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US DoD And Huawei Officials Cross Swords At Cybersecurity Panel

February 26, 2020 / AJINKYA BAGADE

  • The US Department of Defence official, Katie Arrington insisted that it had good reason to remove Huawei products from government use.

  • Huawei USA Chief Security Officer Andy Purdy however said the government was following a policy of "rip and replace."

  • The panel on stage were discussing supply chain security.

Things were tense at the RSA Conference in San Francisco on Wednesday, when a Huawei executive and US Department of Defense official got into a heated argument on stage. Katie Arrington, an official in charge of acquisition at the Defense Department, insisted that lawmakers and President Donald Trump had good reason to remove Huawei products from government use. Huawei USA Chief Security Officer Andy Purdy said the decision was the wrong approach.

Purdy said the government was tearing useful technology from the hands of government workers serving US citizens by following a policy of "rip and replace." He also said that the government can observe the manufacturing process more closely to build trust.

Arrington countered that removing Huawei technology from government use was the only option, "because the risk is so high." The US can't consider conveying control of sensitive information to another country, Arrington said, "end of story, period."

The panel on stage was discussing supply chain security, or the process of making sure security flaws don't get introduces into tech during the manufacturing process. There are countless ways bugs can wind up in your tech since phones, computers and other devices are made in overseas factories, overseen by complex contractors. The question of whether the bugs were put there on purpose, and by whom, can lead to an international relations crisis.

READ MORE: US turns up heat on Huawei with 23-count indictments

Moderating the panel was Craig Spiezle, a consultant at Agelight Advisory Group who focuses on increasing trust in tech and addressing ethics. Tech policy experts Bruce Schneier of the Harvard Kennedy School and Kathryn Waldron of the R Street Institute think tank was also on the stage.

Schneier said, until recently, the US government didn't mind that devices were insecure because its spy agencies were the best at using those vulnerabilities to gain intelligence. As other countries came to match the United States' ability to spy, the government has become more concerned with patching up flaws. That's going to decrease everyone's ability to spy, he said.

“Security will come at the expense of surveillance."

- Bruce Schneier, Tech Policy Expert, Harvard Kennedy School

Waldron said that Chinese tech companies are closely tied to the Chinese government and the US government's decision to ban Huawei tech has cemented that idea and the association can't be undone at this point.

"All countries are engaged in spying. I don't think that's a surprise to anyone."

- Kathryn Waldron, R Street Institute

The US has its history if putting vulnerable communication devices out into the world.  A recent report from the Washington Post detailed how the CIA secretly ran a cryptography company, selling machines with backdoors to governments around the world under the auspices of Crypto AG.

READ MORE: US charges Huawei with stealing trade secrets