Huawei ‘Spooks’ Governments Due to its Dominance

Chinese telecoms equipment suppliers have previously been criticized for allegedly being security risks. The Australian government, for instance, banned the company from participating in bids for its national broadband network due to potential spying threats. Huawei, which has grown to become one of today’s dominant telecommunications equipment companies, is likewise constantly under threat because of what some might call China-bashing.

Photo shows a Huawei booth at CeBIT 2012 in Germany. While starting to dominate the telecom equipment industry, Huawei is under criticism for potential security threats. (Photo Credit: AP)

It doesn’t help that the U.S. government is investigating another Chinese firm, ZTE, for supplying equipment to Iran, which it is in conflict with.

The Economist has a feature on the challenges faced by Huawei in the face of scrutiny, which details how Huawei has been working closely with private security firms and governments in initiatives that will help persuade potential partners and clients of their products’ security. The Banbury, UK-based Cyber Security Evaluation Center works closely with British signals-intelligence agency GCHQ.

Even Huawei suggests a proactive approach to security. “Believe no one and check everything,” says John Suffolk, former CIO of the British government and now Huawei’s global cyber-security officer. However, experts say that security flaws are difficult to find, and can sometimes be subtly embedded in the code, and possibly included by accident. As such, doubts remain.

But with these doubts, there is concern that knee-jerk nationalism like banning equipment manufacturers may “balkanize” IT. Experts even cite the fact that almost all other telecoms manufacturers produce their goods in China and source components from firms like ZTE and Huawei, which means banning Chinese goods will result in a false sense of security. If Chinese companies wanted back-doors, they could put these in place in components supplied to American, European and other brands.

For its part, Huawei is trying to project a more open image, by publishing what can be considered an annual report. However, corporate details are still “murky” and governments are still wary that the Chinese government may be bankrolling Huawei’s business efforts in the aim of opening security holes in foreign communications infrastructures.

Even China is worried of so-called digital Trojan horses in telecommunications equipment. “Both [countries] believe that the other will seek to exploit the supply chain to introduce vulnerabilities into networks and infrastructures,” said a statement by the China Institute of Contemporary International Relations and the U.S.-based Center for Strategic and International Studies.

Still, the ball is in Huawei’s hands, says Cambridge university professor of security engineering Ross Anderson. Huawei would have to lead the clean-up effort, which should help improve its trust rating in the international community.