US government looks to ban "national security risk" companies from networks

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A new proposal from the chairman of the Federal Communications Commission, Ajit Pai would prevent the equipment from any overseas company deemed a threat to national security from being used in US government broadband contracts. 

The recently announced restrictions on the US government's $8.5bn Universal Service Fund would prevent telecoms that have been awarded the contract from using foreign equipment produced by certain companies.  Telecoms typically bid for the contracts and then use part of the money to purchase equipment and subcontract the work. 

Under Pai's proposed plan though, the telecoms would be prohibited from purchasing equipment from hardware manufacturers that have could be a security risk to the US such as ZTE and Huawei.  The government fears that their equipment could be bugged and used to intercept communications once the networks are setup. 

In a statement released after the announcement, Ajit Pai explained the threat that compromised equipment could pose to the US government, saying: 

“Threats to national security posed by certain communications equipment providers are a matter of bipartisan concern. Hidden ‘back doors’ to our networks in routers, switches—and virtually any other type of telecommunications equipment—can provide an avenue for hostile governments to inject viruses, launch denial-of-service attacks, steal data, and more.” 

Although Pai does not name any hardware manufacturers in particular, it is likely that he is referring to ZTE and Huawei which have both been under fire for their close ties to the Chinese government.  Congress has already drafted laws that would ban government employees from using their products over spying concerns. 

As US retailers such as Best Buy have already stopped sales of Huawei's phones and AT&T pulled out of a potential deal with the company, it is likely that Pai's proposal will pass as the US government looks to lock down its network infrastructure from what it perceives as foreign threats. 

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