Is Huawei a Security Threat? Seven Experts Weigh In
(The Verge | March 17, 2019) The United States government is cracking down hard on Huawei. Lawmakers and intelligence officials have claimed the telecommunications giant could be exploited by the Chinese government for espionage, presenting a potentially grave national security risk, especially as the US builds out its next-generation 5G network. To meet that threat, officials say, they’ve blocked government use of the company’s equipment, while the Justice Department has also accused Huawei’s chief financial officer of violating sanctions against Iran, and the company itself of stealing trade secrets.
Huawei’s response has been simple: it’s not a security threat. Most importantly, the company’s leaders have said the US has not produced evidence that it works inappropriately with the Chinese government or that it would in the future. Moreover, they say, there are ways to mitigate risk — ones that have worked successfully in other countries. Huawei’s chairman has even gone so far as to call the US government hypocritical, criticizing China while the National Security Agency spies around the globe. The company has also denied any criminal wrongdoing …
WILLIAM SNYDER, PROFESSOR OF LAW, SYRACUSE UNIVERSITY
Huawei is a threat to US national security, but that misses the bigger point. Vulnerabilities in the supply chain of network hardware and software is, has been, and will continue to be a threat to the national security of the United States and many other countries, including China. It remains very difficult to audit that a chip with millions of embedded transistors or software with millions of lines of code does only what consumers know and consent to it doing. Even if Huawei is not committing the sort of crimes for which a US grand jury indicted it, any company that supplies such a large percentage of the market for components of telecommunications networks and has such ties to the People’s Liberation Army is a threat. Huawei’s need to operate under Chinese laws about cooperation with Chinese military and intelligence agencies is of concern.
Huawei’s status as a threat is hardly unique. Not only are other Chinese companies such as ZTE and China Mobile embedded in the supply chain, but so are those of other countries. Huawei itself buys components from major US firms, including Qualcomm. Those companies are subject to US laws concerning cooperation with US intelligence agencies. Given the essentially free market economy of the United States, rarely, if ever, will a US company be as closely tied to the government as Chinese companies are. Still, if you are a security policymaker of a nation like India — with several times the population of the US — wouldn’t you worry about how many major militaries have back doors into your networks?
As long as conflict occurs at the nation-state level while critical cyber networks are designed and manufactured internationally, we all must be very careful. This is a systemic problem. Currently, Huawei’s size and ties to the PLA make it the focus of concern. In the future, another supply chain threat will take center stage.