China’s defense of Huawei? U.S. tech companies spy too

Blocking the foreign telecom giant might backfire on American manufacturers.

China could retaliate if the U.S. government excommunicates Chinese technology firm Huawei by reciprocating charges of cyberespionage and denying American tech companies market access, some industry analysts say.

The results of a nearly yearlong congressional probe into the second-largest telecommunications firm in the world suggests Huawei facilitates wiretaps for the Chinese government through the equipment it sells stateside. The House Intelligence Committee, which released the findings Monday, has since alerted U.S. companies doing business with Huawei and ZTE to use another vendor.

“I thought of this from the reverse side. What if the Chinese government had accused us of this?” questioned Zeus Kerravala, principal analyst with ZK Research. “Wouldn’t we be in an uproar?”

One could argue American firms have similar U.S. government ties. Post-Sept. 11 rules enforcing the 2001 USA Patriot Act and updating the 1994 Communications Assistance for Law Enforcement Act, or CALEA, require U.S. telecommunications carriers and manufacturers to build backdoors into networks allowing U.S. authorities to intercept messages.

“I do believe the Chinese could view [federal wiretap rules] as a clandestine way of U.S. officials spying on foreign citizens,” Kerravala said.

William Plummer, Huawei vice president of external affairs, has warned of reprisals from foreign governments in response to the House panel’s conclusions. Blocking Huawei from doing business in the United States would set a "monstrous, market-distorting, trade-distorting policy precedent that could be used in other markets against American companies,” he has said.

Alienating the Shenzhen, China-based firm and its homeland could backfire on U.S. companies that depend on Chinese parts, Kerravala said. “Cisco and other U.S. manufacturers buy components from China. What if the components had backdoors? You could take this to the nth degree and by default you’re saying, ‘Don’t take or buy anything from China,’ ” he said.

Kerravala added that barring Huawei also could hurt U.S. innovation, which has benefitted from increased foreign competition. “Has Huawei put price pressure on the market? Absolutely. But good companies adapt their sales models accordingly,” he said.

According to former personnel, however, Huawei cheats by disregarding the intellectual property rights of U.S. companies -- a claim that Huawei denies. The House report did not name the former Huawei employees.

The unclassified account accuses Huawei and ZTE, a smaller Chinese telecom company, of selling products that pose a national security threat but stops short of identifying specific technical vulnerabilities.

“Companies around the United States have experienced odd or alerting incidents using Huawei or ZTE equipment,” the report stated. “Opportunities to tamper with telecommunications components and systems are present throughout product development, and vertically integrated industry giants like Huawei and ZTE provide a wealth of opportunities for Chinese intelligence agencies to insert malicious hardware or software implants into critical telecommunications components and systems . . . China may seek cooperation from the leadership of a company like Huawei or ZTE for these reasons.”

Kerravala said, “The whole premise of that report is based on a lot of innuendo.”

Former U.S. intelligence officials said the concerns Congress aired may be above Huawei’s pay grade. It is widely believed that the Chinese government exercises financial and legal control over all China-based company decisions and public disclosures.

“In many ways, it’s not Huawei’s fault. It’s the Chinese government’s fault, which is why you’re not seeing the same thing with Sony-Ericsson,” a Japanese telecom company, said Dave Aitel, a former National Security Agency computer scientist and now chief executive officer of cybersecurity firm Immunity Inc. Huawei officials “have to answer to the Chinese communist party. They could not explain in the end who controls the company” to House investigators.

Other foreign countries may be more accepting of America’s trapdoors than China’s Trojan software, because U.S. organizations are not known for being “the world's most active and persistent perpetrators of economic espionage" as the Office of the Director of National Intelligence called Chinese actors in 2011.  

The worry about Huawei is less about company officials “Trojaning their systems. It’s about whether Huawei can play by the rules,” Aitel said.

U.S. firms sometimes are able to quell foreign governments’ fears by, for instance, providing open source products that reveal their programs’ underlying code, said Aitel, whose company exposes its source code.

Huawei unsuccessfully offered U.S. officials independent inspections of its products to prove the Chinese government cannot activate features to trigger cyberwarfare. House lawmakers argued that such postproduction evaluations might not catch all malicious code. And technology can behave differently after it is deployed.

Upgrades, maintenance and service vendors “will affect the ongoing security of the network,” the report stated. “It is highly unlikely that a security evaluation partnership such as that proposed by Huawei or ZTE, independent of its competence and motives, will be able to identify all relevant flaws in products the size and complexity of core network infrastructure devices.”

Kerravala acknowledged that Huawei could improve its business dealings through better external corporate communications. “If ZTE and Huawei do want to be treated as a credible alternative in the United States, they need to provide the same level of access” to the media as American businesses, he said.

Huawei has recruited a number of well-connected former U.S. officials to help expand its stateside operations.

Huawei officials declined to comment for this story.

X
This website uses cookies to enhance user experience and to analyze performance and traffic on our website. We also share information about your use of our site with our social media, advertising and analytics partners. Learn More / Do Not Sell My Personal Information
Accept Cookies
X
Cookie Preferences Cookie List

Do Not Sell My Personal Information

When you visit our website, we store cookies on your browser to collect information. The information collected might relate to you, your preferences or your device, and is mostly used to make the site work as you expect it to and to provide a more personalized web experience. However, you can choose not to allow certain types of cookies, which may impact your experience of the site and the services we are able to offer. Click on the different category headings to find out more and change our default settings according to your preference. You cannot opt-out of our First Party Strictly Necessary Cookies as they are deployed in order to ensure the proper functioning of our website (such as prompting the cookie banner and remembering your settings, to log into your account, to redirect you when you log out, etc.). For more information about the First and Third Party Cookies used please follow this link.

Allow All Cookies

Manage Consent Preferences

Strictly Necessary Cookies - Always Active

We do not allow you to opt-out of our certain cookies, as they are necessary to ensure the proper functioning of our website (such as prompting our cookie banner and remembering your privacy choices) and/or to monitor site performance. These cookies are not used in a way that constitutes a “sale” of your data under the CCPA. You can set your browser to block or alert you about these cookies, but some parts of the site will not work as intended if you do so. You can usually find these settings in the Options or Preferences menu of your browser. Visit www.allaboutcookies.org to learn more.

Sale of Personal Data, Targeting & Social Media Cookies

Under the California Consumer Privacy Act, you have the right to opt-out of the sale of your personal information to third parties. These cookies collect information for analytics and to personalize your experience with targeted ads. You may exercise your right to opt out of the sale of personal information by using this toggle switch. If you opt out we will not be able to offer you personalised ads and will not hand over your personal information to any third parties. Additionally, you may contact our legal department for further clarification about your rights as a California consumer by using this Exercise My Rights link

If you have enabled privacy controls on your browser (such as a plugin), we have to take that as a valid request to opt-out. Therefore we would not be able to track your activity through the web. This may affect our ability to personalize ads according to your preferences.

Targeting cookies may be set through our site by our advertising partners. They may be used by those companies to build a profile of your interests and show you relevant adverts on other sites. They do not store directly personal information, but are based on uniquely identifying your browser and internet device. If you do not allow these cookies, you will experience less targeted advertising.

Social media cookies are set by a range of social media services that we have added to the site to enable you to share our content with your friends and networks. They are capable of tracking your browser across other sites and building up a profile of your interests. This may impact the content and messages you see on other websites you visit. If you do not allow these cookies you may not be able to use or see these sharing tools.

If you want to opt out of all of our lead reports and lists, please submit a privacy request at our Do Not Sell page.

Save Settings
Cookie Preferences Cookie List

Cookie List

A cookie is a small piece of data (text file) that a website – when visited by a user – asks your browser to store on your device in order to remember information about you, such as your language preference or login information. Those cookies are set by us and called first-party cookies. We also use third-party cookies – which are cookies from a domain different than the domain of the website you are visiting – for our advertising and marketing efforts. More specifically, we use cookies and other tracking technologies for the following purposes:

Strictly Necessary Cookies

We do not allow you to opt-out of our certain cookies, as they are necessary to ensure the proper functioning of our website (such as prompting our cookie banner and remembering your privacy choices) and/or to monitor site performance. These cookies are not used in a way that constitutes a “sale” of your data under the CCPA. You can set your browser to block or alert you about these cookies, but some parts of the site will not work as intended if you do so. You can usually find these settings in the Options or Preferences menu of your browser. Visit www.allaboutcookies.org to learn more.

Functional Cookies

We do not allow you to opt-out of our certain cookies, as they are necessary to ensure the proper functioning of our website (such as prompting our cookie banner and remembering your privacy choices) and/or to monitor site performance. These cookies are not used in a way that constitutes a “sale” of your data under the CCPA. You can set your browser to block or alert you about these cookies, but some parts of the site will not work as intended if you do so. You can usually find these settings in the Options or Preferences menu of your browser. Visit www.allaboutcookies.org to learn more.

Performance Cookies

We do not allow you to opt-out of our certain cookies, as they are necessary to ensure the proper functioning of our website (such as prompting our cookie banner and remembering your privacy choices) and/or to monitor site performance. These cookies are not used in a way that constitutes a “sale” of your data under the CCPA. You can set your browser to block or alert you about these cookies, but some parts of the site will not work as intended if you do so. You can usually find these settings in the Options or Preferences menu of your browser. Visit www.allaboutcookies.org to learn more.

Sale of Personal Data

We also use cookies to personalize your experience on our websites, including by determining the most relevant content and advertisements to show you, and to monitor site traffic and performance, so that we may improve our websites and your experience. You may opt out of our use of such cookies (and the associated “sale” of your Personal Information) by using this toggle switch. You will still see some advertising, regardless of your selection. Because we do not track you across different devices, browsers and GEMG properties, your selection will take effect only on this browser, this device and this website.

Social Media Cookies

We also use cookies to personalize your experience on our websites, including by determining the most relevant content and advertisements to show you, and to monitor site traffic and performance, so that we may improve our websites and your experience. You may opt out of our use of such cookies (and the associated “sale” of your Personal Information) by using this toggle switch. You will still see some advertising, regardless of your selection. Because we do not track you across different devices, browsers and GEMG properties, your selection will take effect only on this browser, this device and this website.

Targeting Cookies

We also use cookies to personalize your experience on our websites, including by determining the most relevant content and advertisements to show you, and to monitor site traffic and performance, so that we may improve our websites and your experience. You may opt out of our use of such cookies (and the associated “sale” of your Personal Information) by using this toggle switch. You will still see some advertising, regardless of your selection. Because we do not track you across different devices, browsers and GEMG properties, your selection will take effect only on this browser, this device and this website.