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Two Stories You Missed

March 12th, 2010

Story One: Hacking of Energizer Duo Battery Chargers. Energizer battery chargers made in China have been found to have “trojans” loaded onto them, so that when the devices are plugged into a computer via USB port, a backdoor is left on the machine that makes it possible for someone to hack it from afar. This sort of news of course raises questions like: Who is behind the malware, and why did they do it?

Marcus Sachs, a former National Security Council member and a member of the CSIS Commission on Cyber Security under the Obama administration, is downplaying the incident. In an article on CNET, he suggests that China may have once had problems with malware — back in the old days, meaning 2007? — but that things have changed. LOL moment: His suggestion that the malware is just a bit of shmootz, an issue with hygiene:

If the Trojan does date back to 2007, that is around the same time that there was a rash of products like digital photo frames hitting U.S. shelves infected with malware, said Marcus Sachs, director of the SANS Internet Storm Center. ”This may simply be from that time frame when all the factories in China were not clean and many were putting malware onto stuff, not intentionally but because the hygiene wasn’t good…”

Story Two: Tainted Chinese Fluoride. A water works company in Massachusetts has been getting its fluoride from China, and it believes that what they’ve been receiving is actually a kind of counterfeit. From one report:

Department of Public Works Director Rob Desmarais said after he mixes the white powder with water, 40 percent of it will not dissolve. ”I don’t know what it is,” Desmarais said. “It’s not soluble, and it doesn’t appear to be sodium fluoride. So we are not quite sure what it is.”

Desmarais said the residue clogs his machines and makes it difficult to get a consistent level of fluoride in the town’s water. Since April the fluoride pumps in Amesbury have been turned off and they will stay that way until Desmarais can find out what’s in the fluoride that’s imported from China.

Because this one affects public water supplies, some are suggesting it is a homeland security issue. I don’t know about the categorization, but I know that there are persistent quality problems out of China, and that these problems are often of the intentional variety.

I am more concerned about the fluoride case than the trojan case. The high level of game-playing in China manufacturing processes combined with a cultural inclination towards counterfeiting goods, mixed in with the nature of chemistry, suggests a high level of risk associated with chemical products in particular, one that is not appropriately being factored into the bilateral trade picture.

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