and ZTE a threat to national security — and the Treasury Department's Committee on Foreign Investment in the U.S. are also working in other ways behind the scenes to keep technology made by China-based manufacturers out of U.S. commercial networks as well."
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Should the US Really Limit Chinese-Government Influenced IT Systems?

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  • Some, anyway (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Millennium (2451) on Wednesday April 03, 2013 @08:00PM (#43353509) Homepage

    When you know who the foxes are, you keep closer watch over the henhouse. That just makes sense. It can be argued that there's still a role for inclusivity, but it has to be tempered with a dose of common sense.

    • Re:Some, anyway (Score:5, Insightful)

      by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday April 03, 2013 @08:33PM (#43353785)

      It's wise and good security policy when China does it. [slashdot.org] If the US does it it's irrational, xenophobic, and probably racist (arguents which you will likely see in today's comments)

      • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

        by Anonymous Coward

        The funny thing is most han Chinese are horribly racist and massively nationalistic. My wife's Chinese from Beijing (and han) and the things I've heard people say who don't realize this laowai speaks Chinese would make the KKK blush.

      • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

        by ron_ivi (607351)
        Considering the US actually did sabotage enemies using software trojans [nytimes.com]... even resulting in "the most monumental non-nuclear explosion and fire ever seen from space.'" ... it's not surprising people/governments are wary of it.

        Seems to me all critical infrastructure should be based on Open systems -- both Open Source software and firmware, as well as Open hardware designs; so people can have the best chance possible at reviewing and verifying any critical infrastructure components.

        Simply banning stuff f

        • Just because the US has done this stuff doesn't mean we have any obligation to take the risk that it would be done to us. Or do you also believe that a rapist should be raped in order to punish them for their crime?

      • Re:Some, anyway (Score:5, Interesting)

        by Austerity Empowers (669817) on Thursday April 04, 2013 @12:07AM (#43354879)

        Reminds me of a program manager I dealt with once. I was one foot out the door with offers on the table, having given up on my employer whose name rhymes with hell. I flat out refused to support an ODM design (I actually refused my entire 7 years there, but never was obvious about it). He asked me why, and I said I only support my local businesses. He wanted to bring me to HR for all sorts of racism, xenophobism, protectionism, insubordination, accusing me of trying to unionize, etc.

        Then I asked him (knowing the answer), why we are using this ODM at all, and his response was that the end customer (a large Chinese company) will only purchase through (a large Chinese manufacturer) and they would only support locally designed products. I asked why they can't just take my working, tested, FCC approved design and he said they wanted to change components. I asked "What's wrong with the components on my board, is there a defect?", and he said "They're not made in China".

        The worst part, the part that made me furious, is that he couldn't see my point. He kept spouting off capitalist slogans and telling me to read this inane book about the new global economy.

        • Funny how people lose any ability to think when the conclusion is that they're wrong, or even just contradicting themselves.
      • When employees of American tech companies are issued disposable cell phones and told not to discuss anything sensitive because the phones will be hacked while they're there, it seems like an obvious extension of that stance to restrict the ingress of machines running Chinese code.

        Personally, I don't care if someone in China wants to watch me stream Scrubs on Netflix. But there are things on government and corporate networks that are important or dangerous enough where I would rather take every reasonable pr

    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by gweihir (88907)

      The only problem is, this is all BS anyways and nobody knows who the foxes are. The label on the box is pretty meaningless. What counts is inside. And when you dig a little deeper, you find that even seemingly very American companies have their firmware written in China.

      I am convinced that this is merely a thinly veiled hostile economic move and has nothing to do with IT security at all.

    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by Colin Castro (2881349)
      That's not true. When you know who the foxes are you watch the foxes, when you don't know who the foxes are you watch the hen house.
  • Seriously? (Score:5, Insightful)

    by saleenS281 (859657) on Wednesday April 03, 2013 @08:03PM (#43353535) Homepage
    Is this even a real question? Of course they should. The Chinese government is openly attacking both corporate and government interests throughout the US. Why give them yet another avenue to attacks?
  • They should first (Score:4, Insightful)

    by obarthelemy (160321) on Wednesday April 03, 2013 @08:06PM (#43353547)

    limit republican-leaning closed-source and un-auditable voting machines.

  • Take it further (Score:5, Interesting)

    by Nidi62 (1525137) on Wednesday April 03, 2013 @08:07PM (#43353561)
    Any government contract should be fulfilled with domestically sourced and manufactured parts whenever possible. If we can make it here, we should. If you want to create/protect jobs, it starts by keeping the money in the country as much as possible.
    • Re:Take it further (Score:5, Insightful)

      by rtb61 (674572) on Wednesday April 03, 2013 @08:14PM (#43353607) Homepage

      More importantly by forcing local supply you enable continuity of supply and are never subject to a foreign government dictating levels of supply. Local sourcing of all goods for all national infrastructure projects should be compulsory regardless of cost to ensure all those national infrastructure projects can be maintained without being forced to gain approval from a foreign government to allow that supply. That is a sane logical thing to do by any government and failure to do so when it is readily possible to treasonously betray the citizens of that country to the demands of another country, apparently based purely upon corporate executive greed.

      • Re:Take it further (Score:5, Insightful)

        by demonlapin (527802) on Wednesday April 03, 2013 @08:37PM (#43353805) Homepage Journal
        No, no, no. No. This is a terrible idea.

        There is a very good argument to be made that all remotely sensitive government IT projects should use domestically designed and built products, because electronics can do sneaky things that are almost completely undetectable (cf. Stuxnet). When you're talking about steel for bridges, not so much. Forced local supply (especially for raw materials) ends up being just another opportunity for regulatory capture.
        • And why drain your own supplies of natural resources when you can drain those of someone else.

        • by tqk (413719)

          Forced local supply (especially for raw materials) ends up being just another opportunity for regulatory capture.

          Then, in the case of China's rare Earths supply, they cut off the supply and raise their prices, and you're back wishing you'd never mothballed your own producers for being too expensive compared to the Chinese. It's such a complicated equation.

          • by JBMcB (73720)

            Once the price rises enough, it becomes profitable to mine for the rare earth minerals in the US again. It's in China's best interest to keep supplies up, otherwise competition will start creeping in.

            Besides, Japan just found a ton of rare earth minerals in the seabed off their coast.

            • by drinkypoo (153816)

              Besides, Japan just found a ton of rare earth minerals in the seabed off their coast.

              This is not good news. Japan only cares about their local environment, which is why they are buying up timber as rapidly as they can, and why they consistently lied about the extent of the Fukushima disaster, and why the Japanese are still known for whaling.

              This does not distinguish them from the USA, but it's still not good news.

      • More importantly by forcing local supply you enable continuity of supply and are never subject to a foreign government dictating levels of supply.

        There is not a single thing in economic theory or practice where you can get something for nothing. There is always a tradeoff, and you're ignoring it here. By closing off international trade you jack up the cost of goods and services within your country and slow down your rate of economic growth because there's fewer trade opportunities. As a result, other countries which have a more open economic policy prosper while your own country stagnates.

        That is a sane logical thing to do by any government and failure to do so when it is readily possible to treasonously betray the citizens of that country to the demands of another country, apparently based purely upon corporate executive greed.

        Whoa there cowboy. Ease up on the rhetoric; you're making Kim

        • by epyT-R (613989)

          It doesn't. It can however help protect a country's sovereignty, especially in complex products that are easily perverted into trojan horses: like networking equipment, SCADA control hardware, and crypto chips used in financial and military communications, etc.. Even if the firmware for these is developed state side, it is possible to hide backdoors in the hardware as well. If these products are used as interconnects for critical infrastructure, it gives the manufacturing country strategic leverage. Obv

        • Re:Take it further (Score:5, Insightful)

          by Genda (560240) <mariet@@@got...net> on Wednesday April 03, 2013 @09:51PM (#43354267) Journal

          Okay let's give this a whack... so in the long haul, there may be valid arguments for opening borders to trade and flattening the global economy, but over the last 30 years, what has happened is that America has completely lost the ability to do heavy manufacture (robots are just now bringing that work back home, but not to human beings sadly.) Though corporations make out, workers get squished. More and more they begin to resemble the third world workers who have gotten their jobs, until the third world workers rising economically meet our workers on the way down. In 1950-70 the average American paid 20% of their wage to Housing, Interest and Taxes. Through the devaluation of American currency from pumping it by the trillions into the developing world's economies, through corporate interests spacing the American economy, through inflation/QE, through predatory corporate and government practice, the average American now spends 70% of his income on housing, interest and tax.

          I'm not even saying that the unnaturally high standard of living for the average American at the middle of last century didn't come at some high prices with respect to global competitiveness. I'm just saying the last 30 years have been a superating wound on the middle class with no end in site, and our government is about to cut the social safety net completely away leaving the poorest and least able to take care of themselves without means to live. When I see the vanishingly small population of disturbingly wealthy and powerful who have all made out like bandits (bandits being the oprerative phase here), I myself tend to long for the days a somewhat more protectionist American economy. Of course you may be one of those folks who've done well so clearly your mileage may vary

          • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

            by khallow (566160)

            I'm just saying the last 30 years have been a superating wound on the middle class with no end in site, and our government is about to cut the social safety net completely away leaving the poorest and least able to take care of themselves without means to live.

            I have a somewhat bitter solution here. Gut US spending everywhere so that the federal budget isn't a boat anchor on US competitiveness. Second, in addition to that, seriously cut back on anything that makes US workers more expensive. This includes environmental and worker safety regulation as well as some cutting of those "safety nets", particularly Social Security and Medicare/Medicaid (both which greatly harm labor competitiveness in the US).

            The focus here is on cost reduction of employment which mean

          • by drinkypoo (153816)

            Okay let's give this a whack... so in the long haul, there may be valid arguments for opening borders to trade and flattening the global economy, but over the last 30 years, what has happened is that America has completely lost the ability to do heavy manufacture (robots are just now bringing that work back home, but not to human beings sadly.)

            This is a lot of cockery. First, the USA is still the world's leader in heavy manufacturing. If you want a big machine made, or a lot of big machines made for that matter, we're still the people to talk to and always have been. Second, it is not sad that humans are not getting work that can be done by robots. What is sad is that your right to exist is tied to your performance as a mercantilist or mercantilist's slave. COLA, anyone?

        • by sjames (1099)

          I didn't see him advocate closing off international trade, just making sure there exists a domestic source of critical infrastructure by having government source domestically. We at least want enough domestic manufacturing that the experianced people get a chance to pass their knowledge on before they retire just in case we ever have to ramp up again.

          Nothing in that says anyone else in the U.S. has to buy local.

          • Well, keeping the capability on tap I have no problem with. If they want to keep a few research teams going and some small-scale production facilities around, I won't argue with that. But we're talking about some large departments with hundreds of millions a year in IT requirements. Those costs could easily double or triple -- and when we start talking about billions of dollars instead of millions, there's a noticable economic impact.

            We don't need to tie fear-mongering about chinese espionage into this init

            • by Cwix (1671282)

              we need to keep the costs down. That's all I'm interested in as a taxpayer -- don't buy premium when regular will do is all.

              Horrid, horrid, horrid position to take.
              The only way to get it cheap, is to get it from someone you can't really trust. That is a very bad idea. You need to ask yourself, is it cheap because it's not "premium" or is it cheap to encourage its adoption?
              Remember to beware of Greeks bearing gifts.

            • by sjames (1099)

              But we're talking about some large departments with hundreds of millions a year in IT requirements.

              That may sound like a lot, but it really isn't. Remember, that the volume must be large enough to make it worthwhile to set up manufacturing in the U.S. and to make running those production lines profitable. Otherwise, the RFQs will just go unanswered. If it is just barely enough, the unit prices will be higher than if the volume was increased.

        • by khallow (566160)
          Stop with teh common sense!

          Now how about we start over and you can tell me how the restriction of international trade benefits a country's economy. If you can, step up and collect your nobel prize in Economics.

          Several countries have successfully pulled off this protectionism trick. The idea is that you close your economy usually via high tariff barriers though there is at least one case of near complete banning of trade. And then you obsessive focus on building up your industry and such at the expense of everything else, particularly labor. When your industries are competitive again with the global market, then you can selectively open it back up to trade to bring in more capital for in

    • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

      Any government contract should be fulfilled with domestically sourced and manufactured parts whenever possible. If we can make it here, we should. If you want to create/protect jobs, it starts by keeping the money in the country as much as possible.

      Any government contract should be fulfilled with the best quality product at the agreed-upon price whenever possible. Those are my tax dollars buying those things... I don't want to pay a premium because of your political values. And paying more for a a product or service doesn't create or protect jobs. If I pay $2 for a $1 candybar at the gas station, it doesn't mean the gas station attendant gets paid more; Even if everybody overpays, it still doesn't create new jobs. Jobs are created based on labor needs

      • And any economist will tell you trade creates wealth

        What they'll actually do is cite a simplistic theory that claims that. Empirical verification is another story. But even the simplistic theory only holds under a very restrictive set of assumptions, like balanced trade. We haven't had balanced trade in 30 years.

        The United States became an economic superpower because it has steadfastly refused to take up the ideology you're preaching

        You're joking, right? Throughout most of its history the US was famous for its high tariff barriers, including the period when we became the world's foremost industrial power. Turns out Al Hamilton was a pretty smart guy.

        • What they'll actually do is cite a simplistic theory that claims that. Empirical verification is another story. But even the simplistic theory only holds under a very restrictive set of assumptions, like balanced trade. We haven't had balanced trade in 30 years.

          There is only one restriction: It must be voluntary. If you accept that "restriction", then Trade creates wealth [economicthinking.org]. It's always beneficial, provided it's voluntary. This isn't an assumption, and it doesn't require "balanced trade" (whatever the hell that is). It's simple, common sense.

          ou're joking, right? Throughout most of its history the US was famous for its high tariff barriers, including the period when we became the world's foremost industrial power. Turns out Al Hamilton was a pretty smart guy.

          High tariff barriers is one of the causes of the Great Depression [wikipedia.org]. Economists throughout the country begged and pleaded with Congress not to do it. A few years later... our economy collapsed. Also, Al Hamilton is a canadian hock

          • There is only one restriction: It must be voluntary. If you accept that "restriction", then Trade creates wealth [economicthinking.org]. It's always beneficial, provided it's voluntary. This isn't an assumption

            No, its an assertion. And the cite you used to back it up is nothing more than a series of assertions, without real argument, theory or evidence. If you say something often enough, does that make it true?

            and it doesn't require "balanced trade" (whatever the hell that is)

            Please tell me you're joking when you claim not to know what balanced trade is, or why it matters. And here's a hint: almost every economist working on trade, from Ricardo on, has in their theories assumed that trade is balanced. Remove that assumption and most of the theories are invalid.

            It's simple, common sense.

            Ah, the last basti

            • by khallow (566160)

              the main argument for international trade, comparative advantage, violates "common sense"

              It doesn't. One can see it in action in a group of people where one person is much more skilled than the rest (eg, an amateur home improvement job where an unskilled group is directed by someone who knows what they're doing). The experienced person can do all of the jobs better and faster than any of their unskilled companions, but in turn they don't get any of the advantages of having that labor unless those other people do some work. Common sense implying comparative advantage.

              As to the assertion that

          • by mbkennel (97636)

            "High tariff barriers is one of the causes of the Great Depression [wikipedia.org]. Economists throughout the country begged and pleaded with Congress not to do it."

            The US imposed tariffs against everybody, including say Canada and UK during the Depression. Nobody is proposing that now. Why isn't there a US-UK free trade agreement? And then, capital didn't move entire technological processes to other nations---that is not a win-win, it is a win-lose.

            China has lowered its currency artificially, causing im

            • by khallow (566160)

              China has lowered its currency artificially, causing imports to be more expensive and exports less expensive, the same economic result as a tariff. How has that hurt their economy?

              That generates inflation which harms those who save money or lend it.

      • by ThosLives (686517)

        And any economist will tell you trade creates wealth, by the simple fact that as long as both parties are willing, they're both getting something they want.

        Not any economist I know!

        Wealth is exactly constant during a trade. Now, value may increase (if it's a good trade), but wealth is constant. Wealth is only created by manufacturing and agriculture. Wealth is destroyed by consumption and decay (or active destructive activity like demolition, or disaters).

        More trade may encourage the creation of new wealt

      • by Nidi62 (1525137)

        Opening your economy to international trade provides enormous benefit to the domestic population -- provided that it is done with respect to maximizing trade for all citizens, not just the few and the wealthy.

        And this is where it has failed. What have we gained by shipping electronic manufacturing overseas? People can buy a new phone or tablet or laptop every year for about $50-100 cheaper than if it were made here. But what have we given up? Tens of thousands of jobs, if not more that would have been generated by those factories: the construction to build the factories/houses/buildings, the workers to run the factories, the technicians to maintain the electronics and machinery in the factories (and the indu

      • Those are my tax dollars buying those things... I don't want to pay a premium because of your political values.

        Actually, it is everyone's tax dollars buying those things, so why should your political values take precedence over anyone else's.

        And paying more for a a product or service doesn't create or protect jobs. If I pay $2 for a $1 candybar at the gas station, it doesn't mean the gas station attendant gets paid more;

        That doesn't sound like a supportable stance. When the economy gets tight the first thing that happens is a round of layoffs to reduce expenditure. This is in direct opposition to your argument.

        In the rush to provide cheaper prices, supermarkets in my area are moving towards self-service checkouts rather than employ extra people. If I want to support the jobs of people in my loc

      • by thoth (7907)

        Those are my tax dollars buying those things... I don't want to pay a premium because of your political values.

        Oh really? Well I get stuck paying for bullshit war, wall street bailouts, and corporate welfare - you want to talk about saving serious money instead of buget ROUNDOFF then let's talk about efficient government spending and political values.

        And paying more for a a product or service doesn't create or protect jobs.

        It definitely would with the right stipulations, basically "tech stuff needs to manufactured in the U.S. by citizens". Again, we're talking about the purchases of a few specific agencies, not the entire country and all corporations within it.

        The United States became an economic superpower because it has steadfastly refused to take up the ideology you're preaching

        We become a superpower more

    • by Genda (560240)

      Apparently you didn't get the memo... A) Government opens contract B) Corporation X with help of lobbyist gets contract C) Corporation X lobbies further to allow it to outsource work to the lowest international bidder ensuring the highest possible profit margin so Corporation X can keep a really impressive stable of lobbyists. D) One more "for sale" representative funds their next campaign war chest.

      Our government hasn't been protecting American Jobs for some time now. As for keeping money in the country...

  • by redmid17 (1217076) on Wednesday April 03, 2013 @08:15PM (#43353625)
    Yes
  • I would rather they insist that any such equipment bought by the US government be open and fully independently auditable. I think they would do a lot better for everybody if they simply made that a standard requirement of the procurement process.

    Though, I can also well understand the paranoia. The US government has done the exact same thing to security equipment sold to other countries that they are now worried about China doing to us. They should be worried about that.

    • It's hardware. Unless you put every single chip (not just samples) under a microscope, it doesn't matter what the software says. Unconvinced? See Stuxnet for an example of what software alone can do. Also: if I were in the PRC hierarchy, I wouldn't use any US-built stuff for sensitive projects. Of course all governments do this. So what?
  • The real question is should our government buy counterfeit military replacement parts from China [cnn.com]?

    Until we as a people decide that our national security depends on our manufacturing base and manufacturing capability then what difference does it make? It's all coming from China no matter how you look at it. The subcontractor of my subcontractor of my subcontractor is Chairman Mao. And when you play in a commodity market, the lowest bidding supplier with a stolen formula for capacitors wins [guardian.co.uk] as in the case

  • by Gadget_Guy (627405) on Wednesday April 03, 2013 @10:17PM (#43354407)

    Surely the best thing to do would be to mandate the inclusion of the source code to the firmware with any government contract, and provide the ability to upload your own firmware image so you can ensure what you see in the code is what you are running.

    Yes, I realise that this comes from a particular ideology that would be against the business interests of the hardware manufacturers. And while this wouldn't necessarily mean the firmware would be provided in an open source format to non-government users, it might make it more likely that they would do it.

  • by interval1066 (668936) on Wednesday April 03, 2013 @10:40PM (#43354505) Homepage Journal
    How much proof do you need that a little attention to national security might be a good thing?
  • Not much choice, and after seeing a few games Cisco plays (dragging somebody out of a courtroom in session - how's that for contempt of the law?) they are probably far more trustworthy than Cisco, and Cisco get their stuff built in China anyway.
  • ...is that the Federal Government allowed Microsoft to hand over source code for the NT kernel not so long ago...

    http://www.informationweek.com/software/operating-systems/china-gets-a-peek-at-microsoft-source-co/225400063 [informationweek.com]

    ...and look what happened!

    http://www.businessinsider.com/wikileaks-china--microsoft-source-hack-google-2010-12 [businessinsider.com]

    Oh dear.

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