Huawei 5G Hardware as a National Security Risk, Explained
Huawei is a constant headline maker. In the UK, the Defence Secretary was sacked for allegedly leaking details of Huawei’s involvement with the rollout of 5G. In the United States, government officials are cracking down on Huawei over the same technology; federal agencies and subcontractors must not use Huawei products and services.
It raises the question: Is Huawei truly a security threat?
Is Huawei a National Security Threat?
There are no easy answers to a question that has a long recent history. If you ask Huawei, of course, they will tell you that their services and products are clear of malicious intent. Ask a Five Eyes government official and you will receive a very different answer.
Unfortunately, for the public, finding out the truth of the matter is difficult. For the most part, we must rely on what appears in the media.
Another way to look at the problem is to consider the objections of governments, politicians, and agencies that oppose Huawei.
As one of the world leaders on 5G network technology, governments and telecom firms alike want to work with Huawei. However, the primary concern is that Huawei telecoms equipment is a conduit for Chinese government spying.
Installing Huawei developed technology and hardware will open a direct line into the heart of a nation’s critical infrastructure, including wireless communication and emergency service networks. (What is 5G wireless technology?)
So, what’s the evidence? Can any country or organization categorically prove that the Chinese government is using Huawei as a front for espionage?
The Evidence Against Huawei
The concerns surrounding Huawei center on the Chinese tech giant’s links to the Chinese military. Huawei’s founder, Ren Zhengfei, has strong ties to the Chinese military, where he served as an engineer. He also has links to the ruling Communist Party.
A telecoms company founded by a former military tech expert that provides telecoms equipment to the world, whose company has a strong say in the development of the next generation of mobile wireless technology, 5G.
In addition, in 2018, a new Chinese national intelligence law that came into force contained concerning language. For instance, Article 7 of the law states “All organizations and citizens shall, in accordance with the law, support, cooperate with, and collaborate in national intelligence work, and guard the secrecy of national intelligence work they are aware of . . . The state will protect individuals and organizations that support, cooperate with, and collaborate in national intelligence work.”
Most recently, the Times reported that the CIA holds evidence of collusion between the Chinese government and Huawei, but it hasn’t been openly published. According to the newspaper’s source, Huawei has “received funding from the branches of Beijing’s state security apparatus… American intelligence shown to Britain says that Huawei has taken money from the People’s Liberation Army, China’s National Security Commission, and a third branch of the Chinese state intelligence network.”
Of course, no one has seen the evidence to corroborate the allegations. It is unlikely anyone will, at least not without a significant security clearance.
Inconclusive Evidence of Hardware Spying
The issue remains that, despite numerous congressional hearings, despite the UK Defence Secretary, Gavin Williamson losing his ministerial role over a leak regarding Huawei, and despite the links between the Chinese government and Huawei, there isn’t any physical evidence of spying. (Still, should you trust a Huawei phone?)
Let’s just reflect a moment, though. If Williamson was the leaker, that means the *Defence Secretary* thought Huawei constituted a security threat (& thought so strongly enough to go to the papers & destroy his career) but was over-ruled by the PM. Isn’t that a story in itself?
— Andrew Lilico (@andrew_lilico) May 1, 2019
Outside of Huawei, there was the alleged link between hardware manufacturer, SuperMicro, and the Chinese government. Bloomberg printed an expose claiming that SuperMicro was selling servers and other hardware with motherboards containing minute chips designed to spy on US companies, like Apple and Amazon.
Unfortunately, Bloomberg didn’t provide any evidence to the US tech companies allegedly infiltrated. Nor did it elaborate on any evidence in any of the articles published regarding SuperMicro. The lack of evidence saw Apple, Amazon, and other major US tech companies categorically deny the claims. Next up, the UK’s National Cyber Security Centre (NCSC), part of GCHQ, said it had no reason to doubt Apple or Amazon.
And then, the US Department of Homeland Security (DHS) said almost the same.
Turning the tables, the US authorities accused Huawei and its chief financial officer, Meng Wanzhou, of conspiring to defraud HSBC and other banks by twisting Huawei’s operating relationship with Skycom Tech Co Ltd—a suspected front company operating in Iran that broke US sanctions.
How did the US find out about this? By spying on Huawei.
The Hypocrisy in Calling Out Huawei
When so much time is devoted to calling out one company, it is easy to forget the masters are constantly at work. The NSA, CIA, MI6, and other agencies from the Five Eyes countries continue to operate similar programs throughout the world.
Indeed, Edward Snowden describes the Five Eyes intelligence gathering as a “supra-national intelligence organization that does not answer to the known laws of its own countries”—let alone the laws of other countries where intelligence operations take place.
“Huawei has not and will never plant backdoors. And we will never allow anyone else to do so in our equipment.”
Huawei’s rotating chairman, Guo Ping, attacked those efforts at the 2019 World Mobile Congress, specifically noting that the NSA was shown to have been operating a covert program against Huawei since at least 2007.
Guo finished strongly, claiming that “The fusillade being directed at Huawei is the direct result of Washington’s realization that it has fallen behind in developing strategically important technology . . . The global campaign against Huawei has little do with security, and everything do with America’s desire to suppress a rising technological competitor.”
Again, Is Huawei Actually a Security Threat?
The flipside looks like, at least to me, that the US government (and other Five Eyes governments) are saying “it takes one to know one.” Huawei may not directly hack US telecoms networks or other wireless technologies. But, they know what the NSA is doing and has done, and realize that the Chinese government is absolutely practicing similar techniques in counter-espionage.
In that, while there is no current physical evidence that Huawei is hacking the US wireless network or attempting to backdoor the upcoming 5G rollout, who is to say they won’t at a later date. At the end of the day, it isn’t Huawei that is really the security risk. It is the agencies that use them as a conduit that are; Huawei must suffer in the middle to keep its position as a darling of Chinese tech.
The basic issue here is that the prime minister has made a very questionable decision on Huawei and it is absolutely in the public interest for us to know about the pros and cons since it’s all our security at stake
— Tim Shipman (@ShippersUnbound) May 1, 2019
One more thing: US tech companies are far from free of the grasp of the government, providing backdoors, by law, into databases and other data collection programs. The Chinese government gives many of those companies a wide berth. Why shouldn’t the US, UK, and other Western countries do exactly the same to Chinese tech companies?
Five Eyes countries have previous with barring certain foreign companies working in areas with exposure to sensitive information. Kaspersky was in the firing line throughout much of 2017 and into 2018. Learn more about Kaspersky as a reliable antivirus suite.