The security stand-off between the United States and Russia and China is set to intensify after the Pentagon revealed it has been developing a “do not buy” list of software originating from the two hostile nations.
The Defense Department’s acquisitions boss, Ellen Lord, told reporters that the list was begun six months ago in concert with US intelligence agencies.
As the name suggests, once a vendor is included on the list, their products will be boycotted by the Pentagon as a security risk.
However, drawing up the list has apparently not always been easy given that Beijing and Moscow are keen to hide the true origin of some companies.
"What we are doing is making sure that we do not buy software that is Russian or Chinese provenance, for instance, and quite often that is difficult to tell at first glance because of holding companies," Lord reportedly said. "We have identified certain companies that do not operate in a way consistent with what we have for defense standards."
Chinese telecoms firm ZTE and Russian AV firm Kaspersky Lab have been early casualties in an escalating Balkanisation of global technology flows.
Kaspersky Lab was banned for government use after fears of ties to Russian intelligence which it claims were never substantiated by lawmakers, while both ZTE and Huawei could yet face similar bans on their products if a defense authorization bill for fiscal 2019 passes Congress.
“It really speaks to cybersecurity writ large, which is one of our greatest concerns right now," Lord said. "This is a challenge for us in terms of how to deal with the industrial base, particularly small companies who don’t always have the resources."
Terry Ray, CTO at Imperva, argued that governments have always placed strict controls on foreign technology providers.
“It is common for the US government to scan software used in its environments for backdoors and other embedded code, or configurations that may allow hidden or previously unidentified connections, inbound or outbound to the technology,” he said.
“At the moment, I have not seen details on any new inspection processes which makes me think the technical review will utilize existing techniques. However, it’s important to note that other well-developed countries operate similarly and prefer to purchase and implement in-country or open source technology, in lieu of off-the-shelf products offered by the US or its allies.”