Pentagon Flagged Secret Backdoor Codes to Chinese Safes, but Didn’t Warn Public

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(Ken Silva, Headline USA) Sen. Ron Wyden, D-Ore., revealed Wednesday that the Defense Department has concealed the possibility that the Chinese government may possess backdoor codes to electronic locks made in that country.

According to Wyden, three companies manufacture the vast majority of electronic safe locks used in the United States: China-based SECURAM Systems, the U.S.-based Sargent and Greenleaf, and the Swiss company dormakaba.

Many of the safes made by those companies include electronic locks that can also be unlocked using special codes set by and known only to the manufacturer, Wyden said in an open letter to National Counterintelligence and Security Center Director Michael C. Casey.

“These backdoor codes can be exploited by foreign adversaries to steal sensitive information that U.S. businesses store in safes, such as trade secrets and other intellectual property,” he said, explaining that reset codes are not permitted in locks used to store U.S. government secrets.

Wyden warned in an open letter that the Chinese Communist Party could have access to SECURAM’s reset codes.

“China-based SECURAM Systems is one of the largest manufacturers of electronic safe locks sold in the U.S.,” he said. “SECURAM could be forced to share codes with the Chinese government that would enable surreptitious or clandestine access to the safes used by U.S. businesses.”

But while the Pentagon is apparently aware of this risk, national security officials have not informed the public, Wyden said.

“In short, the government has opted to keep the public in the dark about this vulnerability, after quietly protecting government agencies from it,” he said.

“It would be one thing if these backdoors were only available to U.S. government agencies, but they are not … Although DoD has informed my office that the company’s products are not approved for U.S. government use, its low-cost products have enabled the firm to dominate the consumer-focused portion of the market.”

Wyden also revealed that the U.S. firm Sargent and Greenleaf can be forced to turn over those, both to the government and to civil litigants.

The senator urged Casey to inform the public about the risk of safes that have secret backdoor codes.

“The NCSC plays an important role in warning U.S. businesses about the espionage threat posed by foreign spies. But U.S. businesses cannot protect their valuable intellectual property, and consequently, America’s global economic edge, from foreign espionage if they are kept in the dark about vulnerabilities in the safe locks they use,” he said.

“To that end, I urge the NCSC to update its public educational materials to recommend that businesses upgrade their safe locks to those that meet U.S. government security standards.”

Ken Silva is a staff writer at Headline USA. Follow him at twitter.com/jd_cashless.

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