You’d have to be living under a rock to not be aware of all the political feuds between the United States, Russia, and China, lately. But last week, the nerdy world of telecommunications networking got pulled into the drama in a big way.
ZTE took a few days to respond to the U.S. Department of Commerce’s ban on American companies selling components to ZTE. But on Friday, ZTE issued an official statement saying the ban was “unfair,” and it indicated it would “take judicial measures” if necessary.
It’s not clear what kinds of legal remedies the company could pursue. But ZTE did outline a slew of measures it claims to have taken in order to comply with export laws. “In 2017 alone, ZTE invested over $50 million in its export control compliance program,” according to the company’s statement.
Earlier last week ZTE cancelled its quarterly earnings report due to the confusion the company has been thrown into after the sudden U.S. ban. Trading of its shares has been suspended in China.
In its April 20 statement, the company added, “The denial order will not only severely impact the survival and development of ZTE but will also cause damages to all partners of ZTE including a large number of U.S. companies.”
Those companies that do business with ZTE, whether as suppliers, competitors, or customers, are undoubtedly asking themselves the question: “What does this mean to me?” Immediately, there appear to be some winners and some losers. But, similar to the clash between China and the U.S. over tariffs, there will probably also be some as-yet-unknown consequences.
The other big Chinese telecom equipment maker, Huawei, was also in the news. The New York Times reported that it laid off five American employees. The only named employee was William Plummer, who had for seven years led Huawei’s outreach efforts in Washington, D.C. The newspaper took his departure as a signal that Huawei may be changing its tactics in terms of building its U.S. business. The company has been under fire from members of congress as well as the Federal Communications Commission. These groups claim Huawei’s equipment poses a security risk.
And on Friday, Australia said it would build an undersea internet cable to the Solomon Islands, in a move to block Huawei from building it, according to the Wall Street Journal.
Earlier last week a U.S. agency issued an alert warning American and British organizations that Russian state-sponsored actors are targeting their network infrastructure devices, such as routers. The alert was a joint effort between the Department of Homeland Security (DHS), the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI), and the United Kingdom’s National Cyber Security Centre (NCSC).
Finally, on Friday afternoon, Twitter confirmed that it has banned ads on its platform from Moscow-based Kaspersky Lab. Twitter cited U.S. government claims that Kaspersky has ties to Russian intelligence agencies.
The ban was revealed after Eugene Kaspersky, the founder of the anti-malware company, posted an open letter to the management of Twitter. He said that he understood Twitter was dealing with the spread of disinformation and the creation of social discord. “I thought my company stood on the periphery of this social media storm,” wrote Kaspersky. “It turns out I was quite mistaken.”
All of this news happened during the same week that technologists gathered in San Francisco for the annual RSA security conference and called for a digital “Geneva Convention.” Microsoft, Facebook, and 32 other companies signed a Cybersecurity Tech Accord. It’s a global agreement in which these companies pledge to protect their customers from attacks by cybercriminals and nation states and vowed not to help governments launch cyberattacks.
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