Dark Reading is part of the Informa Tech Division of Informa PLC

This site is operated by a business or businesses owned by Informa PLC and all copyright resides with them.Informa PLC's registered office is 5 Howick Place, London SW1P 1WG. Registered in England and Wales. Number 8860726.


04:26 PM
Connect Directly

Why Huawei Has Congress Worried

Congressional report says increasing dominance of Huawei and ZTE in telecom equipment market gives China an opportunity to spy or conduct malicious activities. If Stuxnet worked, what else will?

11 Security Sights Seen Only At Black Hat
11 Security Sights Seen Only At Black Hat
(click image for larger view and for slideshow)
Chinese telecommunications firms Huawei Technologies and ZTE Corp. should be viewed as potential threats to national security, a U.S. congressional report said on Monday.

The report, "The U.S. National Security Issues Posed by Chinese Telecommunications Companies Huawei and ZTE," presents the results of a House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence investigation begun in November 2011, nine months after Huawei published an open letter challenging "unfounded and unproven claims" that the company has ties to the Chinese military.

The report says that neither company cooperated sufficiently with the investigation and makes several recommendations for U.S. companies and government agencies that deal with either of the Chinese companies.

While noting that non-compliance isn't the same as wrongdoing, the report nonetheless concludes "the risks associated with Huawei's and ZTE's provision of equipment to U.S. critical infrastructure could undermine core U.S. national-security interests."

[ Security is one thing. Privacy is an entirely different issue. Read Google Privacy Audit Leaves Lingering Questions. ]

The report says that a classified annex, not released to the public, amplifies the Committee's concerns.

According to the report, the increasing global dominance of Huawei and ZTE in the telecom equipment market affords the two companies with an opportunity to spy or conduct malicious activity.

Because U.S. authorities continually cite the threat from Chinese cyber-espionage and both companies are Chinese-founded, Chinese-owned, and have ties to the Chinese government and military, the report concludes that the lack of satisfactory answers from the two companies demands that Huawei and ZTE should be viewed with suspicion and their telecom equipment should be avoided.

It calls for an investigation into potential unfair trade practices, new legislation to address the risk of telecom companies with ties to foreign governments, for public and private sector avoidance of Huawei and ZTE products, and for greater openness by Chinese companies.

The assumption here is that the absence of democratic rights and independent civil institutions in China means that Chinese companies do the bidding of Chinese authorities because they cannot do otherwise and remain in business. Moreover, the Chinese government's role in funding certain industries and its encouragement of nationalism as a source of political unity contribute to an alignment of government and business interests in China.

Huawei in a statement insisted it had cooperated with the investigation and that evidence for the Committee's claims is lacking. "However, despite our best effort, the Committee appears to have been committed to a predetermined outcome," the company said.

ZTE did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

In a phone interview, Gartner research VP Kathie Hackler said that with regard to the security issues being raised, "we've not found anything to indicate there are any ongoing security issues." Stressing that Huawei has gone out of its way to open itself up for security testing, she acknowledged that vulnerabilities had been found in older Huawei routers.

Similar flaws have been identified in Cisco equipment, and the presence of flaws isn't necessarily a sign of a government-directed espionage effort.

Hackler suggested that concern about these companies may have more to do with politics than risk, noting that claims about the dominance of Huawei and ZTE are overstated. Cisco, she said, had 74% of the router market in the U.S., while Huawei can claim just 9%.

Murray Jennex, an associate professor of in the department of information and decision systems at San Diego State University, said in a phone interview that there's substance to the Committee's concerns. But he acknowledged there's no smoking gun that establishes the presence of backdoors placed in Chinese-made telecom equipment at the behest of Chinese authorities.

Jennex said he believes that Stuxnet, the malware designed to interfere with Iran's nuclear centrifuges, is what has people concerned. "Now the Chinese didn't do Stuxnet," he said. "We developed Stuxnet, but that aside, it works."

Indeed, the CIA on its website describes a joint effort in the 1980s by the CIA, the Department of Defense, and the FBI, in conjunction with U.S. private industry, to prepare flawed technology products in the hope they'd find their way into Soviet military equipment.

"We've done it a couple times, so it's logical to assume it can be done to us," Jennex said.

Comment  | 
Print  | 
More Insights
Oldest First  |  Newest First  |  Threaded View
User Rank: Apprentice
10/9/2012 | 1:32:38 PM
re: Why Huawei Has Congress Worried
when will we realize the Chinese are trying to be the financial powerhouse of the world and that we are so greedy we are giving it to them for short term gain? Our corporations are so bent on making the next quarter's goals that they are selling the US out. We are not just giving away our leadership position in the world, we are shoveling it out to them as fast as we can for the almighty buck. When we will look a little past the end of our greedy little noses and start investing in our own country at the expense of the investors.
User Rank: Apprentice
10/9/2012 | 6:06:57 PM
re: Why Huawei Has Congress Worried
This isn't a financial issue, it's a security concern. So we can't show proof of these two companies spying on others via their Chinese designed and built network devices, do we want to be the first to find out after it's installed? It's too late then.

Example: years ago, the U.S. needed a new embassy built in Moscow, and we trusted local, (then Soviet) contractors to build it. Before it was completed, American teams inspected, it was so riddled with bugs and spy devices built into the floors, walls, ceilings, fixtures, etc., that it had to be torn down and rebuilt by American teams sent over there. Do we want to learn from history, or not? Same exact situation here, only much worse if it ever got deployed nationally. How could anyone be so naive as to think the Chinese government would let a once in a lifetimre opportunity like this to pass by.

In all fairness, if the shoe were on the other foot and Cisco was invited to build out China's or Russia's telecom infrastructure, you can bet the CIA would to exactly the same thing...
User Rank: Apprentice
10/10/2012 | 3:30:31 AM
re: Why Huawei Has Congress Worried
The U.S. government didn't intervene when the U.S. Telecom Industry was going down the tubes and U.S. Companies like Lucent and Tellabs were losing money and laying thousands of people off. These jobs are gone forever and there are still people from that industry that are out of work. The Chinese moved in and cleaned up what remained (from an economic standpoint)and now we're getting the public all alarmed about a security issue. I'm not saying that there aren't hacking and espionage initiatives to be concerned with (with all of the major powers like China, U.S. Russia, Israel, other parts of Asia, etc.), but this is more so a situation where China is kicking our ass once again from an economic perspective. We continue to give up our leadership positions in various industries and technologies and other countries are more than happy to come in and improve their economic situation to our detriment. Then our politicians proclaim that we need to generate more jobs! Or, that we should be concerned about spies!
User Rank: Apprentice
10/10/2012 | 10:07:21 PM
re: Why Huawei Has Congress Worried
The concern here is not design flaws or security shortcomings, but about deliberate back doors. The most dangerous vulnerabilities will not be revealed through testing, but only through a complete tear-down and reverse-engineering of every device. The real answer is for the telecom industry to understand that closed, locked-down, proprietary systems are inherently untrustworthy. Open source is a safer way. http://openbts.blogspot.com
Ransomware Is Not the Problem
Adam Shostack, Consultant, Entrepreneur, Technologist, Game Designer,  6/9/2021
How Can I Test the Security of My Home-Office Employees' Routers?
John Bock, Senior Research Scientist,  6/7/2021
New Ransomware Group Claiming Connection to REvil Gang Surfaces
Jai Vijayan, Contributing Writer,  6/10/2021
Register for Dark Reading Newsletters
White Papers
Cartoon Contest
Write a Caption, Win an Amazon Gift Card! Click Here
Latest Comment: Google's new See No Evil policy......
Current Issue
The State of Cybersecurity Incident Response
In this report learn how enterprises are building their incident response teams and processes, how they research potential compromises, how they respond to new breaches, and what tools and processes they use to remediate problems and improve their cyber defenses for the future.
Flash Poll
How Enterprises are Developing Secure Applications
How Enterprises are Developing Secure Applications
Recent breaches of third-party apps are driving many organizations to think harder about the security of their off-the-shelf software as they continue to move left in secure software development practices.
Twitter Feed
Dark Reading - Bug Report
Bug Report
Enterprise Vulnerabilities
From DHS/US-CERT's National Vulnerability Database
PUBLISHED: 2021-06-18
RIOT-OS 2021.01 before commit 44741ff99f7a71df45420635b238b9c22093647a contains a buffer overflow which could allow attackers to obtain sensitive information.
PUBLISHED: 2021-06-18
SerenityOS contains a buffer overflow in the set_range test in TestBitmap which could allow attackers to obtain sensitive information.
PUBLISHED: 2021-06-18
SerenityOS in test-crypto.cpp contains a stack buffer overflow which could allow attackers to obtain sensitive information.
PUBLISHED: 2021-06-18
SerenityOS before commit 3844e8569689dd476064a0759d704bc64fb3ca2c contains a directory traversal vulnerability in tar/unzip that may lead to command execution or privilege escalation.
PUBLISHED: 2021-06-18
RIOT-OS 2021.01 before commit 85da504d2dc30188b89f44c3276fc5a25b31251f contains a buffer overflow which could allow attackers to obtain sensitive information.