China Warns Of Security Threat Posed By Cisco, Intel Tech

Jeffrey Burt is a senior editor for eWEEK and contributor to TechWeekEurope

Technology from the likes of Intel, Cisco, Google etc poses a security risk to China – local media claims

The knock on effects following the government surveillance programs leaked by former intelligence consultant Edward Snowden continues.

And now Chinese media reports are claiming that technology from Cisco Systems, amongst other US tech companies is being used to help the US government spy on China.

Cisco Denial

According to reports, Chinese media are claiming that Cisco, Microsoft, Apple, Google and IBM, among others, pose a security risk to the Chinese government, and that the Chinese should develop their own Internet technology and reduce its reliance on technology from US-based companies.

Other companies cited by such publications as Global Times and Sina are Oracle, Qualcomm and Intel.

snowdenSnowden, a security consultant for Booz Allen Hamilton, fled the country with classified information into US surveillance programs by such entities as the National Security Agency. He told a reporter from The Guardian newspaper that the United States used Cisco equipment in its efforts to spy on China.

Cisco officials have denied that the company played any role in the US surveillance programs.

“Cisco does not monitor communications of private citizens or government organisations in China or anywhere in the world,” Cisco spokesman John Earnhardt told Bloomberg. “We sell the same equipment globally, including both China and the United States, with no customisation for purposes of such programs.”

China is seen as a significant emerging growth market by most technology companies, so any move by the Chinese government to curtail or ban sales of products in that country could have a negative impact on the vendors. According to reports, Cisco gets about $2 billion (£1.3bn) in revenue every year from the Chinese market, though Earnhardt said the country represented less than 5 percent of the company’s overall profits and revenues.

Still, it is a market with tremendous upside, and having Cisco out of the way would give more running room for Chinese networking vendors Huawei Technologies and ZTE, both of which already control much larger shares of the Chinese market than Cisco.

According to Infonetics Research, Cisco has seen its market share in China fall from 21 percent in 2010 to 18 percent in 2012, while ZTE’s grew from 18 to 29 percent. Huawei still has about double the market share that Cisco has.

China Market

In speaking with analysts and journalists in May to talk about the company’s quarterly financial results, Cisco CEO John Chambers reiterated how important emerging markets – not only China, but such places as India, Brazil and Russia as well – were to the company. Chambers noted that Cisco’s revenues in emerging markets grew 13 percent year over year.

However, he also admitted that the company was struggling in China.

“We also continue to see challenges in China, largely Cisco-specific, relating to the business environment,” Chambers said. “We do believe we are making progress, although we expect these challenges in China to last for several more quarters.”

The issues Cisco is seeing in China – including the latest claims by Chinese media – echo similar claims made in the United States against Huawei and ZTE. US officials have been vocal in their belief that the Chinese government has been behind some cyber attacks in the United States. US lawmakers last year expressed concern that Huawei and ZTE could be leveraged by the Chinese government for espionage here and that they pose a national security risk. President Barack Obama in May signed a spending bill prohibiting US wireless carriers to refuse to use telecommunications equipment from either company.

Officials from both Huawei and ZTE denied the US claims, and Huawei officials eventually said they were no longer interested in the US telecommunications market, though they still plan to make a push into US Enterprises.

Infonetics co-founder Michael Howard told Bloomberg that while Cisco could be hurt in China by the controversy, carriers such as China Mobile and China Unicom in Hong Kong would be reluctant to entirely give up Cisco products.

“Cisco gear is always going to be in China’s backbone networks,” Howard said. Major Chinese carriers “don’t want to wind up having just Huawei and ZTE.”

Ray Mota, founder of ACG Research also noted that Cisco in the 1990s helped the Chinese government developing that country’s Internet infrastructure and works with thousands of Chinese technicians to train them how to use Cisco products.

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Originally published on eWeek.

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