Obama BANS U.S. government from buying Chinese-made computer technology over cyber-attack fears|
- [size=1.4em]New rule bans agencies including Nasa from buying Chinese computers
- [size=1.4em]It was passed as part of the latest budget resolution signed this week
- [size=1.4em]Ban comes after Chinese government linked to string of hacks on U.S.
[size=1.2em]President Obama has hit back at Beijing's alleged hacking campaign against U.S. businesses by banning government from buying Chinese computer technology.
[size=1.2em]The new rule, which was buried in a spending bill signed this week, comes after a string of hacks traced back to China hit some of America's most important companies.
[size=1.2em]It will only be in effect until the end of the fiscal year on September 30, but could yet pave the way for broader, more permanent changes in how the U.S. government buys technology.
[size=1.2em]'This is a change of direction,' said Stewart Baker, a former senior official at the Homeland Security Department who now works for the legal firm Steptoe and Johnson in Washington.
[size=1.2em]'My guess is we're going to keep going in this direction for a while.'
[size=1.2em]U.S. computer security firm Mandiant in March released details on what it said was an aggressive hacking campaign on American businesses by a Chinese military unit.
[size=1.2em]Since then, Treasury Secretary Jacob Lew has used high-level meetings with Beijing officials to press the matter.
[size=1.2em]Beijing has denied the allegations.Lawmakers tucked the provision into the latest budget resolution, which enables the government to pay for day-to day operations for the rest of the fiscal year, under the innocuous heading 'section 156'.
[size=1.2em]It bans the Commerce and Justice departments, NASA and the National Science Foundation from buying hardware 'produced, manufactured or assembled' by any entity 'owned, operated or subsidised' by the People's Republic of China.
[size=1.2em]The agencies can only acquire the technology if, after consulting with the FBI, they determine that there is no risk of 'cyberespionage or sabotage associated with the acquisition of the system'.
[size=1.2em]Rep. Dutch Ruppersberger, the top Democrat on the House Intelligence Committee, said he supports the restriction and doesn't think it would be too cumbersome for federal agencies.
[size=1.2em]The Defense and Energy departments already are mindful of how its networks are built.
[size=1.2em]'Anything we can do to call awareness to the fact that we're continuing to be cyberattacked, we're continuing to lose jobs, and that billions of dollars in American money is being stolen,' Mr Ruppersberger said yesterday.
[size=1.2em]He and House Intelligence Committee Chairman Mike Rogers, a Republican, released a report late last year urging U.S. companies and government agencies to drop any business with Chinese telecommunications companies Huawei Technologies and ZTE because of the security risks they pose.
[size=1.2em]'Any bug, beacon or backdoor put into our critical systems could allow for a catastrophic and devastating domino effect of failures throughout our networks,' Mr Rogers said in a statement accompanying the report.
[size=1.2em]But a blanket prohibition on technology linked to the Chinese government may be easier said than done. Information systems are often a complicated assembly of parts manufactured by different companies around the globe.
[size=1.2em]And investigating where each part came from, and if that part is made by a company that could have ties to the Chinese government could be difficult.
[size=1.2em]Huawei, the world's third-largest maker of smartphones, says it is owned by its employees and rejects claims that it is controlled by the communist government or China's military.
[size=1.2em]Depending on how the Obama administration interprets the law, Baker said it also could cause problems for the U.S. with the World Trade Organisation.
[size=1.2em]The WTO's members include U.S. allies like Germany and Britain that might rely on Chinese technology to build computers or handsets.
[size=1.2em]But in the end, Baker says it could make the U.S. government safer and wiser.
[size=1.2em]'We do have to worry about buying equipment from companies that may not have our best interests at heart,' he said.
[size=1.1em]A secretive Chinese military unit is believed to be behind a series of hacking attacks on the U.S. government as well as aerospace, communications and energy companies, a report claimed last month.
[size=1.1em]U.S. security firm Mandiant identified the People's Liberation Army's Shanghai-based Unit 61398 as the most likely driving force behind hundreds, if not thousands of cyber attacks.
[size=1.1em]It said says an office block housing the unit is linked to stolen technology blueprints, manufacturing processes, clinical trial results, pricing documents, negotiation strategies and other secret data from more than 100 companies.
[size=1.1em]More alarmingly, it claims the unit, known online as the Comment Crew, has also made incursions into the computer networks that control oil pipelines, power grids, water plants and other pieces of key state infrastructure.
[size=1.1em]'The nature of Unit 61398's work is considered by China to be a state secret,' Mandiant said in a report released at the end of February.
[size=1.1em]'However, we believe it engages in harmful "Computer Network Operations".
[size=1.1em]'It is time to acknowledge the threat is originating in China and we wanted to do our part to arm and prepare security professionals to combat that threat effectively,' it said.
[size=1.1em]The Chinese Foreign Ministry dismissed the report as 'groundless' and said the government firmly opposed hacking.
[size=1.1em]'Hacking attacks are transnational and anonymous. Determining their origins are extremely difficult. We don't know how the evidence in this so-called report can be tenable,' said spokesman Hong Lei.
[size=1.1em]'Arbitrary criticism based on rudimentary data is irresponsible, unprofessional and not helpful in resolving the issue.'