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Post written while using a Lenovo ThinkPad X1

Tuesday, 30 July, 2013

In fact, most Rainy Day blog posts are written using a Lenovo ThinkPad X1 as it happens to be our workhorse of choice. But what if the trusty old X1 were so configured that it might be sending these posts back to Beijing? Would that affect our thinking about it’s lightness and sleekness and reliability?

You see, Lenovo, which has its headquarters in Beijing, acquired IBM’s ThinkPad brand and technology in 2005 and it hasn’t looked back since then. It had revenues last year of $29 billion and has a market share of nearly 17 percent. Note: The Chinese Academy of Sciences, a public body, owns more than a third of Legend Holdings, which in turn owns 34 percent of Lenovo and is its biggest shareholder.

And now comes the disturbing news that the intelligence and defence services of Australia, the US, Britain, Canada and New Zealand have banned Lenovo machines from their networks because of concerns they are vulnerable to being hacked. According to the Australian Financial Review, “malicious modifications to ­Lenovo’s circuitry — beyond more typical vulnerabilities or ‘zero-days’ in its software — were discovered that could allow people to remotely access devices without the users’ knowledge. The alleged presence of these hardware ‘back doors’ remains highly classified.

In a statement, Lenovo said it was unaware of the ban. The company said its ‘products have been found time and time again to be reliable and secure by our enterprise and public sector customers and we always ­welcome their engagement to ensure we are meeting their security needs’..

A technology expert at the ­Washington-based Brookings ­In­stitution, Professor John Villasenor, said the globalisation of the semi-conductor market has ‘made it not only possible but inevitable that chips that have been intentionally and maliciously altered to contain hidden ‘Trojan’ circuitry will be inserted into the supply chain.

‘These Trojan circuits can then be triggered months or years later to launch attacks,’ he said.”

By the way, Lenovo is not the only company with links to Beijing to run into trouble about its hardware. Similar allegations were made against Huawei Technologies, the telecommunications giant earlier this year after it was banned from competing for a huge broadband contract in Australia. And Huawei was accused earlier this month by a former head of the CIA of passing details of foreign telecommunications systems to the Chinese government. It has repeatedly insisted its products are safe and challenged its detractors to provide proof for their claims.

Those who think that this is all tech talk, should read the brilliant and frightening Death in Singapore by Raymond Bonner and Christine Spolar of the Financial Times. This is a dangerous world and the stakes are higher than we can imagine.

ThinkPad X1

Comments (1)

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  1. Henry Barth says:

    I wouldn’t be at all surprised if backdoors are found in all Chinese software. And what about all those apps on PCs, laptops, smartphones, etc., which are allowed by the device to “call home” to China all the time?