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Chinese technology in the ‘IoT’ poses a new threat to the West

The UK move to ban Huawei from its 5G telecoms network has mainstreamed debate about the security threat from Chinese equipment. Concerns are growing about Western exposure to the potentially risky technology: Only last month, British lawmakers and peers called on the government to crack down on the use of surveillance equipment from two Chinese companies, Hikvision and Dahua, which have already been Blacklisted by Washington. However, there is one threat that has gone under the radar: tiny components made by Chinese companies into devices connected to the Internet of Things.

IoT products, which are equipped with data-transmitting sensors and connected to WiFi networks, have evolved from typical industrial applications to be ubiquitous in homes, offices, and some vehicles. They are also an important component of our national infrastructure. It’s the technology that will automatically turn on our lights when it’s dark, or power home surveillance cameras capable of face and object recognition. But similar data collected and used by IoT devices – for example, on the activities of individuals – could easily be used by a hostile state such as China to influence, pressure, or threaten an adversary, company or individual. .

All of these connected functions are enabled by small cellular IoT modules. Unlike semiconductors or 5G base stations, they are rarely marketed as complete products, which is one way to explain why the risk is lost on London and Washington.

In an apparent parallel with the market dominance of telecommunications suppliers such as Huawei and ZTE, the three Chinese manufacturers account for more than 50 percent of the global market share of cellular IoT modules. Quectel, Fibocom and China Mobile among them provide modules to a number of Chinese companies, including Huawei, Hikvision and DJI, which have been linked to the repression of Uighurs in Xinjiang (although the three companies dispute these ties). While products from these latter three companies are already either under scrutiny or are actively banned in the US, UK or Europe, the same underlying cellular IoT modules are also used by Western producers, including Tesla, Intel , Dale and Parrot.

Authored by Harold Vazquez ,director of Penumbra Analysis, the article was first published in Financial Times

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