US Huawei Blackballing Efforts Stall Due To Lack Of 'Actual Facts'

from the ill-communication dept

During the Trump era, the US government has dramatically ramped up claims that Chinese hardware vendor Huawei is a nefarious spy for the Chinese government, blackballing it from the U.S. telecom market. From pressuring U.S. carriers to drop plans to sell Huawei phones to the FCC’s decision to ban companies from using Huawei gear if they want to receive federal subsidies, this effort hasn’t been subtle.

While Huawei should never be confused with a saint (what telecom company would be?) there’s several problems with the effort. The biggest being that despite a decade of hand-wringing and one eighteen month investigation by the US government, there’s still no public evidence Huawei uses its network gear to spy on Americans. That’s not sitting well with countries we’ve asked to join along in the fun.

The UK, for example, recently noted that while some Huawei products can pose risks by nature of simply being low quality, they’ve yet to see any threat posed by Huawei that necessitates a global ban. That position has since been repeated by other allies who have been pointing out how despite years of bluster on this subject, they’ve yet to see the US government release the slightest bit of evidence supporting the allegation:

“European and Asian officials have complained privately that recent American intelligence briefings for allies did not share any sort of classified information that clearly demonstrated how the Chinese government used Huawei to steal information, according to people familiar with the discussions. European officials have told counterparts that if the United States has evidence the Chinese government has used its companies to do so, they should disclose it.

One senior European telecommunications executive said that no American officials had presented ?actual facts? about China?s abuse of Huawei networks.

Of course this is all hidden behind claims that this information is classified. But how hard is it to redact and provide at least some information proving your point? These allegations have also been bubbling up in fits and starts for over a decade now, and not a single security expert or any government official has been able to provide any evidence whatsoever to prove their point. While it’s certainly not impossible that Huawei helps the Chinese government spy, evidence is important. Can you imagine the hysteria on countless fronts if a US company like AT&T was banned from other countries without any supporting data?

Unmentioned in coverage of this hand-wringing about Huawei has been the fact that much of the hysteria on this front has been drummed up by US networking companies, who simply don’t want to compete with cheaper Chinese gear. With countless global gear makers rushing toward the trough as wireless carriers build next-generation 5G wireless networks, these efforts have only intensified. US gearmakers and their favorite lawmakers have a good schtick going: profess China must be banned from all global telecom markets based on claims of spying, then hide behind national security when anybody asks for proof.

Also ignored is that all of the hysteria about Huawei obfuscates a larger security threat (much of it originating in China): the lack of security in shitty internet of things gear. At this point you don’t really need Huawei to spy on Americans, since we’re connecting millions of poorly secured devices to our home and business networks annually voluntarily. Gear that often lacks any sensible security countermeasures whatsoever.

Similarly ignored is the fact that the US has engaged in most of the behavior we accuse Huawei of, including having broken into Huawei to spy on company executives. You’ll often see stories like this one highlighting China’s nefarious attempts to tap into undersea cables. But the press ignores that the US has been engaged in its own undersea cable and satellite communications wiretapping efforts for decades. Many of these efforts began decades ago (like Echelon), and were ridiculed as tin-foil-hat fantasy until the Snowden documents were revealed.

Again, none of this is to defend China’s actual abuses, or to suggest that Huawei hasn’t engaged in bad behavior. But imposing a global ban on a telecom giant for spying based on no actual evidence remains a shaky proposition, and it’s something countless supporters of the blackballing effort would be screaming about incessantly were the shoe on the other foot.

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Comments on “US Huawei Blackballing Efforts Stall Due To Lack Of 'Actual Facts'”

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40 Comments
Anonymous Coward says:

I find it odd that the US is so against Huawei. I am all for going against a company when it does something wrong. Personally, I will never get a Lenovo due to the Superfish incident. The interesting thing is, there was very little push back against Lenovo even though it was quite public. Now we have another company that the US seems to have a grudge against but nothing to substantiate its claims. I actually have more hesitance for Cisco equipment then Huawei due to the NSA’s little upgrades on intercepted shipments.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Also...

They know exactly how compromised hardware from our companies are and how they can exploit them, so they assume the other side has just as many options available to them. When you have absolute control over some hardware and not others, you are going to not allow that other hardware to intrude on your monopoly. They refuse to release details because they directly point to capabilities in our own questionable hardware. The software in hard drive electronics, for instance, is separate and cannot be read or edited by your OS yet we are able to update that software and make changes that the user is never aware of. Even if that user is a giant like At&T, they have code running that they are never even aware of. If the hardware doesn’t come from one of the five eyes, it is suspect, since it isn’t compromised in our favor.

notsure says:

Re: Re: Re: Also...

As they should be! Governments will do what governments want, but willingly sending hardware for sensitive title 50 operations is not a smart business move when you are a large corporation.

I should have been a little more clear to say that the argument "Cisco was hijacked by NSA so we can’t trust Cisco, isn’t a valid argument."

Although… deep down, i bet Cisco was a little happy to help counter-terrorism activities, or supplying the U.S. Gov with sensitive information on national security issues.

Anon says:

Re: Re: Of course not...

It wasn’t hard for Cisco to figure out – as happened – that once this information became open knowledge to the public, many overseas customers dropped them in favour of Chinese or European hardware options. Putting surreptitious back doors in your equipment is never a good ploy, unless it somehow helps your own business. Being an unwilling spy for the NSA was not good business.

Bamboo Harvester (profile) says:

Just on general principles...

…when the government tells me not to use something, I wonder why.

We constantly see here how the NSA and every other "intelligence" group wants backdoors installed, encryption banned, GPS on hand-helds mandatory, etc.

Conspiracy theories aside, I have to think there’s a real reason they don’t want this particular equipment in widespread use because of the other side of the above – maybe they can’t get into, track, etc. the stuff they’re "warning" us against as easily as they can the "Approved" stuff.

PaulT (profile) says:

Re: Just on general principles...

"…when the government tells me not to use something, I wonder why."

Healthy scepticism is fine, but "the government are saying something positive therefore it must be a conspiracy" is as dumb as blindly following their every order without question. Sometimes there’s more to what they claim. Sometimes they really are stopping companies from poisoning you for profit.

"We constantly see here how the NSA and every other "intelligence" group wants backdoors installed, encryption banned, GPS on hand-helds mandatory, etc."

…and many similar and worse stories about the Chinese government.

PaulT (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re: Just on general principles...

"As to skepticism, pretty much every "conspiracy theory"… has proven true thirty years later."

I doubt that. In my experience, anyone who claims this is just ignoring the ones that weren’t, or dismiss the ones that just look really silly in the light of history.

Don’t get me wrong, there’s some really amazing ones that have turned out to be true, but not the majority.

"For whose "safety?"

That depends on the actual reasoning, but you do seem to have decided it’s a lie whatever it is.

Bamboo Harvester (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:2 Just on general principles...

I usually dismiss the ones that are really out there, but, as you noted, even some of those have proven out.

But the run of the mill "who knew what when" and especially serious money movement claims tend to prove out over time as well.

As to the "for whose safety?", I’ve yet to see a government claim or project that benefited the populace more than it did the government itself – including product recalls.

nasch (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:3 Just on general principles...

Just pointing out there are conspiracy theories completely unrelated to aliens that have been denied by the government and are also complete bunk. Your statement that all the conspiracy theories except aliens have turned out to be true is incorrect. Some of them have turned out to be true, and some have not.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Just on general principles...

Well the lack of transparency is far more telling in the context. Why should they care for an adversary’s secrets? Substantiate one backdoor or catch it exfiltrating data and it wouldn’t take any diplomatic pushing. Even if they are forced into a recall or change it in future ones the damage to their brand and trustworthiness would be harder to repair and no room for doubt. Instead they say "trust us" as a throughly untrustworthy institution.

bob says:

Re: Re: Just on general principles...

Agreed.

We dont know, for certain, why the U.S. government is saying don’t use Huawei. I am leaning towards it being nothing more than protectionist policies but I cant be sure of that either. Its even possible the Chinese government is exploiting flaws in the hardware without Huawei even knowing about it. But if that was true I would bet the U.S. would use that as an example.

It is a real problem that the U.S. government has done enough sketchy things to make people doubt the integrity of the government’s claims. But this is their own dumb fault because they acted as though long term consequences didn’t exist.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re: Just on general principles...

If it’s protectionism then who are they protecting? The only players they might protect are Google and Apple, companies this government isn’t likely to lift a finger to help. No, it must be something else entirely. My guess is Trump did this to depress Huawei’s stock value then bought a giant pile of shares. Once this farce has ended their stock price will rise and he can cash in.

Where the government is concerned: Don’t attribute to nationalism that which can be easily explained by greed.

notsure says:

Re: Just on general principles...

"Conspiracy theories aside, I have to think there’s a real reason they don’t want this particular equipment in widespread use because of the other side of the above"

There is. Defense planning isn’t easy. The U.S. has to balance freedom of information verse defense of the nation. Should a conflict arise with China, and Huawei controls large sectors of American infrastructure; what is the likely course of action? Chinese law mandates companies WILL aid the CCP.

On American soil, the U.S. Gov has a lot of options to compel U.S. companies to comply; however, internationally–they do not.

Aaron Walkhouse (profile) says:

I never heard the U.S. say Huawei IS spying…

…but they are so tightly bound to Xi Jinping’s regime
that they are clearly vulnerable to influence once 5G
equipment’s installed and running everywhere. ‌ That’s
when it would only take a wave of firmware updates
to turn the potential threat into reality; all in a network
environment vastly accelerated and much harder for
the NSA and friends to surveil for precisely that action.

All I ever heard mentioned officially is this POTENTIAL.
Only the press has been looking for CURRENT activity.

Somebody should suggest that firmware updates
must pass muster before widespread release, and
when China starts blocking and threatening nations
who pass such legislation: THEN we have evidence. ‌ ‌ ‌ ; ]

Aaron Walkhouse (profile) says:

Re: Re: I never heard the U.S. say Huawei IS spying…

It already has, and with evidence to back it up. ‌ ‌ ‌ ; ]

On the firmware updates, only wide updates should be
allowed. ‌ There should be no targeting of coffee shops
near government offices or similar tactics which could
surround sensitive areas without compromising routers
that are under tighter management. ‌ It makes sense that
China could create a whole map of equipment near the
protected areas but without the same local surveillance
and then set update servers to fill the map accordingly.

Aaron Walkhouse (profile) says:

Re: Re: I never heard the U.S. say Huawei IS spying…

It already has, and with evidence to back it up. ‌ ‌ ‌ ; ]

On the firmware updates, only wide updates should be
allowed. ‌ There should be no targeting of coffee shops
near government offices or similar tactics which could
surround sensitive areas without compromising routers
that are under tighter management. ‌ It makes sense that
China could create a whole map of equipment near the
protected areas but without the same local surveillance
and then set update servers to fill the map accordingly.

notsure says:

Re: I never heard the U.S. say Huawei IS spying…

Holy smokes! We have a winner!! Yes, the potential far far outweighs the legal fight of allowing a company to operation within the U.S. and specifically anything related to infrastructure.

Anyone looking at a Chinese company as simply the victim should have their head examined. Look at the Belt and Road Initiative. All China is trying to due is help these poor underdeveloped, corrupt Governments better their infrastructure! Subprime housing loans ring a bell?

I am with you my friend. For anyone who hasn’t read the Art of War, maybe it is time to crack it open.

R.H. (profile) says:

Re: I never heard the U.S. say Huawei IS spying…

There’s your problem. The United States is a nation of laws. Some of those laws prohibit our government from taking punitive action without cause. Unless there’s actual evidence of wrongdoing, the United States government can’t simply ban a company from operating here. Huawei has even filed a lawsuit against the government over this now. I guess we’ll get a chance to see more of the actual information from both sides in the court documents.

notsure says:

Re: Re:

Seem to be missing the point here. The U.S. is taking the stance that Huawei products are a security risk, not an economic threat.

It is well known the U.S. and Europe lag in 5G development. The concern is China will use Huawei to hold a nation hostage should a conflict break out. Due to Chinese law, Huawei is obligated to help the CCP in any means necessary. This is also similar to Russia and SORM.

Thanks to the U.S’s political shallowness, the banning of Huawei is tainted with politics and not doing so well showing the security issues. It is difficult to fully detail the concern b/c it will tip the hand showing technical tradecraft.

If you are still unsure of how low Huawei will go, read some of the indictments, specifically T-Mobile.

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