Hikvision Source Code Transparency Center Examined

By: John Honovich, Published on May 14, 2018

Following criticism of Hikvision's Chinese government ownership and Hikvision's IP camera backdoor, the company has responded with a series of steps including hiring a Director of Cybersecurity and starting a dedicated cybersecurity hotline.

The most recent move has been launching the "Industry’s First Source Code Transparency Center" to US government agencies.

In this note, based on direct feedback from Hikvision corporate, we examine the Center, including its potential benefits and concerns.

Center Overview

Expanding on the brief public announcement, Hikvision explained to IPVM that:

Source codes are core assets of our company and access to the Source Code Transparency Center will be handled accordingly. Only applicable US government agencies with relevant credentials will be considered for access to the Transparency Center. Independent researchers and experts will not be granted access. The reviewer will have to be physically present in the Hikvision facility in California and the time frame for access depends on the specific circumstances and requirements of the agency.

Non-disclosure agreements (NDA) are required by Hikvision for any agency seeking to examine Hikvision's source code. Hikvision declined any further comment on the terms of the agreement or any exceptions for issues of security or vulnerabilities found.

Finally, researchers raised questions about how they could ensure that the code shared for review would match the code in actual products. Hikvision explained to IPVM that:

Verifying that firmware used in products delivered matches with source code reviewed are the same is not easy, but we trust that US government agencies involved would have the right capabilities to do that.

Get Video Surveillance News In Your Inbox
Get Video Surveillance News In Your Inbox

Marketing Benefits / Partners Enthused

Minimally, this is a strong marketing move that has invigorated many Hikvision partners, as explained by them in our initial discussion.

Looks like HikVision are taking BIG steps to try and recover the reputational damage done by their recent spate of security flaws/"back doors" which have been aired on MANY sites (this one included).

The model they're using seems aimed at providing access to their NVR and Camera source code, whilst still protecting their Intellectual Property - and I personally think it's a bold move which should be applauded.

A key theme is that this disproves the fears that Hikvision / Chinese government would use Hikvision's products to spy on foreign countries:

The fact remains though, if Hikvision's business plan is to infiltrate america via Cyber warfare, then they sure did make themselves really vulnerable with this move.

This is a humble and transparent move by Hikvision which is exactly what they needed to do.

And that now the burden is on the US government to find vulnerabilities:

Some of the Nay Sayers are funny. Hikvision is allowing the US govt to view their source code and you are "skeptical"? We keep hearing that Hikvision is so shady and they hide this and that and blah blah blah! Now here is Hikvision saying "Hey US govt, you think we are spying on you? Here is our dam source code, Have at it and show us where we are spying on you! Donald, Here look!!!"

Plus, the restrictions imposed are reasonable to protect US organizations from stealing from Hikvision:

This isn’t “hey everyone come check out our source code so you can steal it”. It’s lets put these politicians and agencies at ease that we aren’t putting spyware in our cameras.

Problem #1 - No Verification Possible

No way exists to verify that the code shared with visitors is the actual code running in Hikvision's products, such that any real vulnerabilities or backdoors could be easily hidden. Hikvision says US government agencies could accomplish this but Hikvision provides no explanation have while real cybersecurity researchers like Bashis do not believe this can be verified.

Problem #2 - Extremely Difficult To Find

Finding vulnerabilities is not simple. Purposely included backdoors are even more difficult. Even if the production source code was provided, that can easily consist of hundreds of thousands of lines of code. Test yourself. Here is the source code to ZoneMinder, the open source VMS application. Take as much time as you want. If you can even understand the basic structure of the code, that puts you in the top 1% of 'IT guys'. Finding vulnerabilities is that much harder.

Problem #3 - Harder Yet In Hikvision's Office

Hikvision makes it more difficult by forcing US government agencies to fly to southern California and have to do this inside of Hikvision's office. Even an expert researcher (and Hikvision has barred independent researchers and experts) would need weeks to go through the code. Even if Hikvision allowed this (and that is not clear from Hikvision's response), the time and cost would be extremely significant, especially since the main reason US government agencies have used Hikvision is Hikvision's low cost. If US government agencies need to pay for such code review, they would save money by simply buying non-Chinese government made products.

Problem #4 - NDA Requirement Blocks Disclosure

Even if Hikvision shares production source code and even if a US government agency is willing to spend a significant amount of money reviewing the source code, any vulnerabilities or backdoors that are found will be hidden by Hikvision's requirements of those reviewers signing an NDA.

'Dedicated' Hotline Broken

Last fall, Hikvision had another cybersecurity initiative, a 'dedicated' cybersecurity hotline, which was praised by the press 6 months ago but has been broken for at least 3 months. IPVM has repeatedly called the 'dedicated' cybersecurity hotline. While the greeting identifies it as the cybersecurity hotline, the call is always re-routed into general dealer technical support, where the operators confirmed there is no 'dedicated' hotline. Worse, on our most recent call, the dealer technical support representative did not know about Hikvision's HikConnect cloud vulnerability from a few weeks ago. Even when we gave him Hikvision's own case number (HSRC-201804-09), he still did not know nor could find any information about it.

We have informed Hikvision corporate of the hotline's problems and we would hope, at least for appearance's sake, that they would, at least temporarily, fix the hotline. Hikvision acknowledged our report of the broken hotline but declined comment.

Polarizing But Net Positive Marketing Impact For Hikvision

We expect the 'transparency' center to further polarize opinion about Hikvision but moderately help their marketing perception, as we see 3 rough responses:

  • Supporters will cheer this move as proof that Hikvision has nothing to hide.
  • Those neutral will likely have a positive initial response since few have much understanding or experience conducting source code reviews, leading them to assume that a 'transparency' center truly opens Hikvision up. However, to the extent they think through the complications and restrictions involved, they may become more skeptical.
  • Detractors will see this as yet another Hikvision marketing move to distract from Hikvision's issues.

What makes this so complicated (and a great marketing move) is that the technical issues are significant and can easily be viewed as required (e.g., protecting Hikvision's IP from the US government stealing it) or a smokescreen (i.e., barriers from actually finding vulnerabilities).

Poll / Vote

3 reports cite this report:

China "Largest Threat To US National Security", Declares FBI And Counterintelligence Heads on Sep 07, 2018
China is 'bar none', the 'largest threat to [US] national security' plus China has declared 'economic war' on the US, according to William Evanina,...
2018 Mid-Year Surveillance Industry Guide on Jun 28, 2018
2018 has been an explosive year for the video surveillance industry, with the industry becoming a global political issue, with the expansion of...
Hikvision Corrects False Cybersecurity Announcement on Jun 18, 2018
Hikvision has corrected a false cybersecurity announcement that claimed a British government-sponsored program endorsed the cybersecurity of...
Comments (29) : PRO Members only. Login. or Join.

Related Reports

Security / Privacy Journalist Sam Pfeifle Interview on May 24, 2019
Sam Pfeifle is best known as the outspoken former Editor of Security Systems News. After that, he was publications director at the International...
Dahua USA Celebrates 5 Years of Errors on May 22, 2019
Dahua USA is, in their own words, 'celebrating' 5 years in North America or as trade magazine SSN declared: Dahua Technology finds success in...
US Considers Sanctions Against Hikvision and Dahua on May 22, 2019
The US government is considering blacklisting "up to 5" PRC surveillance firms, including Hikvision and Dahua, Bloomberg reported, with human...
Amazon Ring Public Subsidy Program Aims To Dominate Residential Security on May 20, 2019
Amazon dominates market after market. Quitely, but increasingly, they are doing so in residential security, through a combination of significant...
LifeSafety Power NetLink Vulnerabilities And Problematic Response on May 20, 2019
'Power supplies' are not devices that many think about when considering vulnerabilities but as more and more devices go 'online', the risks for...
Inside Look Into Scam Market Research on May 17, 2019
Scam market research has exploded over the last few years becoming the most commonly cited 'statistics' for most industries, despite there clearly...
Trump Signs 'Huawei Ban' - Executive Order Targeting Foreign Adversary Technology on May 16, 2019
US President Donald Trump has signed an executive order targeting technology provided by 'foreign adversaries', in what is widely being called a...
China PRC Government New National Video Surveillance Standards on May 14, 2019
The People's Republic of China (PRC) government has released a new set of overarching standards for authorities to follow when they install video...
Vivotek Talks About Taiwan, China, Bans, AI And Business Development on May 10, 2019
Vivotek, Taiwan's biggest manufacturer by revenue, did not have a booth at Taiwan's Secutech 2019 (which we are covering). However,...
10 Facial Recognition Providers Review (Secutech) on May 09, 2019
Adding to our 19 Facial Recognition Providers Profiled report from ISC West, IPVM focused on facial recognition technology for our Day 2 coverage...

Most Recent Industry Reports

NJ Law Requires Apprenticeship For Public Works Integrators on May 24, 2019
Few integrators do a formal apprenticeship program. However, now a NJ law is requiring any integrator on public works projects (such as state...
Security / Privacy Journalist Sam Pfeifle Interview on May 24, 2019
Sam Pfeifle is best known as the outspoken former Editor of Security Systems News. After that, he was publications director at the International...
Verkada Video Quality Problems Tested on May 23, 2019
Verkada suffers from numerous video quality problems, not found in commercial IP cameras, new IPVM testing of Verkada vs Axis and Hikvision...
Average Frame Rate Video Surveillance 2019 on May 23, 2019
What is the average frame rated used in video surveillance systems? In IPVM's 2011 statistics, the average was 6-8fps increasing to ~10fps in...
Access Control Job Walk Guide on May 22, 2019
Significant money can be saved and problems avoided with an access control job walk if you know what to look for and what to ask. By inviting...
ASCMA / Monitronics Declares Chapter 11 Bankruptcy Plan on May 22, 2019
Monitronics is entering into Chapter 11 bankruptcy. The company, also called Ascent Capital Group Inc., aka ASCMA, aka Brinks Home Security,...
US Considers Sanctions Against Hikvision and Dahua on May 22, 2019
The US government is considering blacklisting "up to 5" PRC surveillance firms, including Hikvision and Dahua, Bloomberg reported, with human...
Dahua USA Celebrates 5 Years of Errors on May 21, 2019
Dahua USA is, in their own words, 'celebrating' 5 years in North America or as trade magazine SSN declared: Dahua Technology finds success in...
Axis ~$150 Outdoor Camera Tested on May 21, 2019
Axis has released the latest in their Companion camera line, the outdoor Companion Dome Mini LE, a 1080p integrated IR model aiming to compete with...
Covert Facial Recognition Using Axis and Amazon By NYTimes on May 20, 2019
What if you took a 33MP Axis camera covering one of the busiest parks in the US and ran Amazon Facial Recognition against it? That is what the...

The world's leading video surveillance information source, IPVM provides the best reporting, testing and training for 10,000+ members globally. Dedicated to independent and objective information, we uniquely refuse any and all advertisements, sponsorship and consulting from manufacturers.

About | FAQ | Contact