Intelligence services fear Lenovo products due to back-doors [Updated]

Lenovo might be the biggest computer maker in the world at the moment, but in the world of government intelligence and defence, they have a lot of ground to cover. Services in Australia, Britain, Canada, New Zealand and the USA are reportedly hesitant to use Lenovo products amid fears they’re susceptible to hacking.

According to AFR, the ban was implemented in the mid-2000s due to tests revealing ‘back-doors’ and vulnerabilities in a Lenovo chip. Lenovo’s ownership has also aroused suspicion among the security agencies. The Chinese Academy of Sciences owns 38% of Legend Holdings, who own 34% of Lenovo. With the Academy being a government entity, Lenovo's ownership can be run right back to the government.

Apparently, Lenovo products have ‘malicious modifications’ to their circuitry, allowing hackers to access them without it being made obvious. Lenovo themselves have claimed to be unaware of the ban, with a spokesperson stating:

Products have been found time and time again to be reliable and secure by our enterprise and public sector customers and we always ­welcome their engagement to ensure we are meeting their security needs.

Lenovo isn’t the only Chinese company to have been branded with this dodgy reputation. Former CIA head Michael Hayden claimed Huawei also spied for the Chinese government. To the surprise of nobody at all, Huawei refuted these claims. You may remember, back in 2012, that Congress ruled to try and keep ZTE and Huawei out of the US market for the same concerns.

So, conventional fear-mongering or a secretive Chinese plot? Whatever it is, the intelligence services aren’t too excited, and it could damage Lenovo's American smartphone hopes.

Update: Reports of Lenovo products banned in Australian intelligence agencies have been entirely dismissed; this has been confirmed by the Australian government's Department of Defence.

Source: AFR | Image via Shutterstock

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29 Comments

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These days everyone gets electronics produced in China, even Cisco, what makes them think that those components are an exeption compared to Lenovo's?
Looks more like propaganda, especially because they went public with it instead of playing the cat and mouse game.

Just another reason for me to dislike Lenovo. I have one of their laptops and compared to my other 3, it's a pile of junk! My 2 HP's and 1 Toshiba, all blow it away, and the Lenovo actually has the 2nd best set of specs out of the 4.

The unfortunately thing about this whole conversation is the lack of definitions. A lot of buzz words are thrown around and people are left to their own preconceived ideas of what they mean.

What is a "backdoor" in this case, exactly? What does a "remote signal" really mean? It's so easy to write something up and leave the audience to fill in the blanks in whatever way it takes to make them feel like their suspicions all along have been justified.

People yammer on about things like the NSA, but what exactly is "surveillance"? What exactly is "information"? The definitions of these words mean everything to the value of the story, and it's the discussion we seem least interested in having.

I guess when it comes down to it, there's reality, and then there's the argument people want to have.

A backdoor is a feature intentionally built into software or hardware to allow unauthorized remote access to a system. The implications are obvious: The Chinese government obtaining sensitive, classified information from the US government, thus what is implied by "surveillance" and "information." The other scenario is sabotage: By sending a "remote signal," it could simply cause the hardware to fail, which has huge implications in itself.

The lack of trust in the Chinese government isn't unfounded;. You don't see our government expressing the same fears over the Polish, do you? We already know the Chinese government engages in these activities, so there's good reason to question if Lenovo can be trusted.

Xinok said,
A backdoor is a feature intentionally built into software or hardware to allow unauthorized remote access to a system. The implications are obvious: The Chinese government obtaining sensitive, classified information from the US government, thus what is implied by "surveillance" and "information." The other scenario is sabotage: By sending a "remote signal," it could simply cause the hardware to fail, which has huge implications in itself.

The lack of trust in the Chinese government isn't unfounded;. You don't see our government expressing the same fears over the Polish, do you? We already know the Chinese government engages in these activities, so there's good reason to question if Lenovo can be trusted.


You realized you essentially defined each word with one of the others, right?

Umm, no. I defined what a backdoor is which is a common term in computing which has a very clear definition: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Backdoor_%28computing%29

There's no reason to define "information", "surveillance", and "remote signal", we know what those mean in different contexts. The question to ask is, what type of information? What type of surveillance? What type of remote signal? I clarified that by explaining surveillance means the Chinese government spying on the US government, information means classified or sensitive information (blueprints for a new military satellite that shoots down radioactive particles and turns the Chinese into fans of the Blue Man Group), and "remote signal" being related to a backdoor, causing software or hardware to trigger some action remotely.

All of this is easily inferred from the context of the article. You're the only one that doesn't seem to understand what these words mean or how they're used in this article... unless I misunderstood you. What does "define" really mean? What is a "definition" in this case, exactly?

I question this report. Having worked for a National Security Agency in Canada (RCMP), I can tell you that this is not the case. Lenovo products are in use throughout the organization.

Lenovo sounds more Russian than Chinese to me ... I may be mistaking with Leonovo ...
Anyway, indeed trust is a major issue, it stresses and it's bad for my cholesterol.
Here I never compute confidential data without popping up the volume, one never knows.

Without direct evidence it's hard to know, we need a Chinese version of Edward Snowden. Knowing the Chinese it wouldn't surprise me if they were spying but of course this being the US government, they're probably politically posturing as well.

I personally try my best to avoid buying Chinese electronics anyway

Javik said,
I personally try my best to avoid buying Chinese electronics anyway

Can pretty much guarantee you don't. Almost all electronics you buy are made in china, it was reported years ago about a backdoor added by the foundry for a military encryption chip so what makes you think any other electronic production is any different?

Backdoors aren't exclusive it seems. At least now people can move forward with some awareness that everything they communicate is under scrutiny or at the least, stored for later scrutiny. A lot of people are more worried about the past ten years that could come back to bite them in the ass...you know, pretty much everyone in some way shape or form.

Orange Battery said,
I miss the IBM Thinkpad.

Nobody trusts anybody, usually with good reason.

You do realize Lenovo always made the Thinkpad, even when it was branded IBM

Haha yeah pretty much, it's fine for companies like cisco etc. to put in back doors for the FBI but oh no once china starts doing it, ITS BAD.
Go away america.

and every other country will be weary of american brands in case the NSA has planted backdoors in these products. DUN DUN DUN

But other countries have free speech, China has not, the government there has it much easier to do what they like at will and hide things from the press.

That SOUNDS good, but we now have the same expectation of privacy as the Chinese. And the only reason we now know that the government is spying on us and saying it's 'freedom' is because of one guy, and the United States wants him back so they can make an example out of him. Because he told people about the random spying on innocent people. Which the NSA initially lied about, saying it wasn't true. Until they said it WAS true, but they hadn't lied about it. Which was, of course, a lie. Whereas the Chinese readily admit to what they do.

It's getting to the point you almost have to be delusional to be a 'Patriot' these days.

fastcat said,
But other countries have free speech, China has not, the government there has it much easier to do what they like at will and hide things from the press.

Same could be said for the US government.