Hikvision Source Code Transparency Center ExaminedBy 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 "
Expanding on the brief public announcement, Hikvision explained to IPVM that:
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:
Plus, the restrictions imposed are reasonable to protect US organizations from stealing from Hikvision:
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).
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