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International relations

US cracks down on Chinese, Russian firms over security fears

Washington looks to block use of Huawei technology, Kaspersky

Huawei looks to connect smartphones to TVs and household electronic appliances.   © Reuters

WASHINGTON -- Chinese and Russian companies in fields such as information technology face growing restrictions on their operations in the U.S. as concern builds in Washington over data security and foreign political interference.

The U.S. Army has pulled security cameras made by Hangzhou Hikvision Digital Technology, the world's largest maker of security cameras, from Fort Leonard Wood in the state of Missouri, the Wall Street Journal reports. Hikvision is a subsidiary of China Electronics Technology Group, which in turn is controlled directly by the Chinese government, raising concerns that Beijing could use the devices to gather information.

The U.S. House Committee on Small Business will hold a public hearing Jan. 30 on security risks surrounding devices including Hikvision cameras. The Department of Homeland Security issued an advisory last year that some of the cameras could be exploited by remote hackers with relative ease.

Kaspersky ban, lawsuit

Meanwhile, the National Defense Authorization Act for fiscal 2018, signed into law in December, prohibits any federal government entity from using technology or services affiliated with Kaspersky Lab, the Russian cybersecurity heavyweight behind a popular antivirus software. Some 400 million people and 270,000 companies use Kaspersky products.

The move comes after Kaspersky software detected a secret hacking tool created by the U.S. National Security Agency on a personal computer in the U.S. and transmitted the code back to the company's headquarters in Russia for review. The tool is thought to have been found on the home computer of an NSA contractor, a result of improper handling.

Some suspect Kaspersky of cooperating with Russian intelligence authorities on spying operations.

The company also is suing the Department of Homeland Security in federal court over an earlier directive, issued in September, effectively banning Kaspersky technology from government use. American electronics retailers such as Best Buy have halted sales of Kaspersky products, and the antivirus provider claims the ban has "caused undue damage to both the company's reputation in the IT security industry and its sales in the U.S."

Huawei deal called off

Chinese smartphone maker Huawei Technologies' fortunes in the U.S. are also in question after American mobile phone carrier AT&T backed out of a deal to sell Huawei handsets shortly before the pair's partnership was to be announced. The reasons for the breakdown are unclear, though some lawmakers reportedly appealed to federal regulators to block the arrangement.

The House intelligence committee urged American companies in a 2012 report to avoid using equipment from Huawei or Chinese communications equipment maker ZTE, arguing that such use in critical infrastructure "could undermine core U.S. national-security interests." Yet many businesses continue using these offerings, which often are cheaper than rival products. A House bill introduced Jan. 9 would ban federal contractors from using Huawei or ZTE communications equipment.

No evidence exists that Chinese or Russian companies are passing information on to their governments. But allegations that President Donald Trump or his team coordinated with Moscow during the 2016 presidential election have stoked broad concerns about foreign government interference in U.S. affairs.

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