Compromised! Chinese Security Cameras Sold to U.S Consumers

Retailers, such as Amazon, Fail to Pull Malicious Security Products

Security+cameras+across+the+United+States+run+on+unsecured+servers.+Thankfully+the+ones+here%2C+at+Lakeland+Regional+High+School%2C+do+not+fall+under+that+category.+

James Bazzano

Security cameras across the United States run on unsecured servers. Thankfully the ones here, at Lakeland Regional High School, do not fall under that category.

When you go shopping, out to eat, to a friend’s house, or maybe even to your own house, there’s a good chance that there is some form of security cameras. Those same cameras are often marketed as streaming “directly” to the consumer’s phone or computer, and labeled  as “highly secure.” For most of these companies, however, this couldn’t be further from the truth.

On Amazon, the vast majority of the security cameras for sale are from virtually unknown Chinese companies that sell cameras on the cheap. The most well known of these companies are Hikvision and Dahua. Both companies have a major stake from the Chinese government, and they specialize in selling cameras that are at a significantly lower price than their competitors, often not even making a profit on the cameras. Whether that’s ethical or not, the problem with these companies stems from their roots to the Chinese government – their equipment sends data to servers in mainland China, where any company operating a data center must grant the government access to it, under data security laws in the country.

Keep in mind, both companies named not only have thousands of camera setups in government buildings, schools, homes, and businesses in the United States and Canada, but they are the suppliers of cameras in China’s massive surveillance network, and their “Vocational Training Centers” are known by experts as re-education/concentration camps for Muslims, as reported by NBC News and several other news outlets, such as AFP.

Due to all of this, the U.S. government recently banned the two biggest Chinese camera companies, Hikvision and Dahua, from supplying anything to government institutions and are requiring said institutions that have the cameras to rip them out, due to a threat to national security. 

Another example of this can be found on Newegg.com, one of the largest online electronics retailers in the world, where Chinese products essentially roam free, with virtually no indication or distinction from others. Often, sales are listed in front-page banner ads for a security camera brand called GW Security. Their cameras seemed to be at good prices, however the Times New Roman text on the unit itself seemed to indicate something fishy. Their website seemed to be a poor translation of Mandarin text, with even a malicious link at the bottom of the website. A quick look at who actually owns the domain reveals one of those unknown companies previously mentioned – Shenzhen Guowei Security Co. Ltd.

Image by Manfred Antranias Zimmer from Pixabay
It is well known that China has a sophisticated system of security cameras/networks that record everyday citizens. Now, these same companies have broken into the U.S. market.

It turns out, GW Security is just the western name for the company, and that they actually operate under the name of Guowei, Ltd. While that may not be bad, with companies like Xiaomi selling equipment under their Chinese name in the states, here’s where the problem is – they sell exactly the same equipment outside of China as they do inside. That means that the IP cameras that they sell are sending security footage to servers in mainland China. These products are also sold on Amazon, where reviewers have been suspicious about the camera connecting to foreign IP addresses without consent and sending data to servers located in China. Additionally, these cameras are sold under a company run by Alibaba, a Chinese tech company with deep ties to the Chinese military, and in the Options Menu for the camera, there is an option to turn off cloud saving, but the camera does it anyway, bypassing said option completely. On top of this, they market their cameras as somehow streaming data directly to your phone, even though they root it through Chinese data centers first.

Knowingly selling compromised security equipment to U.S consumers and businesses is bad enough, but some Chinese companies are also trying to cover up the roots of their brand. With just how many of these cameras are out there, it’s important to realize that users have most likely been filmed by one of these spy tools. Despite all this, American retailers are still listing and fulfilling shipping for this hardware.

If you ever see a cheap-looking security camera, whether it be at a store, a restaurant, a friend’s house, or even at your own, you might want to take a second look and see if it’s actually a camera, or if it’s a spy tool shipped on the slow boat from China. Fortunately, Lakeland Regional High School uses Panasonic cameras, which are actually secure, although the same might not be able to be said for other schools in the country.

If people and companies just keep buying these cameras because they’re cheap, instead of actually checking whether or not they do what they should, then this cycle will continue. The same rule applies for everything, from Samsung Smart TVs with a fake off-mode, as reported by Consumer Reports, to Bose headphones taking what you listen to and using it for targeted ads, as reported by Fortune. These retailers have a duty to make sure the products that they sell aren’t malicious or harmful, and they have downright failed on that front.