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U.S. reportedly finds Huawei’s backdoor access in mobile networks

February 12, 2020 / Oshine Tripura

  • U.S. officials say that Huawei's back door allows the company to access network data without the carrier's knowledge.

  • On Tuesday, China denied involvement in any hacking activities.

  • Last year the U.S. and Huawei traded barbs over the U.S.’s concerns and Huawei’s alleged spying, fraud, and violation of international sanctions against Iran.

According to the allegations reported by the Wall Street Journal on Tuesday, the U.S. officials have alleged that Huawei has backdoors in its mobile networks. The Chinese tech giant has reportedly had access to carrier equipment for over a decade. And that the tech giant 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. According to WSJ, the claim comes after years of accusations from the U.S. government and repeated denials from 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

While all network hardware operators build in 'lawful intercept' interfaces that allow law enforcement to access mobile network information with a court order, it is typically impossible to do so without the knowledge and approval of the mobile carrier.


U.S. officials say that Huawei's back door allows the company to access network data without the carrier's knowledge, potentially giving the Chinese government a potent spy tool.

Learn more: Germany set to follow UK on Huawei conundrum – report

Huawei denies the allegations, telling the Journal that it 'has never and will never do anything that would compromise or endanger the security of networks and data of its clients.'

On Tuesday, China denied involvement in any hacking activities after the U.S. accused four members of the Chinese military of an unprecedented hack stealing the data of tens of millions of Americans.

The Justice Department accused Beijing on Monday of engineering one of the biggest hacks in history, targeting consumer data at the Equifax credit reporting agency.

While Huawei is one of the largest sellers of phones in the world, its original business was building telecommunication networks. However, the U.S. has been wary of allowing Huawei equipment to be incorporated into U.S. telecommunications networks. A 2012 Congressional report effectively banned Huawei from selling the equipment and strongly discouraged U.S. phone companies from selling Huawei phones in their stores.

The U.S. wariness comes from concerns regarding Huawei’s ties to the Chinese government—its founder is former Chinese military—and good old-fashioned protectionism. The company has been well positioned provided equipment for the roll-out of affordable and fast 5G networks.

O'Brien also called less-expensive Chinese solutions "tempting of a gift to turn down" for some countries, according to CNN, but that they come "with a price" of the Chinese company having access to information on the network.


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.

The details around the accusation remain vague, indicating that Huawei may be able to spy on access points meant for law enforcement. US officials speaking to the Journal apparently declined to say whether the company had actually done so. But while suggesting a potential mechanism for improper surveillance does heighten the debate between the US and Huawei, it also hints at a deeper self-awareness on the part of US officials. In truth, the intelligence community fears Huawei for a fundamental reason: China will take whatever advantage it can, not unlike the US has done in the past.

If Huawei has been abusing law enforcement access capabilities to clandestinely gather or funnel user communication data, it would be an example of the types of backdoors US officials have warned against. Huawei has vigorously denied that it conducts wrongful surveillance or that it cooperates with the Chinese government by creating backdoors in its network systems. But US government officials have pointed out that China is an authoritarian state that maintains laws about corporate cooperation with government demands.

"Every organization should understand and accept that they can't fully audit the encryption code on the devices they use to secure their data," says Jake Williams, a former NSA analyst and founder of the security firm Rendition Infosec. "And there's a history of potential hardware tampering by government agencies around the world. So organizations need to choose equipment that, if backdoored, presents the least risk. Supply chain security is a bear."

For now, the Huawei debate continues to go in circles. Regardless of the latest revelations, the question remains whether the risk is manageable, or if the US and its allies should ban Huawei altogether.

“There is no question in my mind that the extra scrutiny Huawei has been under as of late has to do with the political environment between China and the U.S. as well as the high-stakes around AI and 5G.”

-Lynette Ong, Associate Professor of Political Science at the University of Toronto

Last year the U.S. and Huawei traded barbs over the U.S.’s concerns and Huawei’s alleged spying, fraud, and violation of international sanctions against Iran. The furor led to both Australia and New Zealand banning the use of Huawei equipment in telecommunication networks.


However some of the largest telecommunication networks in the world, including ones owned by U.K. based Vodafone, and the German Deutsche Telekom AG, currently incorporate Huawei equipment.

About Huawei

Founded in 1987, Huawei is a leading global provider of information and communications technology (ICT) infrastructure and smart devices, committed to bringing digital to every person, home and organization for a fully connected, intelligent world. The tech company has nearly 194,000 employees, and operates in more than 170 countries and regions, serving more than three billion people around the world.

Huawei is a private company wholly owned by its employees. Through the Union of Huawei Investment & Holding Co., Ltd., we implement an Employee Shareholding Scheme that involves 96,768 employee shareholders. This scheme is limited to employees. No government agency or outside organization holds shares in Huawei.