The US Federal Communications Commission (FCC) is being urged to address surveillance threats posed by foreign firms providing services to American telecommunications providers.

Reuters reported that a letter, signed by Senator Ron Wyden as well as by Senators Dick Durbin, Richard Blumenthal, Chris Van Hollen and Ed Markey, said it is widespread among small rural carriers in the US “to outsource the installation and ongoing administration of networking technology to managed service providers, some of which are based in foreign countries.”

The Democratic lawmakers reportedly urged the FCC should work with US intelligence agencies “to identify high-risk foreign managed service providers that pose a threat to Americans’ privacy and US national security, and prohibit US wireless carriers from outsourcing the administration of their networks to these high-risk foreign firms.”

Managed service risk

It comes after security specialist CrowdStrike warned earlier this week that LightBasin, a hacking group linked to China, is currently compromising global telecom networks in an effort to gather valuable data.

In January this year, Reuters reported that US Director of National Intelligence Avril Haines told the Senate Intelligence Committee that “remote administration and management of US telecommunications networks by foreign companies could potentially threaten national security.”

The letter to acting FCC Chair Jessica Rosenworcel reportedly noted President Joe Biden in June signed an executive order aimed at protecting Americans’ “sensitive data from foreign adversaries.”

The FCC did not immediately comment but Rosenworcel said in June “we need to think about security in everything we do in our connected world.”

The letter added “there are currently no registration requirements for foreign managed service providers.”

FCC Assistance

The call from US Senators for the FCC to help telecom providers access the spy risk from foreign managed service providers comes after the FCC recently took action to address concerns that mostly rural US telecom providers were at risk by using hardware made by companies like China’s Huawei and ZTE Corp.

Last month the FCC revealed it will open a $1.9 billion program to reimburse mostly rural US telecom carriers for removing network equipment made by Chinese firms.

It came after the FCC last year estimated that US rural telecommunications companies that rely on federal subsidies would need to spend at least $1.837 billion ($1.4bn) to remove and replace equipment from Huawei and ZTE.

In 2020, the FCC designated Huawei and ZTE as national security threats to communications networks.

Tom Jowitt

Tom Jowitt is a leading British tech freelancer and long standing contributor to Silicon UK. He is also a bit of a Lord of the Rings nut...

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