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FBI warns Americans to avoid Chinese smartphones

Director Christopher Wray addresses the audience during his formal installation ceremony at FBI Headquarters on September 28, 2017. (FBI/WikiMedia)
February 20, 2018

Top U.S. intelligence officials advised Americans again last week to avoid purchasing or using any smartphones manufactured by Chinese companies like Huawei or ZTE.

This warning comes less than a month after Congress heavily pressured U.S. network providers AT&T and Verizon to abandon their deals with Chinese tech giant Huawei, which had plans to finally bring its devices to the U.S. market.

FBI Director Christopher Wray said in front of the Senate Intelligence Committee that U.S. intelligence officials from the NSA, FBI and CIA all believe smartphones sold by Chinese-based tech companies pose a serious security risk.

“We’re deeply concerned about the risks of allowing any company or entity that is beholden to foreign governments that don’t share our values,” Wray explained.

Wray outlined what the intelligence community believes is the goal of Chinese companies in infiltrating the U.S. markets, including gaining “positions of power inside our telecommunication networks that provides the capacity to exert pressure or control over our telecommunications infrastructure.”

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Wray also said that the phones could be used to “maliciously modify or steal information” and “to conduct undetected espionage.”

Huawei and ZTE were both quick to dismiss the claims made by the U.S. intelligence community and stressed that their products are already being sold in countless markets around the world with no issues.

“Huawei is trusted by governments and customers in 170 countries worldwide and poses no greater cybersecurity risk than any ICT (information and communications technology) vendor, sharing as we do common global supply chains and production capabilities,” a spokesperson for Huawei said in a statement.

ZTE, which already produces components and products in the U.S., stressed the rigorous manufacturing guidelines it follows and ensured their commitment to security.

“ZTE is proud of the innovation and security of our products in the U.S. market,” a ZTE spokesman said. “As a publicly traded company, we are committed to adhering to all applicable laws and regulations of the United States, work with carriers to pass strict testing protocols, and adhere to the highest business standard.”

While the Chinese brands press forward in their attempt to prove their legitimacy, U.S. officials remain unconvinced.

During the Senate Intelligence Committee panel, Sen. Tom Cotton, a Republican from Arkansas, asked heads of the FBI, NSA and CIA to raise their hands if they would recommend Americans use any products manufactured by Huawei or ZTE. No one raised their hands.

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“Huawei is effectively an arm of the Chinese government, and its more than capable of stealing information from U.S. officials by hacking its device,” Cotton said in a statement.