US intelligence officials have claimed that Huawei can access data from mobile networks globally via so-called back doors. According to a Wall Street Journal report, the Chinese telecoms firm has had the ability to snoop on other countries in this manner for over a decade.
The report comes at a time when the US government is strongly advising other nations not to use Huawei equipment to build next generation 5G networks. Despite this, the UK recently decided to use it anyway, citing cost saving and little proof of possible Chinese interference.
But this new report goes some way to suggest Huawei is already involved in covert access to networks. It claims that the US informed allies UK and Germany “late last year” of its findings, a turnaround considering so far it has declined to provide evidence of its suspicions against Huawei.
“U.S. officials say Huawei has built equipment that secretly preserves the manufacturer’s ability to access networks through these interfaces without the carriers’ knowledge,” the report says. “The officials didn’t provide details of where they believe Huawei is able access networks. Other manufacturers don’t have the same ability.”
Further to this, US national security adviser Robert O’Brien is reported to have said, “We have evidence that Huawei has the capability secretly to access sensitive and personal information in systems it maintains and sells around the world.”
In a response, a senior Huawei official said, “The use of the lawful interception interface is strictly regulated and can only be accessed by certified personnel of the network operators. No Huawei employee is allowed to access the network without an explicit approval from the network operator.”
While a report from a trusted publication like the WSJ gives more weight to the US’ claims, the situation is still at a stalemate. The US won’t use Huawei equipment and has politicised the decision in its ongoing trade war with China, as per the aggressive foreign policy decisions of the Trump administration.
Huawei is unlikely to admit to the allegations and doesn't seem to be slowing down its 5G rollout plans. Its handset business has taken the bigger immediate hit, with its latest phones unable to run Google apps and services as part of the US trade ban.