Huawei is having a rough time at the moment, not because of smartphone sales numbers, but because it is being repeatedly accused of spying for the Chinese state government. Michael Hayden, a retired four star general and the former head of the CIA and the NSA, has publicly accused the networking company of passing sensitive information about national telecommunication infrastructures to the Chinese state.
This isn’t the first time that Huawei has been accused of having links with the Chinese government. In 2012, the US House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence (HPSCI) published a very negative report about the company which concluded that “the risks associated with Huawei and ZTE’s provision of equipment to US critical infrastructure could undermine core US national-security interests.” At the time of the report release, Committee Chairman Mike Rogers said companies that had used Huawei equipment had made “numerous allegations” of odd behavior by Huawei equipment including routers supposedly sending large amounts of data to China during the night.
The problems stem from the fact that Huawei was founded by Ren Zhengfei, who is a former officer of the People’s Liberation Army. The perception is therefore that the company has close links to the Chinese State. Considering the high level of Chinese State sponsored cyber attacks against countries like the USA, these links are causing concern.
Earlier this week in the UK, a country which currently buys millions of dollars worth of Huawei equipment, a government report raised questions about the independence of staff employed at a test center which was setup to examine Huawei’s equipment for security vulnerabilities. It turns out that although staffed by security cleared UK personnel, the center is funded entirely by Huawei and remains under Huawei’s control.
In response to Hayden’s accusations, Scott Sykes, head of international media affairs for Huawei, told the BBC that the comments were “sad distractions from real-world concerns related to espionage – industrial and otherwise – that demand serious discussion globally”.
Although there haven’t been any specific allegations against Huawei’s range of Android phones, the possibility that their handsets have hidden back doors isn’t beyond the realm of belief. Last year it was revealed that a phone from ZTE (which is also on USA’s naughty list) contained a secret back door which granted root access to whoever knew the hard coded password. ZTE later admitted the existence of the back door but said it was a mistaken left in the firmware by an engineer.
If Huawei does come under attack for any security related issues with its Android handsets, one possible solution would be for the company to fully publish the source code for its devices, along with build instructions, so that the firmware can be independently built and verified. An alternative would be for the company to work closely with the Android Open Source Project to ensure that AOSP builds can be installed on all their phones.
What do you think, can Huawei be trusted?