December 25, 2014 by ...
Chinese firms are notorious for stocking their kit with malware and backdoors. The latter are used to potentially compromise systems and put them under the control of the manufacturer. Suspicion of such behavior is behind the anti-Huawei and anti-ZTE rhetoric in Washington. This has successfully kept those two companies from supplying mission critical American technologies.
For their part, Xiaomi is equally guilty of ‘backdooring’ their systems. They are mostly a cell phone play, and thus have not met with as much resistance as of yet.
It has recently been exposed that Coolpad, another Chinese firm, is uploading adware and games into its systems via backdoors. This is another problem that this technical feat presents. Not only can systems be compromised, but exploited for monetary gain as well. For example, user data be swiped and sold, but also consumers can be force-fed ad ware which also leads to exploits.
It is a well known secret that here in China, handset makers use such unsavory means to subsidize the cost of their gadgets. And yes, Xiaomi, I am looking at you too. So far Samsung is the only global company to man up and ask how Xiaomi survives on such thin margins. They intimated that Xiaomi must be getting money from somewhere. Perhaps Beijing gives them handouts, or maybe they just nic and sell data. The truth is, nobody really knows.
Backdoors what are they?
Backdoors are code written into components which allow access to the brains of electronics. In and of themselves they are benign. They allow programmers to install and update software as well as to troubleshoot if need be.
When things go wrong
Due to their nature, they can be abused, however. In so far as they allow access to the heart of a system, they can lead to disaster in the hands of rogue elements (many Chinese telcos). For example, South Sudan alleged that it was just such a backdoor which Huawei used to hack into official email accounts and send messages pimping for their services to be used. The story goes that Huawei lost a bid and then emailed the potential buyers under the name of South Sudan officials. These Huawei employees asked that the bid be reconsidered in favor of Huawei.
Not all moves are that ballsy, but they show what companies such as Xiaomi, Huawei, ZTE, Coolpad and all others can do if they are so inclined. Simply put, users can lose control of their devices without their knowledge.
How serious is it?
China’s rise as an electronics manufacturer and distributor have coincided with a rise in electronics being hacked and then sold. Local firms manufacture on the cheap and then imbed malicious code into their kit. Unsuspecting users then use the electronics as a normal consumer may and all of the sudden, their credit card bills run into the tens of thousands. Before they know it, some Chinese hackers are vacationing in Bali with cash pilfered from Joe Sixpack in Racine, Wisconsin. So creative are these ‘villians’ that they have infected everything from teapots to e-cigarettes. I guess that is just one more reason to quit smoking.
It should come as no surprise, then, that Coolpad has done pretty much the same thing. As reported here, they have amped their tablets with malware. The total extent of what the Chinese firm can do with your data is anybody’s guess. But the fact is that even by flashing the memory, or ‘cleaning it of unwanted code’ does no good. The digital disruption is part of what makes the Coolpad tick. For the ‘right’ to own one, you must accept the fact that your data is anything but secure.
Oh yeah, have a Merry Christmas!