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Monday, 06 August 2018 11:29

Business as usual: Reuters fuels hysteria over Huawei

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Business as usual: Reuters fuels hysteria over Huawei Pixabay

Western hysteria over Huawei Technologies — and any one of a number of either Chinese or Russian companies — is not uncommon these days. But it is somewhat painful to see a news agency which claims to have credibility as Reuters does, just refusing to ask a few questions before running what is essentially a stupid story about Huawei.

Sunday's yarn said Huawei was being put under the microscope in the UK because it was using "an aging software component sold by a firm based in the United States, one of the countries where lawmakers allege its equipment could facilitate Chinese spying".

And then there was this paragraph: "The fact that the British misgivings stem in part from Huawei’s relationship with a US company shows how trade wars and heightened national security concerns are making it harder for technology firms and governments to safeguard products and communication networks."

Now if anyone can figure out what the hell the writers were trying to say, you are a cleverer person than I.

The software in question is VxWorks, a real-time operating system which is proprietary software sold by Wind River Systems and designed for use in embedded systems. It is used by industries such as such as aerospace and defence, medical devices, industrial equipment, robotics, energy, transportation, network infrastructure, automotive, and consumer electronics.

The last version of VxWorks was released in March 2014. Reuters threw in a few mentions to a recently released British report, which found some shortcomings in Huawei's products. This again is bog standard; any security survey of a company's products will find shortcomings. This has been the case since day one in the software and hardware industries.

It is not uncommon for companies to use older versions of proprietary software in their hardware; if everyone had to ensure that hardware sold, say in 2018, had only software released the same year or a year earlier, then the whole proprietary software business model would break down.

Reuters' "sources" — which in this case could well be a drunk leaning against a lamp-post — said that the version of VxWorks used by Huawei would stop receiving patches and support from Wind River in 2020.

Would such software be susceptible to security issues after that year, as Reuters claimed? Absolutely. That's how companies make money; they support the hardware and the software they sell for a few years and then expect their customers to buy new hardware, which would come with appropriate software.

There are plenty of companies out there still running Windows XP which was issued 17 years ago; indeed, when the WannaCry ransomware made its appearance, Britain's NHS suffered badly because it was running this very version of Windows.

But the chance to use the words "Huawei", "security" and "British report" was, perhaps, a little too tempting on a day when there wasn't much going on.

Throw in a couple of references to the absurd American allegations about Huawei and the fact that Australia is likely to bow to Washington in its dictates to ban the telco from participating in the 5G rollout, and reporters Jack Stubbs and Joseph Menn probably felt they had done a good day's work.

There was a time when Reuters set the standard. But these days its staff appear to have lost the ability to be sceptical anymore. Especially when it comes to the realm of technology. As an old saying goes, "Fools rush in where angels fear to tread."

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Sam Varghese

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Sam Varghese has been writing for iTWire since 2006, a year after the site came into existence. For nearly a decade thereafter, he wrote mostly about free and open source software, based on his own use of this genre of software. Since May 2016, he has been writing across many areas of technology. He has been a journalist for nearly 40 years in India (Indian Express and Deccan Herald), the UAE (Khaleej Times) and Australia (Daily Commercial News (now defunct) and The Age). His personal blog is titled Irregular Expression.

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