What is Cantonese for “sucks”?
A piece in the UK web site The Register, says of some recent Mac drives:

According to Retrodata, its customers have sent in a much higher number of failed Seagate 2.5in SATA drives made in China and loaded with firmware version 7.01 than of any other current hard drive model.

“We’re getting 20-30 times more failed drives of this kind than others,” Retrodata chief Duncan Clarke told Register Hardware. . . .

Clarke blamed the problem what he described as “poor quality control in Chinese hard drive factories” – an issue he maintained affects other hard drive makers in addition to Seagate. He also warned all hard drive buyers to avoid HDDs manufactured in China.

The fact is that the Chinese already make hard drives and their quality, as as far as I can tell, is fine. Mr Clarke just got lucky with some PR on a slow news day.

Two data points don’t make a trend
And yet just a few weeks ago Seagate CEO Bill Watkins was raising security concerns about Chinese ownership of Seagate. No bid surfaced, leaving me to wonder what game Mr. Watkins was really playing.

Are the security concerns real?
The NYTimes reported that

“Seagate would be extremely sensitive,” said an industry executive who participates in classified government advisory groups. “I do not think anyone in the U.S. wants the Chinese to have access to the controller chips for a disk drive. One never knows what the Chinese could do to instrument the drive.”

Given that the Chinese already build disk drives – Excelstor was the only drive company with no online complaints the last time I looked – and that Seagate already has two large plants on China’s southeast coast in the cities of Wuxi and Suzhou, near Shanghai, I’m not getting the concern. What, exactly, do the Chinese not have access today that buying Seagate would give them?

Of course, we know all about planting logic bombs
The US used software against the Russians in the 1980s.

But disk drives?

Disks aren’t free-standing network connected devices. They communicate to the world through drivers and HBAs and controller chips. Even if you wanted to it isn’t clear to me how disks could become a serious security threat. If they could, why would you start with disks? There are better targets.

Now let’s take a look at routers
A router would seem like a much more likely device to use for spying. Network connected, all the data passing through it, millions of lines of code in high-end routers.

Cisco already does R&D in China. Should we worry about that? Where are the unnamed “security experts” opining about that?

The StorageMojo take
The military-industrial complex that Eisenhower warned us about is bigger, badder and dumber than ever. If the clown in the White House actually cared about US security he’d have avoided selling hundreds of billions in T-bills to the Chinese in the first place. But that would have required discipline and accountability instead of strutting around in a flight suit. Where’s the photo op in a balanced budget?

The China bashing should stop. Like it or not, the world’s largest country and the world’s largest economy are now locked in a long term dance. We need them to finance deficits as far as the eye can see and they need us to keep their economy growing at a breakneck pace.

By wrapping Seagate in a “national security” banner, Watkins has done the US and his shareholders a grave disservice. We need closer economic ties to China and turning $30 billion or so of T-bills into cash for Seagate stockholders and a Chinese stake in the health of the US economy would help both countries better enjoy the long dance we’ll have in the 21st century.

Comments welcome, of course. How would you instrument a disk drive for nefarious purposes?