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The Importance of ZTE Security Deficits

A great of speculation exists around mobile companies of all stripes: are they secure? Do they secretly insert backdoors for government? What kinds of assurances do customers and citizens have around the devices?

Recently these concerns exploded (again) following a Reuters article that notes serious problems in ZTE mobile phones. There are a series of reasons that security agencies can, and do, raise concerns about foreign built equipment (some related more to economics than good security practice). While it’s possible that ZTE’s vulnerabilities were part of a Chinese national-security initiative, it’s entirely likely (and more probable) that ZTE’s backdoor access into their mobiles is a genuine, gigantic, mistake. Let’s not forget that even ‘our’ companies are known for gross security incompetence.

In the ZTE case it doesn’t matter if the backdoor was deliberate or not. It doesn’t matter if the company patches the devices, either, because a large number of customers will never apply updates to their phones. This means that, for all intents and purposes, these devices will have well publicized security holes for the duration of their existence. It’s that kind of ongoing vulnerability – one that persists regardless of vendor ‘patches’ – that is increasingly dangerous in the mobile world, and a threat that is arguably more significant (at the moment) than whether we can trust company X or Y.