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US lawmakers raise alarm about security risks of Chinese cellular modules

Two U.S. lawmakers on Tuesday asked the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) to address questions about potential security concerns involving cellular modules made by Chinese companies including Quectel and Fibocom Wireless.

The Republican chair of the House of Representatives China Select Committee, Mike Gallagher, and the panel’s top Democrat, Raja Krishnamoorthi, in a letter to FCC Chair Jessica Rosenworcel raised alarm that U.S. medical equipment, vehicles and farm equipment could be accessed and controlled remotely from China if they use Chinese-made cellular modules.

An FCC spokesperson said the commission “will closely review the committee’s letter. We take very seriously the security of U.S. networks and equipment” and noted commissioners have “taken strong actions on a bipartisan basis to remove untrustworthy equipment and network operators from U.S. networks.”

The companies did not immediately respond to requests for comment.

Cellular modules are components that enable internet of things (IoT) devices to connect to the internet. Noting that they are typically controlled remotely and are the necessary link between the device and the internet, the lawmakers said that if China “can control the module, it may be able to effectively exfiltrate data or shut down the IoT device. This raises particularly grave concerns in the context of critical infrastructure and any type of sensitive data.”

In September, the FCC named Chinese telecom companies Pacific Networks, its wholly owned subsidiary ComNet (USA), and China Unicom as threats to U.S. national security under a 2019 law aimed at protecting communications networks.

In March 2021, the FCC initially designated five Chinese companies under its “Covered List” – including Huawei Technologies, ZTE, Hytera Communications, Hangzhou Hikvision Digital Technology (002415.SZ) and Zhejiang Dahua Technology.

The lawmakers asked the FCC to consider using the Covered List to address Chinese-owned cellular modules and to answer if the commission can track the presence of Quectel, Fibocom and other modules provided by Chinese companies.

In 2022, the Chinese Embassy in Washington said the FCC “abused state power and maliciously attacked Chinese telecom operators again without factual basis.” Huawei has repeatedly denied allegations of wrongdoing. Reuters

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