Lazy eyes listen
Chinese-made microchips embedded in internet-of-things devices such as smart fridges, cars, and televisions allow Beijing to spy on unsuspecting Britons, according to a report released on Monday and obtained by the UK Telegraph.
According to the report, the threat posed by Chinese-made components, known as cellular IoTs, is greater than the threat posed by Chinese-made Huawei 5G components, which the UK government decided to remove from Britain’s 5G network by 2027 due to intense US pressure.
These ‘Trojan horse’ modules can be found in any device connected to the Internet of Things, including laptops and smartwatches, as well as cars, refrigerators, smart meters, doorbell cameras, credit card payment machines, and even lightbulbs. They are intended to collect usage data and transmit it back to the manufacturer via 5G networks, resulting in a relatively detailed picture of a user, a community, or an entire industry.
The report warns that the Chinese companies that dominate the industry must turn over that data to the Chinese government if asked. Such a wealth of data could be used to identify and monitor potential intelligence sources or other VIPs, pinpointing who handles sensitive information and which possible avenues for blackmail or bribery might work on them – a fear that became all too real earlier this month when the devices were discovered in ministerial cars in the United Kingdom.
According to the report, passive surveillance could allow Beijing to identify supply-chain vulnerabilities, whereas active intervention could sabotage a competitor – or an entire nation’s infrastructure.
The report compares the wealth of data recorded by the microchips to “a type of data-driven insider knowledge.”
Its author, Charles Parton, a veteran UK China adviser, urged London not to allow China to gain a monopoly on the devices. While three Chinese companies already produce more than half (54%) of the world’s cellular IoTs, Western firms also produce them. He emphasized that government agencies and companies in sensitive industries, such as defense, should audit their devices by the end of 2025 and replace any vulnerable devices, warning that millions of potential espionage units are already in use in the UK.
Beijing has dismissed the allegations of surveillance as “political manipulation,” warning that barring Chinese firms from the UK market would not only “seriously undermine international trade rules,” but would also “fragment the global market and sabotage the security and stability of global industrial and supply chains.”