RIM CEO Thorsten Heins has reignited the debate over whether China is a safe place to do business, after claiming this week that the BlackBerry-maker does not have any manufacturing bases in the country due to security concerns.
Heins made the comments in a response to a question at the embattled smartphone firm’s annual general meeting on Tuesday as to what it was doing to prevent long-term data leakage of the scale seen at Nortel.
“Very frankly, that is why we are not building or manufacturing in China, as many of our competitors do, to really protect our [software] code and make sure the [intellectual property] of RIM is protected,” he said, according to the Washington Post.
Given that that the security of its devices and BES messaging infrastructure is one of the few competitive advantages RIM has left over its rivals in the crowded smartphone space, any compromise would be disastrous for the firm.
Heins’ concerns would seem to be well founded. The Reg has previously reported that many foreign multinationals in the region are complaining about IP theft from their Chinese business units, and RIM would certainly be a potential target.
However, Kenny Lee, a principal consultant in Verizon Business’ Asia Pacific investigative response team, told El Reg that there are dangers everywhere for a firm like RIM.
“The truth is that cases of IP theft also occur in the US and Canada. Staying away from manufacturing in China doesn’t automatically protect any company from third parties obtaining access to proprietary data,” he added.
“In recent news, infrastructures that were once thought to be very secure have been breached and that tells us no environment can ever be 100 per cent secure.”
Lee argued that firms should make sure they develop a strong incident response plan to ensure that if a breach occurs, they can swiftly and effectively manage the fall-out.
In any case, when it comes to China, a much bigger risk of IP leakage could be said to come via legitimate technology transfers that most Chinese partners force on foreign tech firms, in return for access to their huge domestic market.
There were rumours at a recent BT event that these security concerns may have contributed to the telco’s historical reluctance to go into a joint venture with any of the big local players in the Chinese market. ®