China bans Micron products after security review finds unspecified flaws
Alleges major risks to national security, but is happy for chips to remain in place
China's Cyberspace Administration (CAC) has ruled that US memory-maker Micron is a threat to national security and ordered some local organizations to stop using its products.
In April, Beijing ordererd a national security assessment of Micron and its products, citing "security risks caused by hidden product problems" in some silicon Micron sold to Chinese customers.
Late on Sunday, China time, the CAC announced Micron had failed the assessment.
"The review found that Micron's products have relatively serious potential network security issues, which pose a major security risk to my country's key information infrastructure supply chain and affect my country's national security," the CAC’s announcement states (via machine translation). "For this reason, the Network Security Review Office has made a conclusion that the network security review should not be passed.
"According to the Network Security Law and other laws and regulations, operators of critical information infrastructure in China should stop purchasing Micron products."
The CAC did not detail the risks Micron's products represent.
Indeed, the notice only mentions a cessation to purchasing. Whatever is wrong with Micron kit may represent a "major security risk" – but not so major a risk that a rip and replace operation is necessary.
Semiconductor industry analyst Dylan Patel suggested the ban is performative.
"Pretty good way to punch back given it is something that scares the crap out of people, but in actuality has very little significance because memory is a commodity and supply chains will adjust in a couple quarters," he wrote on Twitter.
Beijing has plenty to punch back against. Recent prohibitions on export of US tech are specifically designed to harm China's economy and government by restricting the flow of advanced semiconductors to the Middle Kingdom.
Beijing has also long objected to Western governments' bans on Chinese firms Huawei and ZTE selling to local telcos on the basis of national security issues. Those bans were also implemented without technical details of why they were appropriate, although they were supported by references to laws that require all Chinese businesses to share information with the nation's government.
China recently reminded the world of allegations the US's security agencies happily exploit zero-day flaws in US-made tech products.
- US sanctions cut Huawei profits by half in first quarter
- US plays Whac-A-Mole with Inspur subsidiaries to close China sanction loopholes
- Korea hopes US will extend sanction exemptions for SK hynix and Samsung
- Smuggler busted heading for China with dodgy GPUs … and live lobsters
Patel's other point – that China can find alternatives to Micron products – is also well made. Memory is not hard to find, and global production is increasing.
Memory is also a field in which Chinese firms are well advanced: local champion YMTC is rated as a strong competitor for the likes of Samsung, SK hynix … and of course Micron.
Beijing has therefore barred one supplier of a commodity it can easily access from elsewhere, and done so after finding a risk so mild it is happy for that supplier's products to remain in use.
And it did so the day after the G7 bloc of nations, in the communiqué following its annual leaders' meeting, resolved "to increase our collective assessment, preparedness, deterrence and response to economic coercion, and further promote cooperation with partners beyond the G7. We will deepen our strategic dialogue against malicious practices to protect global supply chains from illegitimate influence, espionage, illicit knowledge leakage, and sabotage in the digital sphere."
That's an unsubtle reference to China's alleged economic espionage and tactic of cutting off imports from harm nations with which it is in dispute.
A Micron spokesperson told The Register "We have received the CAC's notice following its review of Micron products sold in China. We are evaluating the conclusion and assessing our next steps. We look forward to continuing to engage in discussions with Chinese authorities." ®