A New York-based company was raided by federal agents on Thursday for allegedly selling insecure, Chinese-made surveillance cameras to the US military.
Since 2006, Aventura Technologies has been concealing that its products were made in China while raking in millions through lucrative contracts with the US government and private businesses, the Justice Department alleged in today’s announcement.
Aventura’s government customers include the US Army, US Navy, the US Air Force, the Department of Energy, and the Internal Revenue Service, among others. In total, the company pulled in $88 million in revenue since 2010, $20 million of which came from US government contracts that prohibited Aventura from sourcing equipment from China.
Federal agents refrained from naming the Chinese manufacturers involved. But over the years, Aventura received shipments from more than 40 different suppliers in China. The network surveillance equipment also suffered from publicly known vulnerabilities documented by the Department of Homeland Security that could pave the way for remote takeovers.
Cameras sold by Aventura
The same camera technology was installed on “dozens” of US Army, Navy, and Air Force bases, along with US aircraft carriers and Department of Energy facilities, federal agents said in the criminal complaint against Aventura.
The company’s management allegedly “took extraordinary steps” to hide the scheme. This involved telling one manufacturer to remove the Chinese brand’s initials from circuit boards shipped to Aventura, and demanding another supplier delete mention of the Chinese company’s name in the operating system.
In addition, Aventura’s employees repeatedly told US procurement officers that the company’s technology was made in the US. At one point, Aventura’s owner even complained that competing US government contractors were sourcing components from a specific Chinese manufacturer. But in reality, Aventura itself was doing business with the same manufacturer, federal agents claimed.
The Justice Department has charged the owners of Aventura, husband and wife Jack and Frances Cabasso, with fraud, money laundering, and illegal importation of equipment. Federal agents arrested the Cabassos and five other current and former company employees on the same day.
What the US government will do with all the equipment it bought from Aventura wasn’t stated. But the various agencies are likely ripping out, or at least trying to patch the vulnerable technology, before any hackers can exploit them.
According to the Justice Department, federal investigators uncovered the scheme by intercepting the shipments Chinese manufacturers sent to Aventura, and tracking their eventual arrival to the company’s government customers. In one case, investigators also examined the firmware from an Aventura camera and noticed something odd.
“Specifically, the specialist found that the camera contained multiple preloaded images that were apparently designed to display on the camera’s built-in screen,” the criminal complaint says. “One such image was the US Air Force logo; another was the logo of the PRC (People’s Republic of China) Ministry of Public Security, the PRC’s principal domestic security agency.”
Aventura did not immediately respond to a request for comment.