Lenovo fights for security reputation as Australian gov 'denies' company ban - UPDATE

Scroll down for updates on the 'ban'

Lenovo is fighting to preserve the security reputation of its products after stories emerged from Australia claiming its computers had been banned from numerous government networks.

Over the weekend, the Australian Financial Review (AFR) reported that scrutiny of Lenovo PCs had uncovered security vulnerabilities within their chips that made them vulnerable to hacking. It further alleged that the discoveries had prompted a ban on Lenovo products within the intelligence and defence services of Australia, Britain, the US, Canada, and New Zealand.

In a statement, Lenovo said it was unaware of any government ban and added that its “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.”

Reacting yesterday, the Australian government issued a statement saying the AFR’s report was “factually incorrect”, and that there was no Department of Defence block on Lenovo products.

“Reports published on 27 and 29 July 2013 in the Australian Financial Review allege a Department of Defence ban on the use of Lenovo computer equipment on the Defence Secret and Top Secret Networks,” the statement reads.

“This reporting is factually incorrect. There is no Department of Defence ban on the Lenovo Company or their computer products; either for classified or unclassified systems.”

However, pointing out that a Department of Defence policy may not necessarily cover all intelligence agencies, The Register argues the statement does not explicitly rule out the AFR’s assertions that a ban has been imposed within certain government networks.

More importantly, the news site goes on to claim it “has since received confirmation that what was actually reported - that the allied security/intelligence community doesn't use Lenovo gear to handle sensitive data - is correct.”

With the plot thickening, ITProPortal has contacted Lenovo for further comment, and will provide updates as and when the other governments identified in the AFR report comment on the alleged ban.

UPDATE 13.25PM: The team who worked on the original report for the Australian Financial Review has contacted us with further intelligence regarding the apparent Lenovo ban, which throws further doubt on the Australian Department of Defence's statement.

AFR says the DoD statement "was a surprise because prior to publishing the article on the 27th we had spent two entire days going back and forth with Defence with a simple request: please confirm or deny, on or off the record, whether there is a ban on the use of Lenovo computers on the classified networks, as we had been told," but "[a]t no time during countless conversations did Defence in any way deny the ban, or hint at a denial."

Since the DoD issued the denial statement after the story circulated online, AFR has spoken to "a senior defence expert" who "clarified a few things." According to the source, the Australian party in the 'five eyes' intelligence network with the US, UK, New Zealand and Canada, known as the Defence Signals Directorate (DSD), "does not use Lenovo computers, period," says AFR.

The team adds that the "DSD did previously use IBM computers, and this practice appears to have stopped at the same time we specified (ie, in the mid 2000s following the Lenovo acquisition)." The DoD expert suggested wires may have been crossed in communication when AFR was seeking clarification on the 'ban'.

The update from AFR leaves us with the upshot that network administrators within the Australian DoD - and possibly within its 'five eyes' international counterparts - did indeed decide to stop using IBM/Lenovo PCs when the Chinese company took control of the product line.

UPDATE 14.07PM: Lenovo has contacted us after we sought clarification on the Australian DoD statement that has caused confusion. The company's response?

"No additional comment."

UPDATE 1 AUGUST: UK defence officials have reportedly confirmed a ban on Lenovo products within classified networks.