The Trojan Horse of Huawei

Huawei, the Chinese owned telecommunications equipment manufacturer that provides Telus and Bell with LTE towers, is finding itself coming under a barrage of scrutiny in Australia and the United States over cyber security fears.

Huawei and Telus inked a deal in February. In late March the Australian government blocked Huawei from bidding on contracts for the country’s new national broadband network, a $38-billion megaproject, citing security concerns.

The office of Australia’s Attorney General told Bloomberg News “[the government] has a responsibility to do our utmost to protect its integrity and that of the information carried on it.”

Speaking to The Diplomat, Australian National University strategic and defence studies professor Desmond Ball says there is “no doubt” Huawei is involved in cyber espionage. Paul Buchannan, a former professor at the National University of Singapore turned security analyst, shares this sentiment, telling The Diplomat “the notion that Huawei is truly independent of the Chinese government is ludicrous.”

Some of these concerns stem from the CEO of Huawei, Ren Zhengfei’s, involvement in the People’s Liberation Army and Communist Party of China. Ren served in the Engineering Corps of the P.L.A, retiring in 1982. In 1978 he joined the Communist Party of China, later becoming a member of the party’s national congress.

Huawei has had a turbulent experience in the United States: in 2008 Congress blocked the company’s planned takeover of 3Com citing national security concerns, then further banned the company from selling equipment to any U.S carrier after blocking a sale to Sprint. In late 2011 The Wall Street Journal reported that Huawei was the biggest provider of telecommunications equipment and web filtering technology to the Iranian government, though Huawei voraciously denies the latter charge.

While Australian and American lawmakers are concerned about Huawei’s potential threats to their respective countries national security, some are concerned about the company’s business ethics. As reported by the National Post and The Wall Street Journal, Mike Shields, a former high-ranking network security advisor at Nortel, believes that the hackers who had free reign in Nortel’s systems for nearly a decade in the 2000s were under the employ of Huawei. It is alleged that Huawei mined the systems of Nortel for trade secrets.

The CEO of Huawei competitor Cisco Systems has also alleged the company engages in less than ethical behavior. John Chambers, Cisco’s CEO, said to The Wall Street Journal that Huawei is Cisco’s “toughest rival” and the company doesn’t always “play by the rules.”

Chambers did not cite any specific actions by Huawei when he spoke to The Wall Street Journal.

However, some say the fears of Huawei acting as a Trojan horse are overblown. Kevin Taylor, managing director of BT Asia-Pacific, said to The Australian that Huawei presents “no risk” to the west and BT’s experience with Huawei has been “positive and safe.”

“There’s a huge amount of protectionism against Chinese companies,” Taylor said. “But we took (Huawei) into the UK and we’ve passed all the security provisions. We know exactly what’s in that network, and we’ve got rigid quality assurance to ensure there’s no security risks.”