by Grant Gross

Global Manufacturing – Should the Feds Say No to Lenovo?

Jul 15, 20062 mins
IT Strategy

First it was the Dubai Ports World deal. Now it’s Chinese computers. The State Department recently decided not to use Lenovo Group computers on a classified network because of concerns about the company’s ties to the Chinese government.

According to computer security experts, however, the State Department’s decision shows a lack of understanding about the global nature of PC manufacturing. Most U.S. computer makers use overseas manufacturing plants, notes James Mulvenon, a Chinese computer warfare expert with the Center for Intelligence Research and Analysis. It’s nearly impossible to make a computer without using foreign-made parts.

The State Department’s decision comes after Rep. Frank Wolf (R-Va.) objected to the use of about 900 computers made by Lenovo on a classified network that connects American embassies and consulates. Now, the State Department says it will use Lenovo computers only in unclassified settings.

“I was deeply troubled to learn that the new computers were purchased from a China-based company,” says Wolf, chairman of the House Appropriations Subcommittee on Commerce, Justice, State and the Judiciary. “This decision would have had dire consequences for our national security, potentially jeopardizing our investment in a secure IT infrastructure. It is no secret that the United States is a principal target of Chinese intelligence services.” Lenovo is partly owned by the Chinese Academy of Sciences, an arm of the Chinese government, but the company’s headquarters are in the United States.

It would be relatively easy for spies to get jobs with computer makers regardless of where a company is based, says Alan Paller, research ¿director at the SANS Institute. Instead of focusing on where computers are manufactured, he says, the government should work on better ¿security for its systems after they are purchased. “We need to do a much better job of looking for hidden back doors in systems,” Paller says.

Last year, the federal government conducted a review of Lenovo’s purchase of IBM’s PC business and eventually approved the deal. But in April, members of the government’s U.S.-China Economic and Security Review Committee raised objections to using the Lenovo computers in the classified network.