Chinese surveillance giant, red-flagged by US, wins orders from Indian government agencies

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Chinese company Hikvision, one of the largest suppliers of video surveillance products and solutions worldwide, has bagged orders from various government agencies in India, including Airport Authority of India, Central Coalfields and Headquarters for Counter Insurgency Force in Jammu.

Interestingly, Hangzhou, China headquartered Hikvision is part owned by the Chinese government. “As of June 30, 2016, 41.88% of Hikvision’s shares are jointly owned by China Electronics Technology HIK Group Co. Ltd (CETHIK) and CETC No. 52 Research Institute, both are part of CETC, a state-owned enterprise,” reads the company’s website.

CETC stands for China Electronics Technology Group. Founded in 2002, CETC is a state-owned enterprise working in the field of defence and security electronics.

According to documents accessed by TheBigScope, Hikvision will provide video capture devices, digital video concentrators and recorders to these agencies. The orders are worth over Rs 40 lakh.

While there is nothing wrong per se in a Chinese company supplying surveillance equipment to an Indian government agency, red flags have been raised about Hikvision’s state ownership and security loopholes in the US.

According to a Wall Street Journal report in November 2017, the General Services Administration, which undertakes procurement for the US federal government removed Hikvision from its approved suppliers list.

Moreover, the US Department of Homeland Security put out a notice last year cautioning that some of the company’s devices were exploitable by hackers. The same report though said that the company had fixed the issues before any harm was caused. Earlier this year, a US military base in Missouri pulled out Hikvision’s cameras after media reports about the Chinese government ownership came out.

Emailed questions from TheBigScope to Hikvision, Airport Authority of India, Central Coalfields and Headquarters for Counter Insurgency Force in Jammu went unanswered.

Indian security experts contend that government agencies should exercise caution while buying security and surveillance products. Tobby Simon, Founder and President of Synergia Foundation, a Bangalore based think tank, argues that lowest price shouldn’t be the only criteria while procuring such products.

“It is incorrect and not aligned to India’s strategic interest. We will become more vulnerable,” says Simon. “We have to improve our testing procedures – the government definitely knows what to do. The challenge is the scale at which this has to been done,” he adds.

Moreover, Bryce Boland, Chief Technology Officer for Asia Pacific, FireEye said that countries should be more careful while purchasing connected devices like surveillance cameras, because nation state actors might exploit vulnerabilities to disable them. “Cyber criminals can hijack them to mine bitcoin, create a botnet, or do a number of other things.”

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