Building a wall – defending against the threat of Huawei devices

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Corporate networks take various steps and employ numerous measures to protect themselves from external threats.

Lately, countries too are taking similar steps, in the face of both real and imagined threats. The latest episode of security theatre is playing out before us in the case of “@RealDonaldTrump v Huawei”.

Despite the push to ban them entirely (the Pentagon have already forced military stores to stop selling Huawei and ZTE devices), Huawei saw an increase in usage over 2018 in the US, albeit with a very low overall share. From DeviceAtlas data:

huawei-market-share-2019-us

The nature of this beast ensures any threats Huawei may pose to the US will never be ruled out entirely. Similarly, the threats posed by US manufacturers to China. What makes this battle interesting from our angle are the parallels we can draw between an entire nation’s security perimeter, and that of a corporate network.

As counterfeit smartphones proliferate faster than Terrorists and Communists combined, it may be sound advice for those tasked with protecting US interests at home to focus on the wider picture. If all eyes are on Huawei and their super-popular, Apple-threatening smartphones, is there a risk of other devices sneaking through?

Is it possible to prevent Huawei devices from accessing your network?

Yes. Should you?
No.
DeviceAssure can recognize a manufacturer before the device is granted access to the network in question. By setting the appropriate rules, your network can reject the device, restrict its ability to move through the network, flag it for further inspection, or as the US suggests, ban it from the country entirely.

However, as we’ve seen in our own analysis of a fake iPhone, and when we tested some counterfeit devices against popular MDM solutions, those masquerading as legitimate smartphones aren’t always identified before harm can be spread. We’ve seen devices posing as iPhones and Samsung Galaxies sailing right through MDM checks.

Which of these scenarios should worry a network admin more?

  • A genuine device from a manufacturer your Government doesn’t like accesses your network.
  • A counterfeit loaded with malware, spyware, keyloggers etc, with “iPhone – Designed in California, Assembled in China” etched on the back, sails through MDM checks and accesses your network.

If scenario 1 concerns you more than 2, you’re not doing security, you’re doing politics.

Focusing on Huawei means other, potentially even more harmful actors could be sneaking behind your lines, running amok through your network’s most sensitive areas.

True security doesn’t discriminate by brand (or nationality)

Highlighting a single potential point of failure and repeating it over and over serves no purpose other than to victimize, without proof, a single manufacturer. If manipulating and possibly destroying international trade and supply chain efficiency is your goal, then by all means go for it.

If a device is malicious, regardless of origin, it needs to be dealt with. Where counterfeits are concerned, especially in a Bring Your Own Device world, every single device now needs to be assumed as a threat and inspected. Only then should it be allowed access sensitive and vulnerable parts of a network – or country.

In giving Huawei a 90-day reprieve from the latest ban, Trump has all but admitted the security concerns are a smokescreen for knee-jerk trade protectionism.

We’re certain these measures won’t affect producers of fake iPhones or Samsung Galaxies.

In fact, their job may have been made a tiny bit easier.

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