Over the past decade there has been an increase in online retailers selling cheaper unbranded electrical products as their main business focus. These products are manufactured and distributed all over the world.

Unbranded products or original equipment manufacturer products are meant to be used for creating a branded product, whether for a lower quality brand or even higher quality brands with minor changes done by the brand owner to label the product as their own.

When it comes to producing a new product such as a wireless router or network connected security camera system, the standard process for both unbranded and branded product manufacturing is finding a suitable base chipset with most of the required features built into a single integrated circuit. The chipset manufacturer provides a number of items which help the original equipment manufacturer and brand owner get a product to market quicker. These include development manuals, code examples, demo boards and overall best practices.

With these items a shippable product can be pieced together with relative ease, based entirely on the chipset manufacturer’s work at a much lower cost to the original equipment manufacturer and brand owner. With this lower cost though, certain steps can be skipped to keep the price down, such as no additional quality assurance, removing of test features, and fixing any accidental bugs that were done by the chipset manufacturer. All these skipped steps can lead to security holes and broken functionality in the end product.

Higher quality branded products follow the same processes as these cheaper alternatives – however, they include design improvements and additional quality assurance checks to ensure that the product will perform as advertised and with no possibility of broken functionality or security holes. All these added steps increase the overall production costs, which in turn are then passed to the end user after manufacturing is complete.

As chipset manufacturers provide these items to anybody willing to pay, many products can exist with the same functionality. This is because they are literally the same internally as they are based on the same recommended components and layouts provided by the demos and examples – the brand owner can then simply redesign the enclosure to match the brand’s image.

While higher quality brands perform additional quality assurance processes, some manufacturers have been known to skip these processes for some of their products. One particular example of this was due to an original equipment manufacturer producing a wireless networking product used by a number of respected brands, which contained an accidental security backdoor. This affected millions of users worldwide and is still visible in Malta. This issue was caused due to the original equipment manufacturer not disabling a feature to shorten the time it takes to bulk upload the firmware to the product at the manufacturing stage. This feature should have been closed on releasing the product to market. With this security hole enabled, it’s possible for a malicious user to enter and gain unlawful access to the user’s entire networked systems and steal confidential information or damage other systems.

While the use of unbranded or even lower quality products may be appealing for normal nontechnical users, caution is advised as the product may not be properly secured

While the use of unbranded or even lower quality products may be appealing for normal non-technical users, caution is advised as the product may not be properly secured. This could lead to security issues. On the other hand, a more technical user would be able to set up the product securely and possibly flash a custom aftermarket firmware which in most cases has been securely and openly developed by many experienced users from around the world. Also, in most cases, custom aftermarket firmware contains additional software and features which are not available in the factory stock firmware to give added functionality to the original product.

As with any idea or product, there will always be someone who will create a knock off or clone. If the product originated from an original equipment manufacturer, this makes it much easier to clone as you only have to purchase the same or closest match to the unbranded version of the product and make minor or no additional changes to give the appearance of the genuine original product.

When online retailers and even normal retail shops are aware that the products they are promoting and selling are knock offs and not genuine, it can be detrimental to the original product’s brand as this would reduce earned profits for them and also give the brand a bad name if the clone is unstable or performs not up to the original’s specifications.

With higher named brands, the brand owner will in most cases patent protect their product designs with an original equipment manufacturer to prevent competitors and cloners from copying the products designs. While law enforcement does enforce patent infringements, it usually only applies to the same country where the patent was requested. It does not protect the product in foreign countries unless an additional patent has been requested in that country.

Electronic devices that are sold and exported across the globe must contain certification and licensing markings which are used for products that have gone under specialist testing for radiation and any radio frequencies that could be emitting and conflicting with other devices. In most cases, cheaper unbranded devices skip these certifications and testing and illegally use the markings on the enclosure. Although some manufacturers do undergo testing for the initial prototype, they can sometimes exchange and drop components for cheaper alternatives. This invalidates all previous testing as the radiation and radio frequencies outputted from the device will no longer be the same as the prototype and could possibly cause interference with other devices such as medical equipment.

When buying electronic products, be wary of buying the cheaper unbranded or low quality branded products. Sometimes, it’s best to pay more and be confident that you have a secure product.

Matthew Anthony Pace is a software developer and electronics designer by day and a security researcher and blogger by night. He blogs at https://lookuga.com .

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