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Huawei Risks – A Government Security Review

Huawei Technologies Co. Ltd., a Chinese multinational company, has steadily grown to become the largest telecommunications equipment vendor in the world. Huawei’s global revenues have been recorded at over $100 billion globally.

Huawei’s advanced 5G network equipment has faced increased security scrutiny from security experts, intelligence agencies, and governments who have cited cybersecurity and espionage risks. Several governments have expressed their hesitancy to use Huawei’s 5G technology for critical infrastructure.

The U.S. and other governments in Europe have cited the close ties between Huawei and its founder Ren Zhengfei with the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) and the People’s Liberation Army (PLA). Other nation-states fear that the Chinese government would easily access client data held by Huawei or compel the company to support espionage efforts.

What Are the Applications of 5G Technology?

5G technology is designed as a single wireless communication technology covering multiple use cases. 5G can act as a single infrastructure that combines mobile telephony, radio channels, TV signals, the needs of the armed forces, and public safety. 5G supports the convergence of all these networks into a single infrastructure through network slicing.

In addition, 5G carried no limit on the number of connected devices. The technology prepares for the future of connected devices, and it offers a foundation for the Internet of Things.

Lastly, a standout application area of 5G is robotics and remote control. Compared to 4G, the 5G technology drastically reduces latency. Together with other improvements, 5G has enhanced robustness and security. The vast potential of 5G will be realized in the next decade or so.

Risks Associated with Huawei’s 5G Equipment

Increased globalization has broken down barriers between nation-states and multinational corporations. The international nature of technology is coming to the fore. IT Companies may be located anywhere in the world but create technologies or products that businesses require to run smoothly and securely.

On the other hand, globalization has led to the collision of diverse interests – political, economic, technological, and even religious interests. The crash of these interests became dramatic when the U.S. government concluded that Huawei Technologies Co. Ltd. And ZTE Corp. posed significant threats to U.S. national security and interests as well as economic integrity. The collision course is littered with the topics of Beijing’s espionage activities and an ongoing trade war between the U.S. and China. Allies of the U.S., including the U.K., New Zealand, and Australia, have joined in sidelining Huawei. New Zealand has wholly prohibited using Huawei equipment in any of its networks. Other countries like Germany and India have expressed concerns over using Huawei equipment to upgrade to 5G infrastructure.

Huawei designs and manufactures the equipment that controls how and where data is sent, including network gateways, switches, routers, antennae, and bridges. The network equipment traverses the internet and is critical to the proper functioning of the internet. The most commonly cited threats associated with buying telecommunications equipment from these two Chinese companies are:

  • Intentionally Bad Software: Experts suggest that the Huawei equipment may have hidden back doors that allow attackers to access a network. The network equipment could potentially facilitate espionage, although Huawei isn’t doing so. If such evidence were to be found, companies using Huawei equipment would demand an immediate explanation. Another concern is that the equipment could be made to not function or taken down under the instructions of the Chinese government during a time of international crisis. Intentionally lousy software in any telecommunications hardware may expose encrypted data without leaving any evidence of tampering. An attacker passively taping encrypted data can carry on without being discovered for so many years.
  • Business Issues: The differences in cultural and regulatory frameworks for competition and intellectual property are the source of business issues. That drives the conversation away from malicious software and hardware. Under Chinese political infrastructure, companies must intertwine with the Communist Party and other military and government infrastructure. The associations between Huawei and the Chinese government are not a conspiracy but is how business happens in China. Chinese companies owe their first loyalty to the Communist Party of China.
  • Trust and Information Sharing: The commingling of interests between Huawei and the Chinese government may lead to espionage and handing over customer data to government agencies. When working with vendors, the issue complicates network equipment buyers who want guaranteed security practices. Network equipment vendors are generally considered trusted partners and have broad access to information about growth plans, network configurations and to help with troubleshooting. Network and security managers must exercise caution and different attitudes when dealing with Huawei and other Chinese companies. Security managers need to keep sensitive information and access controls at a healthy distance.
  • Transparency and Stability: Company stability and transparency issues are not specific to network and information security. How can customers be sure that Huawei will be around both in the short term and long term to support the network equipment and other products being sold now. Huawei is not as transparent as other European and American companies since company financials are unavailable. Huawei is the largest telecommunications equipment vendor globally, making it a strong company, but it’s not easy to ascertain critical company information.

The rhetoric around Huawei has been short on facts and long on political and financial concerns by the U.S. and its allies. The greatest fear is that Huawei is likely to come under extrajudicial directions from the Chinese government. Huawei cannot resist overtures from Beijing, including manipulating traffic on its devices and bringing down entire networks. Network managers should exercise due diligence when buying equipment from Huawei by ascertaining product quality, support, and long-term viability prospects. The differences in how Chinese companies operate emphasize the need to protect sensitive information just like a business would do regardless of the nation that the vendor calls home.

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Author: Alessandro Civati

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