Espionage Allegations Cast Shadow Over China’s Nuctech X-Ray Security Scanners

In a developing international controversy, concerns have been raised over China’s Nuctech Company and its X-Ray security scanners amid allegations of potential espionage. Nuctech, a leading global supplier of security inspection equipment, has been at the center of a growing debate regarding the security of its products and their possible use for intelligence gathering.

Voice of America (VOA) has reported `The controversy began when reports surfaced suggesting that Nuctech’s X-Ray security scanners, which are widely deployed at airports, border crossings, and critical infrastructure sites around the world, may have hidden capabilities that could compromise security and privacy. These concerns have raised questions about whether the Chinese government could be using Nuctech’s technology for unauthorized surveillance.

According to The Washington Post report, In the past, U.S authorities had red-flagged Nuctech, apprehending a compromise of national interest, with the allegation that the cargo and baggage screening systems provided by Nuctech were giving away easy access to sensitive personal information and commercial data to the Chinese authorities. Similarly, in 2013, Taiwan alleged that Nuctech, which had supplied 17 X-Ray scanners for Taiwan’s airport, might have sent sensitive data it collected for the Airport to the Chinese authorities. Canadian government’s security review has revealed in the past that Nuctech’s X-Ray security scanners could potentially be used to covertly collect and transmit data. Hence, it is only the ‘cheap price’ factor that is responsible for the company’s growing popularity in the Security Screening Market.

According to various Bangladeshi media report, In October 2019, the National Board of Revenue (NBR) of Bangladesh decided to purchase 14 container scanners to boost inspection of export and import consignments and to curb evasion of duties through false declarations. On 23 November 2022  Cabinet Committee on Government Purchase in a meeting with Finance Minister AHM Mustafa Kamal in the chair approved the purchase of the container scanners worth 3.27 billion taka from Nuctech Company Ltd, a global leading Chinese security and inspection solution and service supplier.  Accordingly, in February 2023, the Bangladesh customs purchased 3 types of scanners from Nuctech, China and installed them in various ports and airports including Shah Amanat International Airport (Chottogram), Osmani International Airport, Sylhet, Hazrat Shahjalal International Airport (Dhaka), Cox’s Bazar Airport and Chittagong Port.

Though Nuctech has been frozen out of the U.S. for years due to national security concerns, but it has made deep inroads across Europe, installing its devices in 26 of 27 EU member states, according to public procurement, government and corporate records reviewed by The Associated Press. The complexity of Nuctech’s ownership structure and its expanding global footprint have raised alarms on both sides of the Atlantic. A growing number of Western security officials and policymakers fear that China could exploit Nuctech equipment to sabotage key transit points or get illicit access to government, industrial or personal data from the items that pass through its devices. Experts and intelligence agencies from various countries are closely examining these allegations. The primary concerns center on the following points:

Backdoor Access: Some reports suggest that Nuctech’s scanners may contain hidden backdoors or vulnerabilities that could be exploited by malicious actors to gain unauthorized access to sensitive data or manipulate the equipment’s functionality.

Data Collection: There are concerns that Nuctech’s scanners might collect and transmit sensitive data, such as images and metadata, to servers controlled by the Chinese government, potentially compromising the privacy and security of individuals passing through these scanning systems.

Potential Espionage: Intelligence agencies in several countries are investigating whether Nuctech’s scanners have been used as tools for intelligence gathering, raising national security concerns among nations that have deployed these devices.

The allegations come against the backdrop of escalating tensions between China and various countries over concerns related to national security, economic espionage, and the use of technology for surveillance and control. These concerns have prompted some governments to reevaluate their reliance on Chinese-made security equipment and explore alternative solutions.

In response to the controversy, governments and organizations worldwide are conducting thorough security assessments of Nuctech’s X-Ray scanners. Some have temporarily suspended their use, while others are seeking alternatives from non-Chinese suppliers.

The situation remains fluid, and the outcome of these investigations will have significant implications for global security and technology partnerships. As nations grapple with the delicate balance between security, privacy, and international relations, the allegations surrounding Nuctech’s X-Ray security scanners underscore the growing challenges in a world increasingly interconnected by technology.

Nuctech, a state-owned enterprise in china has denied these allegations, asserting that its products adhere to international standards and undergo rigorous testing for security vulnerabilities. The company has emphasized its commitment to transparency and collaboration with international partners.The Company was established in 1977 as an ancillary of Tsinghua University. It is state owned, and like most other Chinese companies that have grown globally beyond Chinese borders, is compulsorily required to share data with the Chinese government, and hence, can never assure full protection of user data. It is interesting to note that Tsinghua University has been accused of cyber attacks and cyber espionage in different countries through its APTs (Advanced Persistent Threat, a prolonged and targeted cyber attack, in which an intruder gains access to a network and remains undetected for an extended period of time). This university is also engaged in numerous military research projects with the support of the Chinese government.

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