The ban on U.S. government usage of Chinese-made video surveillance products was signed into law last year and was scheduled to take effect a year later – on August 13, 2019. With that deadline looming, there are questions about whether government agencies and departments will comply in time.

A year ago, the U.S. Congress passed, and the President signed, a ban on government uses of video surveillance equipment produced by two of the world’s top manufacturers – Hikvision and Dahua. The provision was buried in the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) for fiscal year 2019, which the President signed into law on August 13, 2018. The ban, which takes effect ‘not later than one year after … enactment’, applies not only to future uses of Dahua and Hikvision equipment but also to legacy installations.

Tracking software to detect banned products

Forescout Technologies, San Jose, California, provides software to track various banned devicesThe bill calls for an assessment of the current presence of the banned technologies and development of a ‘phase-out plan’ to eliminate the equipment from government uses. One problem is identifying where the surveillance equipment is being used, which involves either a tedious manual process to search out the equipment or the installation of tracking software to identify it on the network.

A federal Department of Homeland Security program called ‘Continuous Diagnostics and Mitigation’ requires use of a detection tool to find any banned products on a network. Forescout Technologies, San Jose, California, provides software to track various banned devices, but not all required agencies have complied with a mandate to secure their networks by tracking every connected device (only 35% had complied as of 2018.)

Without an automated, real-time tool that can detect all of the IT devices – computer or ‘other’ – on your network, there is simply no way to be 100 percent certain that you are compliant with these product bans,” says Katherine Gronberg, Forescout’s Vice President, Government Affairs.

Difficult to determine device’s manufacturer

Not all equipment is marked to identify its manufacturer; some has been rebrandedAnother problem is the existence of OEM agreements and other supply chain complications that can make it difficult to determine the manufacturer of any given device. A report by Bloomberg says: “A complex web of supply chain logistics and licensing agreements makes it almost impossible to know whether a security camera is actually made in China or contains components that would violate U.S. rules.” Not all equipment is marked to identify its manufacturer; some has been rebranded.

There are all kinds of shadowy licensing agreements that prevent us from knowing the true scope of China’s foothold in this market,” said Peter Kusnic, a technology writer at business research firm The Freedonia Group. “I’m not sure it will even be possible to ever fully identify all of these cameras, let alone remove them. The sheer number is insurmountable.

Companies banned under NDAA

The NDAA ban covers “public safety, security of government facilities, physical security surveillance of critical infrastructure, and other national security purposes.” It bans “video surveillance and telecommunications equipment produced by Hytera Communications Corporation, Hangzhou Hikvision Digital Technology Company, [and] Dahua Technology Company (or any subsidiary or affiliate of such entities).”

Hytera Communications is a Chinese digital mobile radio manufacturer. Huawei Technologies Co. equipment has also been banned, including the HiSilicon chips widely used in video cameras.

In addition to banning the Chinese equipment in government installations, the NDAA also includes a ‘blacklist’ provision [paragraph (a)(1)(B)], which could be interpreted to extend the ban to companies that use Chinese-made products in other, non-government applications. Rulemaking on that aspect is still under way, including a public hearing in July.

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Larry Anderson Editor, SecurityInformed.com & SourceSecurity.com

An experienced journalist and long-time presence in the US security industry, Larry is SecurityInformed.com's eyes and ears in the fast-changing security marketplace, attending industry and corporate events, interviewing security leaders and contributing original editorial content to the site. He leads SecurityInformed's team of dedicated editorial and content professionals, guiding the "editorial roadmap" to ensure the site provides the most relevant content for security professionals.

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