Google Joins The Evidence-Optional Assault On Huawei

from the intercontinental-blackballing dept

So we’ve noted several times now how the US efforts to blacklist Huawei from global telecom markets haven’t much in the way of, oh, supporting evidence. The Trump administration and FCC have taken all manner of actions to try and blackball the company, 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.

The underlying justification for these moves has centered on the idea that Huawei operates as a surveillance extension of the Chinese government, something that still hasn’t been proven despite a decade’s worth of claims to this effect, and an eighteen month investigation by the White House.

That’s not to say the Chinese government is an innocent little daisy. Nor is it meant to suggest that it’s impossible that Huawei spies on Americans. But the lack of any actual public evidence of spying remains troubling all the same, given that if the shoe were on the other foot, there’d be no shortage of face-fanning consternation on the part of American politicians and industry.

Enter Google, which this week decided that it’d be joining the evidence-optional festivities by announcing it would be severing Huawei’s Android license. The move forces Huawei to rely on the Android Open Source Project (AOSP), cutting it off from critical Google apps and services. The move, as Reuters notes, could prove devastating for one of the nation’s biggest smartphone manufacturers:

“The suspension could hobble Huawei?s smartphone business outside China as the tech giant will immediately lose access to updates to Google?s Android operating system. Future versions of Huawei smartphones that run on Android will also lose access to popular services, including the Google Play Store and Gmail and YouTube apps.”

As some were quick to note, the move may actually prove to be counterproductive, given the negative impact it could have on deploying timely security updates:

For its part, Google stated it was simply complying with the US Commerce Department?s decision to place Huawei on the ?Entity List,” a move that was justified as essential to ensuring network security. But the company largely ignored any criticism that such a move might actually undermine end-user security. And in the press, it’s almost bizarre how few reporters have noticed that public evidence of spying allegations is nonexistent:

It’s perfectly fine if your gut tells you Huawei is a surveillance proxy for the Chinese government, but that’s not the same as evidence. Also lost in this conversation is the fact that companies like Cisco have a long history of trying to gin up lawmaker hysteria on this subject for competitive advantage, or that this blackballing effort just mysteriously materialized at the same time US gear makers were worried about competing with cheaper Chinese gear as they rush to secure international fifth-generation (5G) network contracts.

Again, perhaps Huawei really is a spy and the last decade of similar hand-wringing is perfectly justified. But if that’s the case, it shouldn’t be hard to provide some public evidence supporting that allegation. And while some of the concern about Huawei may very well be driven by legitimate national security concerns, another significant chunk of these efforts is pretty clearly driven by good old vanilla protectionism. To ensure US policy is being driven more by the former than the latter, it might be a good idea if the press stopped playing parrot and demanded a little more in the way of actual proof.

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Companies: google, huawei

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Comments on “Google Joins The Evidence-Optional Assault On Huawei”

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26 Comments
Anonymous Coward says:

Alternate explanation

Google and all of the others know that the US can remote into any non Huawei device and that makes those immune devices a threat. If they can’t hack them then they might already be secured by China. Even if they aren’t though, the lack of hackability makes them unwanted in the land of backdoored tech.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Alternate explanation

I doubt that is the real reason. I spoke with a few of the engineers (and ops folks) that work with Huawei networking gear. Most of them complained that they found the Huawei gear buggy compared to other suppliers of core network components (mostly Cisco).

I imagine the Huawei gear is just as hackable as the alternatives that Huawei is trying to compete with internationally.

However, I can accept that the US may have better knowledge of how to hack other manufacturers offerings.

Anonymous Coward says:

What do you expect Google to do?

Google, like other firms in the US, has to follow US law. It doesn’t matter if they believe Huawei is spying or not. What matters is that ongoing business deals are now illegal and must be terminated. Failing to do so will result in fines on the company, possibly fines on individuals, and possibly criminal charges against individuals. Import/export laws have some very nasty punishments.

Anonymous Coward says:

It is not about Huawei being a surveillance proxy now, it is about the fact that like every Chinese company, they are a part of the Chinese state apparatus and can therefore easily become one in the future.

The companies who are implementing some sort of supply ban are following the law and also scoring points with a capricious Trump administration which is an existential threat to their business.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: this is the real reason

Sorry Karl but you are acting no better than many of the facts optional oped. But the above prayer has it correct.

Google has to comply with the law of the land as ordered. Now it’s true that they could try to fight this on Huawei behalf but that isn’t likely to go anywhere.

Anonymous Coward says:

Also lost in this conversation is the fact that companies like Cisco have a long history of trying to gin up lawmaker hysteria on this subject for competitive advantage
https://www.techdirt.com/articles/20140518/17433327281/cisco-goes-straight-to-president-to-complain-about-nsa-intercepting-its-hardware.shtml

Karma is a bitch.

That said, I’m truly disgusted with our government’s ability to literally blackball a foreign company when Google itself is notorious for not only spying on every one of its users, but gleefully sells the data.

What the hell is wrong with this country.

David says:

Besides the point

It’s perfectly fine if your gut tells you Huawei is a surveillance proxy for the Chinese government, but that’s not the same as evidence.

Evidence is required for judicial verdicts coming after careful consideration of provable facts. This, however, is an executive decision, and the U.S. sports a powerful presidential role exactly in order to facilitate fast decision-making at gut-level for questions of national importance, and the current gut in office is the result of a democratic process.

Of course, it’s the assigned role of the free press to whine about this kind of decision-making particularly when it is counter to the interests of the country and voters. Personally, I’d lean towards grading your performance better than that of the resident president but then I have elected to read you while not having chosen that president, so I am likely biased.

One might want to call this abuse of power, but since the current president does not have the acumen required for thinking through his decisions, it would be an abuse of power from those in the position of advising his actions that turn this influence to their own advantage.

Anonymous Coward says:

considering the piss poor broadband services in the USA and the sky high prices charged, prey tell me which companies are going to replace Huawei in supplying the USA and anywhere/everywhere else with products that are as good, if not better, in as timely a manner, under the prices charged by Huawei? every company available in the USA has profit only on their minds and all have inbuilt scam and/or spying software that is totally detrimental to customers! even ISPs themselves collect customer data and sell it for profit, without getting permission from those customers! as for the FCC and Pai, it isn’t worth a wank, catering only for companies and not for customers, as it’s supposed to! given a choice, i’d rather the Chinese had my info! at least, if there was any proof of Huawei passing anything on in the first place, i’d know! we dont have a clue what are own companies are doing, except making billions in profit off our backs and behind our backs!!

profssrfink (profile) says:

missing point

Not sure why this seems to be so important here. Why does anyone need to provide public evidence? Im not advocating for one side or the other, but as regular people we aren’t privy to any dealings with Huawei or the government’s understanding of their software/hardware.The US government doesn’t need to provide any evidence even if it’s sitting on mounds of it.

ECA (profile) says:

#1

well lets see…
Who here thinks that 1person/1 group is smarter then every person in the rest of the world?
Lets ask, if Google asks a phone Who/what they are?? or is that an invasion of privacy??
Or is Google going to QUIT access in all of china and other nations just to cover their butt?

If such a thing as spying hardware WERE REAL,. how long would it take/what would it take to HIDE such hardware and programming in a device??
Withthe hackers the CIA and others have, as well as the Antivirus and malware companies ALWAYS tinkering, I would suggest it MIGHT last 1 year of hiding in hardware, requiring a key combo, Waiting for someone just to Look directly at the coding in the device..
OR, we get the devices and RECODE them all to our own spec. so that we know they are not doing anything circumspect.
WHICH can be done.

Whats neat if that there is a Whole line of Routers and Modems that Can be re-programmed…but OUR CORPS dont like that idea either…(I wonder why)
Lets get down on this..HOW much hardware do we use that IS MADE Outside of Asia?? If you can count to 1-2, you are doing pretty good, but remember thats out of 1000+ products, devices, chips…. With over 36 patents in your smart devices, any of which can be re-programmed of remotely Activated…
Who is spying on Whom??

Anonymous Coward says:

Some are presenting evidence

See the published chapter from Ross Anderson’s third edition of Security Engineering:

https://www.cl.cam.ac.uk/~rja14/Papers/SEv3-ch2-May16.pdf

Go to page 43 and read the paragraph starting:

"During 2018–9 there was a political row over whether Chinese firms" …

The TLDR is:

"Problems included the inclusion of an
unmanageable number of versions of Open SSL, including versions that are not on the main development train, that had known vulnerabilities and that were not supported."

i.e Huawei is including encryption software that have known vulnerabilities.

These objections are coming from GCHQ. Whether they are true or not is another matter, as I believe the Huawei software is not open.

This is the real issue; how can you audit proprietary software and have people be confident in the results of the audit?

You cant.

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