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28 October 2021: The US Senate voted unanimously to deny Huawei and ZTE from supplying equipment to US enterprises due to national security threats that would violate the Secure Equipment Act. Once approved by Pres. Joe Biden, the companies will not be granted equipment licenses by the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) under its ‘Covered Equipment or Services List’. A few days before, the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) raided PAX Technology's Jacksonville warehouse after reports of alleged transmission of malware through the Chinese manufacturer's point-of-sale (PoS) terminals.

Why it’s Important.

As a member of Five Eyes (FVEY), an alliance of countries including Canada, New Zealand, the UK and the US, for joint cooperation in signals, military and human intelligence, Australia has previously followed the US in cutting off suspicious foreign tech companies' domestic presence due to national security concerns.

  • Australia blacklisted Huawei and ZTE in 2018 from selling 5G equipment. The two firms vehemently dismissed accusations over high-speed mobile network espionage, citing discriminatory tactics even with a no-backdoor agreement. 
  • In the same year, the Australian Defence Department banned messaging and payment app WeChat for failing to meet the organisation's standards for use on networks and mobile devices but not necessarily because of security and privacy issues.
  • In late October 2021, PoS terminals from PAX were detected sending anomalous network traffic, which has seen formal requests to replace the equipment due to security concerns. 

The fundamental issue here is supply chain security - the ability of nation state actors to inject spyware (or other malware) into equipment that is broadly used globally. Even where the security risks are not validated, the potential remains. It must also be noted that in the recent past, allies of Australia have engaged in such activities.

With the current geopolitics on global telecommunications being influenced by the US, sweeping impacts on the global supply chain and reduced competition in the market are likely.  

IBRS expects this technology supply spat will expand into areas outside of telecommunications, such as industrial control systems and PoS. Any widespread technology that can be used to impact or monitor aspects of national economies are likely targets.

Who’s impacted

  • Telecommunications procurement

What’s Next?

For organisations considering foreign-manufactured tech products and services, look more closely at the implications of selecting such equipment or platforms. While there is still no public evidence on the credibility of allegations against specific state actors, senior leaders must take security concerns in their organisation and assess the risks they are willing to take when selecting any vendor.

In addition to the security risks, there are also reputational risks, and risks associated with having to replace key solutions, such as is the case with the PAX PoS hardware.

Related IBRS Advisory

  1. Choosing Huawei could be risky - but not why you think
  2. Are you FRUSTRATED with procurement? Why procurement often goes off the rails