Los Alamos pulls network switch

In one of the dafter “reds under the beds” and “beware the yellow peril” moves to come out of the United States lately, the Los Alamos National Laboratory in New Mexico has sent back some network switches because they were made by a Chinese company.

According to Reuters, a letter dated November 5, 2012, states that the research facility had installed devices made by H3C Technologies. For those who came in late H3C was a joint venture between China’s Huawei Technologies and 3Com. In the end the outfit was bought by HP.

Reuters seems to think that the discovery raises questions about procurement practices by US departments responsible for national security.

However that sort of argument ignores the fact that the US government and Congress only raised concerns about Huawei and its alleged ties to the Chinese military and government only recently.

Unless the routers were caught sending data to mysterious Chinese gentlemen who wear roses in their lapels and carry a copy of the Times under their arm, there really was nothing to fear about old switches.

Reuters did not know the exact number of Chinese-made switches installed at Los Alamos, how or when they were acquired, and whether they were placed in sensitive systems or pose any security risks. But the US is very sensitive about Los Alamos because it was where the first atomic bomb was designed and is responsible for maintaining America’s arsenal of nuclear weapons. The lab has been shut down in the past because its network security was not up to snuff, but this had nothing to do with Chinese hackers, or dodgy switches.

The letter says a working group of specialists, some from the lab’s counter intelligence unit, began investigating and “focusing on sensitive networks”.

The lab determined that a small number of the devices installed in one network were H3C devices. Two devices used in isolated cases were promptly replaced.

But what Reuters has not really looked at was how much this witchhunt cost and if it was at all necessary. Huawei sold its stake in H3C to 3Com in 2007.

While H3C’s website describes Huawei as one of its “global strategic partners” and states it is working with it “to deliver advanced, cost-efficient and environmental-friendly products” that relationship is incredibly tentative.

What appears to have happened is that without engaging brain, the armed services committee ordered a purge of technology produced by Huawei or ZTE.

Yet at no point is anyone looking at the technology and wondering if it really is a security threat. Huawei, for example, works with the British government without any problems.

While the US military might be worried about Huawei routers, it is less concerned with the legends of technology gadgets which are being made inside China. Why should Chinese spooks place spying gear in a branded Chinese switch when they could easily sneak something into an iPad, Blackberry, Samsung, or any other electronic device made in China?

If China was involved in a war with the US, all it would have to do to bring the country to its knees is block imports for a month and wait for the food and electronic supplies to dry up.