China’s cameras face fresh scrutiny in Europe

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Surveillance technology company Hikvision has been criticized for a new vulnerability in its products, adding to concerns that the company’s high-tech cameras, which are used across Europe, pose security risks.

An anonymous security researcher found a bug Hikvision’s products, which “allow an attacker to take full control of the device,” it said in September. The researcher said the cameras had “the highest critical security breach”.

Hikvision acknowledged the vulnerability and instructed the users of the cameras to install new software on the affected devices.

The incident puts additional pressure on Hikvision, which – like other Chinese tech companies, including Huawei – has already been questioned by authorities to protect data collected in Europe and suspected of working with Chinese authorities to facilitate mass surveillance and human rights abuses in China.

Due to the vulnerability, the company is also being charged with lax security in addition to its data practices and ties to the Chinese state.

According to the security research group IPVM, could be the Hikvision vulnerability A hit over 100 million cameras worldwide. Accessing the data on the cameras would be an “easy hack,” said director Conor Healy, adding, “Understand that these surveillance cameras are computers, not just cameras. They are sophisticated devices.”

Invasion of Europe

Hikvision is a leading provider of video surveillance and surveillance systems. Its surveillance cameras are popular in Europe, and after the coronavirus pandemic, the company started selling thermal imaging systems that could be used to determine if people had a fever.

A recent example is Spain, where the company is get a contract in July to supply airport operator AENA with 175 cameras used in dozen of airports, including Madrid-Barajas and Barcelona’s El Prat.

The fact that Hikvision’s dominant shareholder is a state-owned defense association has not yet deterred public authorities in Europe from doing business with the company, even if the company remains blacklisted in the United States due to alleged links with the Chinese military.

However, some officials in Europe are calling for the company to stop doing business.

Axel Voss, member of the center-right European People’s Party in the European Parliament, said Europe should be careful about giving foreign powers too much control over the systems and warned of “possibilities to attack us where it could be very sensitive” .

A report released by the Ministry of Defense of Lithuania, a restrictive country on China, concluded that Hikvision’s equipment “represents an opportunity for cyberattacks … or malicious code insertion to be carried out”.

Data fears

Others point to its opaque data practices, which they say fail to disclose where Europeans’ personal data is being transferred to, and warn that it could be transferred to China.

“The systems collect a lot of personal data,” says Audrey Fritz, a researcher at the Australian Strategic Policy Institute who oversees Hikvision’s activities. “The main concern is that it does not stay in the country, that it is not bound by the laws and regulations of your country … [China’s] Laws and regulations that Chinese companies have to hand over to government agencies are becoming a problem. “

According to John Lee, senior analyst at the Mercator Institute for China Studies, a Germany-based think tank, there are provisions in various Chinese laws and regulations that require Chinese companies to work with the Chinese government for reasons of national security and the public interest – even if it did, Lee said that not a single Chinese law gives the Chinese government direct and unrestricted access to data collected by Chinese companies overseas.

A Hikvision spokesman dismissed the charges. In a statement, the company stated that it followed the data protection regulations of the European Union, including the GDPR. Hikvision added that as a manufacturer of surveillance technology, the company neither stores nor has access to the data. The end user owns the data that the instruction read.

Human rights issues

Hikvision first underwent intense public scrutiny in the United States, where the House of Representatives passed a law that a ban on the use of the company by the US government in 2018. A year later, US lawmakers set up Hikvision Sanctions List of effectively preventing US companies from selling to them due to human rights and security concerns.

In the UK, lawmakers have been debating restrictions on Hikvision’s technology, which is widely used by the country’s local authorities, and the UK Parliament’s Foreign Affairs Committee has called for a ban on the equipment in Julywhich Parliament has not yet passed.

Some governments have accused the company of working with Chinese authorities to use facial recognition technology to persecute and control the predominantly Muslim Uighur minority in China’s Xinjiang region, where authorities have detained hundreds of thousands of people in detention centers since 2017.

Hikvision has disputed Allegations that his technology was used by the Chinese state to suppress Uyghurs.

A Hikvision spokesperson said: “Hikvision takes all human rights reports very seriously and recognizes our responsibility to protect people and property. The company has partnered with governments around the world to resolve misunderstandings about the company and our business and address their concerns. “

But the Norwegian Ethics Council called the company has a sizable presence in Xinjiang. The company has received public contracts from the region’s authorities and its surveillance cameras are now being used across the region – particularly near mosques and detention centers, which the state calls “re-education centers”.

Laurens Cerulus and Mari Eccles contributed to the coverage.

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