Science & Tech

U.S. Officials Warn that Huawei Can Secretly Access Cell Networks

Huawei logo at a shopping mall in Shanghai, China (Aly Song/Reuters)

China’s largest smartphone maker can secretly access American cellular phone networks, giving it access to sensitive information, U.S. officials claim.

Huawei Technologies Co. has for over a decade been able to use a backdoor method intended only for law enforcement to gain access to U.S. cellular networks and private information without the knowledge of the networks, the Wall Street Journal reported Tuesday.

The backdoor interface, which telecom-equipment makers are required to include when building cellular networks, gives law enforcement with authorization, such as a warrant or court order, access to the private electronic communications of customers. In most cases, authorities must notify the network operators before obtaining access, and operators are not legally authorized to use the backdoor access themselves.

“We have evidence that Huawei has the capability secretly to access sensitive and personal information in systems it maintains and sells around the world,” said national security adviser Robert O’Brien.

Last year, the U.S. informed Britain and Germany about Huawei’s capabilities in an effort to convince both countries to block the Chinese tech company from their networks.

Huawei pushed back on the allegations, saying the company “has never and will never do anything that would compromise or endanger the security of networks and data of its clients.”

“We emphatically reject these latest allegations. Again, groundless accusations are being repeated without providing any kind of concrete evidence,” Huawei said.

A senior Huawei official argued that such access is “extremely implausible and would be discovered immediately.”

“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,” the Huawei official said.

In November, the Federal Communications Commission blocked Huawei from accessing billions of dollars in federal broadband subsidies over concerns that Huawei could use its inroads into American broadband infrastructure to spy on the U.S. and steal sensitive data.

Critics of that decision voiced concerns that the move could compromise the administration’s trade negotiations with China and said equipment from Huawei is already deeply integrated into U.S. broadband infrastructure.

Senator Ben Sasse (R., Neb.), a longstanding China hawk, said the revalations about Huawei’s capabilities should serve as a warningt to U.S. allies.

“The freedom-loving world can’t sit back and let surveillance state communists infect our infrastructure. Trusted tech comes from trusted suppliers, and Huawei is the Chinese Communist Party’s puppet. Our current and future allies need to think very carefully before they get into bed with the CCP,” he said in a statement.


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