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Espionage and security concerns surrounding Huawei
In the US, officials and politicians within the federal government have raised concerns that Huawei-made telecommunications equipment may be designed to allow unauthorised access by the Chinese government and the Chinese People's Liberation Army, given that Ren Zhengfei, the founder of the company, served as an engineer in the army in the early 1980s. In the United Kingdom, the Conservative Party raised concerns about security over Huawei's bid for Marconi in 2005, and the company's equipment was mentioned as an alleged potential threat in a 2009 government briefing by Alex Allan, chairman of the Joint Intelligence Committee. In December 2010, Huawei opened a Cyber Security Evaluation Centre to test its hardware and software to ensure they can withstand growing cyber security threats. In the U.S., some members of Congress raised questions about the company's proposed merger with communications company 3Com in 2008, and its bid for a Sprint contract in 2010. In addition, Huawei withdrew its purchase of 3Leaf systems in 2010, following a review by the U.S. Committee on Foreign Investment (CFIUS).
In a 2011 open letter, Huawei stated that the security concerns are "unfounded and unproven" and called on the U.S. government to investigate any aspect of its business. The US-based non-profit organisation Asia Society carried out a review of Chinese companies trying to invest in the U.S., including Huawei. The organisation found that only a few investment deals were blocked following unfavorable findings by the CFIUS or had been given a recommendation not to apply. However, all large transactions had been politicised by groups including the U.S. media, members of Congress and the security community. However, another article unrelated to the report published by the Asia Society reported that, "fear that the P.R.C. government could strongarm private or unaffiliated Chinese groups into giving up cyber-secrets is reflected in the U.S. government's treatment of Chinese telecom company Huawei."
In October 2009, the Indian Department of Telecommunications reportedly requested national telecom operators to "self-regulate" the use of all equipment from European, U.S. and Chinese telecoms manufacturers following security concerns. Earlier, in 2005, Huawei was blocked from supplying equipment to India's Bharat Sanchar Nigam Limited (BSNL) cellular phone service provider. In 2010, the Indian Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) insisted on cancelling the rest of the Huawei contract with BSNL and pressed charges against several top BSNL officers regarding their "doubtful integrity and dubious links with Chinese firms". In June 2010, an interim solution was introduced that would allow the import of Chinese-made telecoms equipment to India if pre-certified by international security agencies such as Canada's Electronic Warfare Associates, US-based Infoguard, and Israel's ALTAL Security Consulting.
In October 2011, The Wall Street Journal reported that Huawei had become Iran's leading provider of telecommunications equipment, including monitoring technologies that could be used for surveillance. Huawei responded with a statement claiming the story misrepresented the company's involvement: "We have never been involved and do not provide any services relating to monitoring or filtering technologies and equipment anywhere in the world".
In 2001, it was alleged that Huawei Technologies India had developed telecommunications equipment for the Taliban in Afghanistan, and newspapers reported that the Indian government had launched a probe into the firm's operations. Huawei responded, stating that the company did not have "any link with the Taliban", as its only customers are telecommunications carriers and its facilities "always operate according to U.N. rules and the local laws of each country". On 15 December 2001, the Indian authorities announced that they had not found any evidence that Huawei India had any connection to the Taliban, although the U.S. remains suspicious.
In March 2012, Australian media sources reported that the Australian government had excluded Huawei from tendering for contracts with NBN Co, a government-owned corporation that is managing the construction of the National Broadband Network, following advice from the Australian Security Intelligence Organisation regarding security concerns. The Attorney-General's Department stated in response to these reports that the National Broadband Network is "a strategic and significant government investment, [and] we have a responsibility to do our utmost to protect its integrity and that of the information carried on it."
In July 2012, Felix Lindner and Gregor Kopf gave a conference at Defcon to announce that they uncovered several critical vulnerabilities in Huawei routers (models AR18 and AR29) which could be used to get remote access to the device. The researchers said that Huawei "doesn't have a security contact for reporting vulnerabilities, doesn't put out security advisories and doesn't say what bugs have been fixed in its firmware updates", and as a result, the vulnerabilities have not been publicly disclosed. Huawei replied that they were investigating the claims.
In December 2011, Bloomberg reported that the U.S. is invoking Cold War-era national security powers to force telecommunication companies including AT&T Inc. and Verizon Communications Inc. to divulge confidential information about their networks in a hunt for Chinese cyber-spying. The US House Intelligence Committee had said on 18 November that it would investigate foreign companies, and a spokesman for Huawei said that the company conducts its businesses according to normal business practices and actually welcomed the investigation. On 8 October 2012, the Committee issued a report concluding Huawei and ZTE were a "national security threat". However, a subsequent White House-ordered review found no concrete evidence to support the House report's espionage allegations.
On 9 October 2012, a spokesman for Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper indicated that the Canadian government invoked a national security exception to exclude Huawei from its plans to build a secure government communications network.
On 25 October 2012, a Reuters report wrote that according to documents and interviews, an Iranian-based seller of Huawei (Soda Gostar Persian Vista) last year tried to sell embargoed American antenna equipment (made by American company Andrew LLC) to an Iranian firm (MTN Irancell). Specifically, the Andrew antennas were part of a large order for Huawei telecommunications gear that MTN Irancell had placed through Soda Gostar, but the MTN Irancell says it cancelled the deal with Huawei when it learned the items were subject to sanctions and before any equipment was delivered. Vic Guyang, a Huawei spokesman, acknowledged that MTN Irancell had cancelled the order; Rick Aspan, a spokesman for CommScope, said the company was not aware of the aborted transaction.
On 19 July 2013, Michael Hayden, former head of U.S. National Security Agency and director of Motorola Solutions, claimed that he has seen hard evidence of backdoors in Huawei's networking equipment and that the company engaged in espionage and shared intimate knowledge of the foreign telecommunications systems with the Chinese government. Huawei and Motorola Solutions had previously been engaged in intellectual property disputes for a number of years. Huawei's global cybersecurity officer, John Suffolk, described the comments made by Hayden as "tired, unsubstantiated, defamatory remarks" and challenged him and other critics to present any evidence publicly.
In 2014, The New York Times reported, based upon documents leaked by Edward Snowden, that the U.S. National Security Agency has since 2007 been operating a covert program against Huawei. This involved breaking into Huawei's internal networks, including headquarter networks and founder Ren Zhengfei's communications. In 2014, Huawei reached a sponsorship deal with the NFL's Washington Redskins to install free public Wi-Fi at FedExField, but the agreement was abruptly shelved weeks after it was announced due to unofficial action by a U.S. government advisor.
In 2015, German cybersecurity company G Data reported that it had found that malware that can listen to calls, track users, and make online purchases was found pre-installed on smartphones from Chinese companies including Lenovo, Xiaomi, and Huawei. When G Data contacted the companies to let them know about the malware, Huawei replied that the security breaches must have taken place further down the supply chain, outside the manufacturing process.
In 2016, Canada's immigration department said it planned to deny permanent resident visas to three Chinese citizens who worked for Huawei over concerns the applicants are involved in espionage, terrorism, and government subversion.
In 2018, an investigation by French newspaper Le Monde alleged that China had engaged in hacking the African Union headquarters in Ethiopia from 2012 to 2017. The building was built by Chinese contractors, including Huawei, and Huawei equipment has been linked to these hacks. The Chinese government denied that they bugged the building, stating that the accusations were "utterly groundless and ridiculous." Ethiopian Prime Minister Hailemariam Desalegn rejected the French media report. Moussa Faki Mahamat, head of the African Union Commission, said the allegations in the Le Monde report were false. "These are totally false allegations and I believe that we are completely disregarding them."
In January 2018, with the proposal of the Defending US Government Communications Act (which would ban the use of Huawei and ZTE products and equipment by U.S. government entities), calls for the FCC to investigate the company, as well as government pressure, it was reported that U.S. carrier AT&T had abruptly pulled out of an agreement to offer its Mate 10 Pro smartphone, while Verizon Communications had declined to carry any future Huawei products.
On 14 February 2018, heads of six U.S. intelligence agencies testified to the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence against the use of Chinese telecom products by U.S. citizens, such as those of Huawei and ZTE. Christopher A. Wray, director of the FBI, stated that they were "deeply concerned about the risks of allowing any company or entity that is beholden to foreign governments that don't share our values to gain positions of power inside our telecommunications networks". Huawei responded to the allegations, arguing that its products "[pose] no greater cybersecurity risk than any ICT vendor, sharing as we do common global supply chains and production capabilities," and that it was "aware of a range of U.S. government activities seemingly aimed at inhibiting Huawei's business in the U.S. market". In March 2018, it was reported that Best Buy, the country's largest electronics store chain, would no longer sell Huawei products.
On 17 April 2018, the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) held a preliminary, 5–0 vote on rules forbidding the use of government subsidies to purchase telecom equipment from companies deemed to be a risk to national security. A draft of the policy specifically named Huawei and ZTE as examples. The same day, the company revealed plans to downplay the U.S. market as part of its future business plans, citing the government scrutiny as having impeded its business there.
Section 889 of the National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2019, passed by the United States Congress and signed by President Trump in August 2018, bars federal agencies and subcontracts from procuring equipment and services from Huawei.
Four members of the Five Eyes international intelligence alliance—Australia, Canada, New Zealand and the US—have declared the use of Huawei telecommunications equipment, particularly in 5G networks, poses "significant security risks", while Canada is carrying out its own security review; only Britain is permitting the company to participate in the rollout of the new technology. In late November 2018, the New Zealand signals intelligence agency Government Communications Security Bureau blocked telecommunications company Spark from using Huawei equipment in its planned 5G upgrade, claiming that it posed a "significant network security risk." The NZ ban followed a similar ban in Australia in August 2018.
In October 2018, British telecom BT Group announced that it had been phasing out Huawei equipment from "core" components of its wireless infrastructure (excluding parts such as phone mast antennas), including its 5G services, and the Emergency Services Network project.
In December 2018, Arne Schönbohm, head of (Germany)'s Federal Office for Information Security (BSI), stated that the country had not yet seen evidence that Huawei had used its equipment to conduct espionage on behalf of China. That month, it was also reported that the Japanese government had ceased future procurement of Huawei and ZTE products.
The Czech Republic's cybersecurity agency issued a warning against Huawei and ZTE products, arguing that Chinese law required companies to "cooperate with intelligence services, therefore introducing them into the key state systems might present a threat." Huawei refuted the arguments, stating that it is not required to include backdoors in its products, nor has the company ever received any requests to do so. Shortly afterward, prime minister Andrej Babiš ordered that government offices cease using Huawei and ZTE products. However, the ban was reversed after the agency's claims were found to be without basis.
In December 2018, Gavin Williamson, the UK's Defence Secretary, expressed "grave" and "very deep concerns" about the company providing technology to upgrade Britain's services to 5G. He accused Beijing of acting "sometimes in a malign way". Alex Younger, the head of MI6, also raised questions about Huawei's role.
On 11 January 2019, Poland announced that two people working on a 5G Huawei network had been arrested: Wang Weijing (a Huawei executive), and Piotr Durbaglo, a consultant having worked for Polish domestic security, but currently working for Orange on 5G network testing.