By: Denise Simon | Founders Code
For ten years…
U.S. officials say Huawei Technologies Co. can covertly access mobile-phone networks around the world through “back doors” designed for use by law enforcement, as Washington tries to persuade allies to exclude the Chinese company from their networks.
Chinese tech giant Huawei can reportedly access the networks it helped build that are being used by mobile phones around the world. It’s been using backdoors intended for law enforcement for over a decade, The Wall Street Journal reported Tuesday, citing US officials. The details were disclosed to the UK and Germany at the end of 2019 after the US had noticed access since 2009 across 4G equipment, according to the report.
The backdoors were inserted for law enforcement use into carrier equipment like base stations, antennas, and switching gear, the Journal said, with US officials reportedly alleging they were designed to be accessible by Huawei.
“We have evidence that Huawei has the capability secretly to access sensitive and personal information in systems it maintains and sells around the world,” Robert O’Brien, national security adviser, reportedly said.
The White House and Huawei didn’t immediately respond to a request for comment, but the tech giant rejected the claims according to the Journal.
UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson approved Huawei for 5G last month with some conditions: The British restrictions are to exclude Huawei from building core parts of the UK’s 5G networks, have Huawei’s market share capped at 35% and exclude Huawei from sensitive geographic locations. The European Union allowed higher-risk vendors for 5G with similar restrictions at the end of January.
Huawei’s 5G approval there came despite the US urging the UK to ban the Chinese telecommunications giant.
Huawei was blacklisted in May when it was added to the United States’ “entity list” (PDF). In addition, US President Donald Trump at the same time signed an executive order essentially banning the company in light of national security concerns that Huawei had close ties with the Chinese government. Huawei has repeatedly denied that charge.
Huawei disputed the latest allegations, as it has done in the past, saying it “has never and will never do anything that would compromise or endanger the security of networks and data of its clients.” Huawei also said that the United States made its latest accusations “without providing any kind of concrete evidence.”
“No Huawei employee is allowed to access the network without an explicit approval from the network operator,” a Huawei official said, according to the Journal.
The US government has been moving to reduce the amount of Huawei and ZTE equipment in telecom networks. The Federal Communications Commission voted unanimously in November to ban Huawei and ZTE gear in projects paid for by the FCC’s Universal Service Fund (USF). FCC Chairman Ajit Pai said at the time that Huawei and ZTE “have close ties to China’s Communist government and military apparatus” and “are subject to Chinese laws broadly obligating them to cooperate with any request from the country’s intelligence services and to keep those requests secret.”
The ban is expected to hit small carriers the hardest, as Huawei has appealed to small network operators by selling low-cost gear. By contrast, big telcos like AT&T “have long steered clear of Huawei,” a March 2018 Wall Street Journal report said.