Canada recently arrested Meng Wanzhou, Huawei’s CFO and its founder’s daughter. The arrest followed a US extradition request. The US request related to Huawei’s alleged use of Skycom Tech, a company that dealt with Iranian telecom firms. The company sold equipment to Iran between 2009 and 2014, violating US sanctions on Iran.
While the authorities concerned claimed the above cause for Meng Wanzhou’s arrest, the real reason could lie elsewhere. Western intelligence agencies suspect that Huawei poses a significant threat to global security.
Huawei equipment could have “kill switches”
Mobile operators that run wireless networks use antennas and base stations. Huawei is the world’s largest manufacturer of such technology. Data carried by those networks help control several parts of countries’ vital infrastructure. Such infrastructure includes power grids, transport systems, and financial markets. Huawei’s gear could help China’s military and intelligence services in exploiting and degrading foreign wireless networks in times of crisis. Using the “back door” insertion of hardware or software into Huawei’s gear, China’s military and intelligence services could cause chaos. Due to such fears, the US has blocked the use of Chinese equipment.
Such “kill switches” could escape even close inspection
Since 2010, members of UK’s GCHQ signal intelligence agency have helped a special center to vet Huawei gear before its use. Earlier in 2018, the center offered “only limited assurance” that Huawei’s equipment was not a security threat. Press reports suggest that the center’s findings showed a difference in the behavior of Huawei’s code in actual use and in tests. They also revealed that there were no rigorous controls in place to check some of Huawei’s software suppliers.
Data snooping could be done by using back doors
As per the company’s claim, Huawei’s equipment connects more than 33% of the population of the world. The equipment also helps handle substantial data for businesses. Hence, Western intelligence circles suspect that back doors in the firm’s equipment could help tap into sensitive information. Huawei can connect its equipment remotely when the companies issues patches and upgrades to fix bugs. Chinese cyber spies could exploit this remote connectivity.
Everything could get worse after the rollout of 5G wireless networks
When rolled out, 5G wireless networks will speed up data transfers. They will also enable devices to “talk” to each other. Such networks could also help the military in connecting various applications. If hackers target networks connecting such applications, chaos could result. They could also hack corporate and other data.
Chinese firms could defy a US trade embargo while shipping tech to certain countries
Huawei has allegedly shipped tech to Iran and other countries that the US has subjected to trade embargoes. According to Chinese officials, China’s companies do not have to respect trade embargoes of other countries.
Contrary to the company’s claim, the Chinese government could wield influence over Huawei’s functioning
Consider Huawei’s repeated claim that it’s a private company owned by its employees. The implication is that they would not want to compromise the integrity of Huawei’s products in the eyes of its customers. Yet, not much is known about its governance structures or the company’s founder, Ren Zhengfei. The man is a former officer in the People’s Liberation Army of China.
Huawei Demands Proof
Huawei could defend itself against such claims by pointing out that security researchers have failed to find back doors on its products. The Eurasia Group’s Paul Triolo has borne this claim out. However, a skeptic could rebut the defence by asking Huawei to consider the possibility that key infrastructure buyers have already received such evidence.
Pot Calling Kettle Black?
Common knowledge reveals that the US government installed spyware on Cisco equipment and spied on its “allies” and foreign firms. Consider the possibility that the NSA hacked Huawei. When it did not find backdoors by the PLA, the NSA may have installed its own.
Is the trade war against Chinese companies the only reason for the negative press campaign against Huawei? Was the “security risk” thing entirely made up in order to push this agenda?