I often encourage my clients to be paranoid about security, but never to the point of throwing the baby out with the bathwater, which is exactly what the Economic Development Agency did two years ago when responding to a report that some of its computers were infected with malware. Due to a mixture of clerical error, poor communication and straight-up inexperience (in a government agency? Imagine that!), the top brass at the EDA received a report that stated over a hundred devices on its network were infected. Believing the technology to be unrecoverable, they proceeded to physically destroy all of it, including mice, keyboards, monitors, printers and other devices that couldn’t be infected with malware, rather than risk the spread of infection, to the tune of nearly $3 million.
What this means for you:
If you’ve ever had a really bad malware infection, you sometimes might hear the technician say, “It’s probably best if we nuke this thing from orbit,” referring to a favorite scene from the movie Aliens. Obviously, your computer is going to be just fine, as he’s actually just talking about wiping out the contents of your hard drive and starting with a fresh install of your operating system. Unless he’s a contractor who lists the EDA as a former client, in which case you might want to show him the door and call someone else.
In all seriousness, a situation like this can easily happen if your organization’s leadership has an incomplete understanding of technology and security. In the above case, a little knowledge and a pinch of common sense could have saved the EDA a lot of money and embarrassment. Continue to be paranoid about security, but only “nuke from orbit” when your company is completely overrun by man-eating aliens. A malware infection, or even a serious security breach, can be handled without slaughtering all those helpless keyboards and mice.
In a House Intelligence committee report released on Monday, Oct 8, 2012, US lawmakers cite security concerns with Chinese electronics manufacturing firms Huawei and ZTE. Though neither could be considered a brand recognizable in the US, both firms manufacture electronics that are used to power telecommunication devices all over the world. Though no overt wrongdoing was detected in the 9-month investigation, the report notes that the firms refused to fully cooperate with the investigation. The Chinese government is known to have a heavy hand in directing operations and even strategy for Chinese businesses, mostly to ensure tight control over national security, so it’s no wonder investigators may have encountered resistance from the companies.
What this means for you:
Independent, industry-led investigations have not found any evidence that equipment utilizing parts manufactured by either company have purposefully included security defects or “backdoors” that may have been mandated by the Chinese government as a possible means to infiltrate other countries’ data networks, though vulnerabilities have been found in older Huawei routers. Similar defects have been found in Cisco routers (an American company) which lends credence that the vulnerabilities were not state-sponsored “backdoors”, but instead a product of ongoing security research and development. The intelligence report seems to be more politically minded as opposed to highlighting a clear and present danger, focusing on “what-if” scenarios given China’s heavy-handed government, and fails to note that Chinese (or any other nationality) hackers don’t need an easy-to-detect backdoor to hack American business interests.