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Pentagon 'do not buy' list says нет to Russia, 不要 to Chinese code

Protect and survive, or old-fashioned protectionism – we'll let you decide

The US military is drawing up a list of overseas organizations – primarily in Russia and China, funnily enough – that the Pentagon and its contractors shouldn't buy software from, citing security concerns.

In a briefing with journalists on Friday, Ellen Lord, US defense undersecretary for acquisition and sustainment, said officials have spent the past six months crafting the so-called "do not buy" list. The aim is to stop code with Russian and Chinese origins or connections from being purchased and/or used by America's armed forces and its contractors in case the stuff can be remotely hijacked and spied on.

The list is being compiled with the help of US defense contractor organizations including the Aerospace Industries Association, the National Defense Industrial Association, and the Professional Services Council.

"We had specific issues … that caused us to focus on this," said Lord. "What we are doing is making sure that we do not buy software that's Russian or Chinese provenance. Quite often that's difficult to tell at first glance because of holding companies."

The US government has been locking down its supply chain to thwart attempts by foreign intelligence to insert vulnerabilities or backdoors into imported technology installed in American computers networks – y'know, the sort of backdoors the NSA hid in some of Cisco's devices. The most high-profile crackdowns to date have been against Russian security software vendor Kaspersky and Chinese hardware supplier Huawei, with officials citing security concerns.


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Given Lord's background, some are going to question if this latest list is really a security issue or just protectionism in the defense industry. Lord was appointed last year after a 30-year career in the US defense contracting industry, latterly at Textron, which owns Bell Helicopters. On the other hand, no one sane would not put it past Chinese and Russian intelligence to leverage tools and products exported to the US to snoop on Uncle Sam. Spies gotta spy.

While America turns its back on Chinese and Russian software, Cisco, IBM, HP, McAfee, and SAP have reportedly handed over the source code and blueprints for their kit to Kremlin investigators to pore over in search for backdoors and other malware before allowing the gear to be sold and used in the former Soviet Union.

This move sparked some serious concerns, not least because some of these companies are major suppliers to America's military. Exposing the source code to Moscow's agents would show Russian spies where to attack installed equipment and software to eavesdrop on the US administration.

China has made similar demands for source code access. So far, Microsoft, IBM, and Intel have said they are not playing ball, but that may change.

To complicate matters further, folks in Russia and China have been trying to buy stakes in key American software companies, as well as setting up holding and shell companies to obfuscate the origin of code. Sorting out what is and isn’t acceptable to the Pentagon may take some time. ®

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