Chinese telecommunications and consumer electronics manufacturer Huawei has found itself at the centre of a long list of controversies in recent months. Far and away the leader in 5G network infrastructure, the company’s business units have performed spectacularly, but as America continues to pursue bellicose trade policies with China, the firm’s relationship with Europe and the countries in the ‘Five Eyes’ alliance with the USA – Britain, Canada, New Zealand, and Australia – has been strained.
Are the latest accusations warranted – or fair? See our extensive timeline below for the long list of controversies pinned on the company.
December – Indian security services accuse Huawei of aiding Taliban
As far as we can tell, this is the most prominent early example of security fears levied at the country. Reports from India’s intelligence agencies, said EETimes, led to the placing of Huawei’s India operations on a watch list for “alleged business dealings with the Taliban, Pakistan and Iraq”.
At the time, the Cabinet Committee on Security in India was considering whether or not to deport 178 Chinese engineers working at the Bangalore R&D centre.
The accusations were described by a spokesperson as untrue and that the company’s global business “is in compliance with the United Nations’ standards and regulations”.
January – Cisco sues Huawei
While not overtly a national security issue, Cisco filed a lawsuit against Huawei alleging that the latter had unlawfully copied intellectual property from the American networking infrastructure firm. It said this related to the unlawful copying of Cisco IOS software, which included source code, as well as documentation and other materials, plus infringements of Cicso patents.
Mark Chandler, general counsel at the time for Cisco, said then: “Huawei has unlawfully copied Cisco’s intellectual property and refused Cisco’s numerous attempts to resolve these issues. As a result, Cisco has no choice but to protect its technology and the interests of its shareholders through legal action.”
However, according to NetworkWorld, a spokesperson for Huawei rebuked that it had “always respected intellectual property rights” and had “attached importance to safeguarding its own property rights”.
The lawsuit was settled out of court in 2014, in exchange for a promise from Huawei to modify its product, the Register reported at the time.
While Cisco reported this as a “victory for the protection of intellectual property rights”, Huawei claimed that it meant Cisco “cannot bring another lawsuit against Huawei in the future asserting the same or substantially similar claims,” as the American courts had dismissed Cisco’s claim “with prejudice” after a third-party review.
Huawei did say that an employee had inadvertently used two percent of the 1.5 million lines of copied code that Cisco had alleged, but that it was provided by someone who wasn’t a Cisco or a Huawei employee – and was instead on a disk passed from one Huawei to another, CNET reported.
August – Marconi under fire for Huawei, ZTE talks
Beleaguered British manufacturing firm Marconi, which before its collapse in 2006 still employed thousands of people in the UK, was in talks with Huawei as well as rival manufacturer ZTE for “potential business combinations”.
Peter Skyte, national officer for the now-defunct Amicus trade union, suggested at the time that if Marconi was to be sold “whether it is to the Chinese or someone else” that the union would “expect the government to look very closely at that under the mergers and acquisitions framework. Despite its troubles it’s still a key company in terms of research and development in the UK.”
Ultimately financial difficulties led to the collapse of Marconi in 2006, when much of the business was sold to the Swedish telco infrastructure company Ericsson.
October – Bush administration warned on Huawei-3Com deal
Following a joint venture between Cisco rival 3Com and Huawei in China called H3C Technology, Bain Capital agreed to buy 3Com in its entirety for more than $2 billion with minority equity financing from Huawei in 2007, translating to a 16.5 percent stake in the overall business.
It was this that prompted US lawmakers to complain to George H W Bush that the deal should not be approved by the Committee on Foreign Investment in the United States, which is an inter-agency panel that examines contracts with non-US companies.
According to Reuters, Florida Republican representative Ileana Ros-Lehtinen led the calls. She said it would “be a grave error for US regulators to approve a deal that permits minority ownership in 3Com by one of the least transparent companies operating in China, a firm with shadowy ties to Chinese army and intelligence services.”
The deal failed, with Hewlett Packard ultimately picking up 3Com in late 2009.
March – UK government warned over BT 21CN network
Alex Allan, who was chairman of the Joint Intelligence Committee, told then-home secretary Jacqui Smith that the steps BT had taken to secure its network for the 21CN network transformation rollout in Britain might not have been adequate.
Ministers heard that Britain hadn’t paid “sufficient attention to the threat [from Huawei] in the past,” the Register said, and that GCHQ had also warned that the network would have been open for the targeting of attacks from China.
Officials in Britain noted that the risk was low, but that the impact of such an attack would be high.
October – Former GCHQ boss joins Huawei
Andrew Hopkins, now an independent consultancy owner but previously a deputy director at GCHQ, joined Huawei in 2010 and was based at the centre in Banbury.
The Sunday Times noted that he was once head of engineering and procurement at GCHQ, having been around the intelligence world for 40 years.
December – Huawei opens infosec centre in Oxfordshire
In 2010 Huawei opened the Huawei Cyber Security Evaluation Centre (HCSEC) in Banbury, Oxfordshire. Nicknamed ‘The Cell’, it was to be overseen by CESG, part of GCHQ, to test Huawei products and equipment for security holes. A Huawei spokesperson told ZDNet UK at the time: “The aim of this security centre is to address growing concerns from organisations, and from governments generally, about the safety of cyberspace and the need for built-in network protection to help society and businesses withstand malicious attacks from the outside.”
John Suffolk, who had previously held a high-ranking position in the civil service as the government’s CIO, joined Huawei from the role to head up the firm’s global cybersecurity efforts. He had been CIO and senior information risk owner since 2006, ComputerWeekly reported.
He had to consult former British prime minister David Cameron for clearance to join Huawei, which was approved. As part of the agreement Suffolk would have to steer clear of direct work with government for two years – which included lobbying and government endorsements.
Suffolk remains at Huawei.
March – Huawei banned from Australia’s National Broadband Network
A report from the Australian Financial Review revealed that Huawei had been banned from participating in Australia’s National Broadband Network, citing security concerns.
Although Huawei had worked to create an oversight board to examine its equipment – with former foreign minister Alexander Downer leading the effort – the company was nevertheless blocked.
Downer said that the “whole concept of Huawei being involved in cyber warfare is based on the company being Chinese” and said that the scandal was “ridiculous”.
September – David Cameron brokers £1.3bn UK investment deal with Huawei
David Cameron and Huawei founder Ren Zhengfei met to confirm a £1.3 billion investment in Britain including research and development spend and its employee headcount. The meeting saw Huawei mark £650 million for operations work in the UK, and £650 million for procurement in the five years to follow, Silicon UK reported.
Cameron said at the time that the investment “demonstrates once again that the UK is open for business” and that Britain valued the “important relationship with China”.
“Both countries have much to offer each other and the business environment we are creating in the UK allows us to maximise this potential,” he said.
Ren Zhengfei said: “The UK is one of the most important European markets in which Huawei has invested. Over the past 11 years we have found its government to be transparent, efficient and practical. The UK is an open market, which welcomes overseas investment.”
While this was by no means Huawei’s first major investment in the UK, it cemented future investment patterns before the latest controversies erupted.
October – lawmakers seek Huawei, ZTE ban
A US House of Representatives Intelligence Committee report (PDF) warned of the potential for state influence threats from both Huawei and ZTE. The report followed, said Reuters, an 11-month investigation.
In a press conference, the chairman of the committee, Mike Rogers, said that they had received allegations of strange behaviour from using equipment from Huawei and ZTE, including sending packets of data to China overnight. The report authors suggested to the Committee on Foreign Investment in the United States that contracts with Huawei or ZTE were to be blocked.
March – US carriers agree to block Huawei deals
Before Sprint Nextel was acquired by Japanese conglomerate SoftBank, the two entities agreed not to use technology from Huawei.
Michigan Republican Mike Rogers, said: “I am pleased with their mitigation plans, but will continue to look for opportunities to improve the government’s existing authorities to thoroughly review all the national security aspects of proposed transactions.”
April – Eric Xu: Huawei no longer interested in US market
Eric Xu, who is now one of three rotating chairmen of the company retorted in an analyst call that Huawei is no longer interested in the US market. It followed statements from telcos like Sprint Nextel, as well as the Japanese conglomerate Softbank that acquired Sprint Nextel, that they wouldn’t use Huawei technology.
July – UK finds Huawei staff auditing equipment instead of government’s
Led by Malcolm Rifkind, a report from Parliament’s Intelligence and Security Committee called Foreign Involvement in the Critical National Infrastructure found that it was Huawei staff who were scrutinising the company’s technology for security holes rather than GCHQ.
July – Former CIA head Michael Hayden slams Huawei
Speaking with the Australia Financial View, Hayden, who had previously headed both the CIA and the NSA, described Huawei as an “unambiguous national security threat to the US and Australia”.
He said that when Huawei was attempting to enter the American market, they were courting figures such as Hayden.
“I reviewed Huawei’s briefing paper,” Hayden said. “But God did not make enough slides on Huawei to convince me that having them involved in our critical communications infrastructure was going to be OK.”
October – Australia commits to continuing Huawei broadband ban
Tony Abbott’s incoming Conservative government confirmed that Huawei would not be an option for Australia’s national broadband network, based on advice from its security agencies. Labor had previously banned Huawei from the National Broadband Network, also based on advice from intelligence.
December – David Cameron defends Huawei investment
Following American senators once again insisting that Huawei equipment posed a security risk, David Cameron defended the earlier UK-Huawei £1.3 billion deal. He said that Britain had a “proper system in the UK for examining whether investments in the UK are pro-competitive and whether they’re in the national interest”.
“We also have a very good way of defending ourselves in terms of cybersecurity,” he added. “I think we’re one of the most advanced countries in the world in terms of the action we’re taking on cybersecurity, and I’ve made sure we’ve put extra money into it.”
However, Cameron’s government did commit to further security checks at the Huawei security centre in Banbury.
Oversight board created for The Cell in Banbury
Following the 2013 Intelligence and Security Committee report, Britain created a new board that would oversee the scrutinising of Huawei equipment for security holes, staffed by experts from Vodafone, Huawei, and BT, and chaired by Ciaran Martin, director general for cybersecurity at GCHQ.
March – The Cell finds Huawei code is better, but has room for improvement
The first annual report from the Cell with the newly created oversight board found at the time that although code quality had improved, it was below industry standards.
Critically, it concluded that there was no evidence Huawei presented “any risk to the UK’s national security,” as ComputerWeekly wrote, and no evidence of espionage.
An important fact to note here is that these observations were made after Huawei had given the entirety of its source code over to the info security experts at GCHQ.
August – Huawei beats other device vendors on security patching – report
Despite the long list of controversies and fears – Huawei performed remarkably well on security patching tests, when compared to other Android vendors such as Samsung and its other competitors.
As CSO reported, although Samsung accounted for 62 percent of all Android devices, only 15 percent of phones were patched to the latest security standards, according to a report from Duo Labs.
In contrast, 77 percent of Huawei phones that were able to run the latest security updates were running the most recent patches.
March – Wikileaks’ Vault 7 release features Huawei backdoors
When Wikileaks began disclosing the ‘Vault 7’ series of documents in March 2017, it was revealed that the CIA had been sitting on a long list of known software bugs in all types of hardware, from cars and smart TVs to smartphones, web browsers and infrastructure equipment.
An extremely long list of vendors were impacted by the CIA’s capabilities. In many cases it emerged that intelligence agencies had been deliberately withholding security bugs from vendors.
Huawei was one of many vendors implicated in the leaks – so while security concerns were increasingly being cited by US-allied countries, there was evidence that America was sitting on vulnerabilities related to Huawei products.
May – ‘Tappy the Robot’ sparks industrial espionage controversy
As far as we can tell, the latest tranche of industrial espionage controversies faced by Huawei started here, when it was alleged that the company had stolen IP from T-Mobile USA.
T-Mobile USA sued Huawei, alleging that it had stolen trade secrets concerning a phone-testing robot used by American carrier Tappy. T-Mobile USA alleged that Huawei employees at its testing lab, as part of a partnership, had copied the design of the robot, said the Register.
However, Huawei filed counter-claims, where the company said: “T-Mobile’s statement of the alleged trade secret is an insufficient, generic statement that captures virtually every component of its robot”.
Huawei added that T-Mobile had publicly demonstrated the robot at a launch event in September 2012 – accompanied by coordinated publicity including a YouTube video.
The Tappy controversy would return in January 2019, described as a “flagrant abuse of the law” by first assistant US attorney Annette L Hayes of the Western District of Washington.
January – National security allegations surface again
There was relatively little further movement on the accusations front until January 2018. Towards the end of 2017, the security spectre was raised once again with an article in Politico about Huawei’s infrastructure position in the European market.
Friendly articles appeared in the Canadian specialist business press about 5G partnerships between the local government of Ontario and Huawei – and there were even murmurings that Huawei devices, on track to outpace sales of all other vendors but Samsung later in 2018 – would finally find a home with more US carriers.
In fact, in the same week the vendor was expected to announce a deal with AT&T to distribute the Mate 10 Pro, American lawmakers insisted that the deal be placed under closer scrutiny.
As the Register wryly noted at the time, the “US’s guardians of security seem content to allow the United States’ consumer electronics to be made in China”.
And so the AT&T deal was cancelled following US Senate and House intelligence committees raising their concerns with the FCC.
Motherboard said: “there’s no public evidence Huawei spies on Americans, but the company is getting blackballed anyway.”
Verizon, another major American carrier, quickly followed suit in rejecting selling Huawei gear directly.
February – Huawei hits back at accusations at MWC talk
Chief executive at Huawei Ken Hu rebuked the American accusations, describing the concerns as “groundless”.
“The view that a company headquartered in China cannot be trusted is problematic,” Mr Hu said, speaking at Mobile World Congress. “Technology is a global value chain, and many components come from China as well.”
Consumer business chief exec Richard Yu added, according to Bloomberg: “Some people, some of our competitors, are using political ways to try and kick us out of the US market – they can’t compete with us on the technology and innovation so they compete with us on the politics. We’re independent from any country, any government. We’re not involved in politics.”
Hu added that the company had enjoyed success with its 4G business worldwide, and is “happy to conduct open discussions”. It “may not be fair if 30 years of track-record are disregarded based on groundless suspicions,” he said.
In the same month, Huawei’s global government affairs vice president Simon Lacey said that national security shouldn’t be “used as a blank cheque to justify or disguise protectionism,” reported the Register.
March – Australian concerns on Huawei in 5G networks
According to a report in the Sydney Morning Herald, there were growing concerns within Australia’s parliament over Huawei exerting too much control over the “world’s 5G network”.
It said at the time that the Turnbull government was in discussions with “a range of other countries about the security concerns with 5G”.
An anonymous former security official conceded that there was “a bigger strategic question about industrial supremacy here”.
April – American regulators target Huawei, ZTE
The American regulator the FCC voted unanimously to ban federal funding from being spent on companies that were deemed a threat to US security, and in a draft, specifically named Huawei and ZTE.
FCC chairman Ajit Pai said: “For years, US government officials have expressed concern about the national security threats posed by certain foreign communications equipment providers in the communications supply chain. Hidden ‘backdoors’ to our networks in routers, switches, and other network equipment can allow hostile foreign powers to inject viruses and other malware, steal Americans’ private data, spy on US businesses, and more.”
The comment followed the early stages of a trade war that was forming between Beijing and Washington.
The FCC’s announcements forced another rebuke from Huawei, which dismissed the regulators’ claims. In a statement, Huawei said that it was a “100 percent employee-owned company” and that it doesn’t pose a “security threat in any country”.
“No government agency has ever tried to intervene in our operations or decisions,” the statement read. It added that it was “disappointed” by the actions of the FCC, and that the draft bill would further limit infrastructure options available to rural operators, the Verge said.
April – America alleges possible Iran sanction violations from Huawei
In another issue that would become a major talking point, prosecutors in New York had been investigating Huawei for the potential violation of US sanctions on Iran.
The investigations date back to at least 2016, according to a report from Reuters, and concern Huawei allegedly shipping products that originated in the USA to Iran, and “other countries in violation of US export and sanctions laws”.
May – Pentagon bans Huawei, ZTE devices from shops on American military bases
A Pentagon spokesperson told the Wall Street Journal that consumer devices from ZTE and Huawei being sold on military basis could “pose an unacceptable risk to the department’s personnel, information and mission”.
“In light of this information, it was not prudent for the department’s exchanges to continue selling them,” the spokesperson said.
However, there was not yet an outright ban on the devices – just their being sold in American bases.
Huawei told the Verge: “Huawei’s products are sold in 170 countries worldwide and meet the highest standards of security, privacy and engineering in every country we operate globally including the US.”
June – Proposed 5G ban in Australia rebuked by Huawei’s John Lord
Australian Huawei chair John Lord defended Huawei and said that the decision to cut out the company from the National Broadband Network resulted in equipment used by Alcatel Lucent, now Nokia, that was made in China anyway – “barely a kilometre” away from Huawei’s Shanghai facility.
“I highlight this not to be critical of Nokia, because Huawei obviously manufactures its products in China, but I do it to underline the reality of the world we live in,” Lord said. “Our supply chains are global, our production lines are similar. Huawei or no Huawei, much of the 5G equipment will continue to be made in China.”
July – Concerns surfaced in HCSEC annual report
There were four products found by Britain’s National Cyber Security Centre (NCSC) that lacked binary equivalence, although Huawei had been working to correct deficiencies “in the underlying build and compilation process”.
Another issue was related to third-party components – but there were ongoing “detailed technical discussions” to address this, and work towards a full understanding of a problem rooted in third-party code. Ironically, one of the components based on ageing software was sold by a firm based in the USA.
As ZDNet noted, the oversight board also found medium-term concerns surrounding 5G.
“Due to areas of concern exposed through the proper functioning of the mitigation strategy and associated oversight mechanisms, the oversight board can provide only limited assurances that all risks to UK national security from Huawei’s involvement in the UK’s critical networks have been sufficiently mitigated,” said the report. “We are advising the National Security Adviser on this basis.
“Until this work is completed, the oversight board can offer only limited assurance due to the lack of the required end-to-end traceability from source code examined by HCSEC through to executables use by the UK operators.”
The report noted that Huawei was addressing the issues. However, it would prompt renewed fears.
Partners such as BT provided their own assurances about cybersecurity.
August – Australia bans Huawei 5G equipment outright
The Australian government again cited national security fears, and said that regulations that apply to telcos would also be extended to telco equipment suppliers.
As the BBC reported: “Companies that were “likely to be subject to extrajudicial directions from a foreign government” could present a security risk.”
The country extended the ban to ZTE as well.
China’s foreign ministry spokesperson, Lu Kang, accused Australia of using “various excuses to artificially erect barriers” and added that the country should “abandon ideological prejudices and provide a fair competitive environment for Chinese companies”.
Towards the end of August 2018, the Japanese government announced that it was also considering a ban on equipment from Huawei and ZTE.
And reports also surfaced of Canada’s prime minister Justin Trudeau being “increasingly alarmed” about national security threats.
September – Canada intelligence head allays security fears
Scott Jones, the head of the Center for Cyber Security in Canada, said that his country could take a different tack to Australia’s outright ban – and that agencies in Canada had the technical nous to be able to spot serious security holes.
The comments were similar to David Cameron’s – that the cyber security programme is “very deep” and that Canada has strong resilience programmes in place for telecommunications networks.
He suggested a more holistic, network-wide approach to security rather than singling out any particular vendors.
October – Spy chiefs, military figures all out against Huawei
A raft of renewed fears emerged from military and intelligence figures past and present of the USA and its allies towards the end of 2018.
While Australian Signals Directorate head Mike Burgess did not name Huawei specifically, he did claim that “high-risk vendor equipment” used in the creation of Australia’s 5G network could threaten the country’s security – everything from the electricity grid and health systems to self-driving cars.
It followed an outright ban on Huawei and ZTE for providing 5G equipment. The “stakes could not be higher” said Burgess, and that “historically” the country had “protected the sensitive information and functions at the core of our telecommunications networks by confining our high-risk vendors to the edge of our networks”.
In the same month, former First Sea Lord and security minister under Gordon Brown, Admiral Lord West, said that the British government should create a unit that reports directly to the prime minister to monitor security risks from Chinese 5G vendors
“We’ve got to see there’s a risk,” he said. “Yes, we want 5G, but for goodness sake we need to do all of these things to make sure it’s not putting all of us at risk.”
However, the former director of GCHQ, Robert Hannigan – who would later go on to pen an editorial in the Financial Times warning against blanket bans of Huawei – said at the time that the “best companies in 5G are probably the Chinese ones and there aren’t many alternatives”.
He told Sky News: “We do need to find a way of scrutinising what is being installed in our network, and how it is being overseen and how it is being controlled and how it’s being upgraded in the future. And we have to find a more effective way of doing that at scale.”
October – Trudeau urged by USA to ban Huawei from 5G networks
Virginia Democrat Mark Warner and Florida Republican Marco Rubio both warned Canada’s prime minister Justin Trudeau to exclude Huawei from building out Canada’s 5G capabilities – because it could create risks for American networks.
Reuters reported that the two lawmakers penned a letter to Trudeau, which read: “While Canada has strong telecommunications security safeguards in place, we have serious concerns that such safeguards are inadequate given what the United States and other allies know about Huawei.”
October – Huawei agrees to open security lab in Germany
Huawei committed in October to open up its source code to German regulators at a similar lab to the one it opened in Oxfordshire.
While America’s trade war with China picked up pace, much of Europe had been seeking closer ties with Beijing.
The Federal Office for Information Security (BSI), Reuters reported, planned to open the lab in November in Bonn, where other regulators are also based – as well as the partly state-owned Deutsche Telekom which is a partner of Huawei’s.
November – Washington pressures allies into dropping Huawei
In a move described as “extraordinary” by the Wall Street Journal, the US government started a campaign to foreign allies to urge them to drop Huawei from 5G networks. Officials briefed countries including Germany, Italy, and Japan, and the US was even considering increasing financial aid for countries that did not sign up to contracts with Chinese vendors.
The WSJ quoted an unnamed US official as saying: “We engage with countries around the world about our concerns regarding cyber threats in telecommunications infrastructure. As they’re looking to move to 5G, we remind them of those concerns. There are additional complexities to 5G networks that make them more vulnerable to cyber attacks.”
Huawei said that it was “surprised by the behaviours of the US government” and that if a government’s behaviour “extends beyond its jurisdiction, such activity should not be encouraged”.
Voices from the telecommunications companies have been more sceptical than political figures. Vodafone’s incoming chief executive Nick Read backed Huawei – and described it as being “actively engaged” with British and European security agencies.
“I think they’re doing everything possible to ensure they remain a very serious and credible supplier,” Read said.
Neil McRae, chief network architect for BT Group, described Huawei as the “only one true 5G supplier” at a Huawei event in London.
In the same month, New Zealand’s intelligence agency rejected a bid from telco Spark New Zealand to use Huawei equipment – something Spark said it would seek “clarity” on.
Huawei also requested an explanation from authorities in New Zealand.
December – arrest of Huawei CFO Meng Wanzhou
Chief financial officer of Huawei Meng Wanzhou was arrested in Canada where she was threatened with extradition to the USA – under the pretence of sanctions violations. She was threatened with extradition to the United States.
The CFO, who is also the daughter of Huawei founder Ren Zhengfei, was arrested on 1 December at the request of American authorities. First reported by Canada’s Globe and Mail, Meng was accused of violating sanctions pertaining to Iran.
An unnamed Canadian law enforcement source told the Globe and Mail that the USA believes Meng was attempting to evade the American embargo against Iran.
The accusations appear to relate to Meng serving on the board of a Hong Kong business Skycom which is alleged to have worked with Iran between 2009 and 2014. The Verge reported that the prosecutor said that because American banks worked with Huawei at this time, sanctions on Iran were indirectly violated. Prosecutors have said that Skycom was an unofficial subsidiary of Huawei.
Commenting in a statement, Huawei said: “The company has been provided very little information regarding the charges and is not aware of any wrongdoing by Ms Meng. The company believes the Canadian and US legal systems will ultimately reach a just conclusion.
“Huawei complies with all applicable laws and regulations where it operates, including applicable export control and sanction laws and regulations of the UN, US and EU.”
December – MI6 chief Alex Younger raises concerns
The usually elusive MI6 boss Alex Younger said that Britain should take stock on how comfortable it is with the ownership of 5G networks by Chinese vendors, and that the UK must make “some decisions” about the role they play in Britain. He added that British intelligence should do more to innovate in network intelligence.
December – no evidence of spying, says German watchdog
The head of the Federal Office for Information Security (BSI) in Bonn, Arne Schönbohm, said that his agency had found no evidence of Huawei conducting espionage. Schönbohm told der Spiegel: “For such serious decisions, you need proof.”
The BSI, Schönbohm said, had looked at Huawei products and components from around the world.
December – BT removes some Huawei equipment from 4G network
BT said that it had removed some Huawei technology from its 4G network, but that this was part of a wider policy to standardise its equipment across the network after it purchase of EE in 2015. However, as the Guardian reported, parts of BT and EE’s “peripheral” systems remain on Huawei equipment and that there are no plans to alter these.
In a statement emailed to Computerworld UK from Huawei, a spokesperson said: “Huawei has been working with BT for almost 15 years. Since the beginning of this partnership, BT has operated on a principle of different vendors for different network layers. This agreement remains in place today. Since it acquired EE in 2016, the BT Group has been actively bringing EE’s legacy network architecture in line with this long-standing agreement.
“This is a normal and expected activity, which we understand and fully support. As BT noted, ‘Huawei remains an important equipment provider and a valued innovation partner.’ Working together, we have already completed a number of successful 5G trials across different sites in London, and we will continue to work with BT in the 5G era.”
December – Huawei marks $2 billion to address UK security concerns
In response to concerns from the NCSC about inadequacies in the company’s code base, Huawei said it would spend $2 billion – roughly £1.5 billion – on improving its product lines.
January – Trump administration considers formal ban of Huawei and ZTE
Reuters reported that a possible executive order that had been under consideration for at least eight months would outright block American companies from buying equipment from foreign telco suppliers.
The report notes that rural operators in the USA that rely on Huawei and ZTE equipment were concerned that they would have to can Chinese-made equipment without compensation.
January – Huawei new year message: no market can keep us away
In a new year message titled ‘Fire is the Test of Gold’, rotating chairman Guo Ping claimed that the company will keep working on delivering the best products and services to the degree that “no market can keep us away”.
Opening the post with a Cicero quote – “the greater the difficulty, the greater the glory” – he said that the company’s business performance remained strong despite the negative comments in the media and that this is the “best response” to “negative conjecture and market restrictions” before thanking customers, partners, the public, and employees.
January – US Justice Department files criminal charges against Huawei, Meng Wanzhou
The USA officially filed a total of 23 criminal charges against Huawei and CFO Meng Wanzhou, including bank fraud, obstruction of justice, and IP theft.
US commerce secretary Wilbur Ross said: “For years, Chinese firms have broken our export laws and undermined sanctions, often using US financial systems to facilitate their illegal activities.”
But Huawei denied the criminal charges and said that it was not aware of any wrongdoing by Ms Meng. Ms Meng also denied the allegations, which surrounded sanctions on Iran. The IP theft charges related to the Tappy robot from T-Mobile USA.
And, the BBC said, the company added that the allegations were already settled – where a civil suit jury did not find “damages nor wilful and malicious conducts on the trade secret claim”.
January – Ren Zhengfei speaks out
In a rare interview with foreign media, Huawei founder Ren Zhengfei denied that China’s government had asked for help to spy using the firm’s technology.
The FT, the WSJ and Bloomberg were among the titles invited to the roundtable.
“I love my country, I support the Communist Party,” he said in the briefing. “But I will not do anything to harm the world. I don’t see a close connection between my personal political beliefs and the businesses of Huawei.”
He added that he would turn down requests from Chinese authorities for sensitive information on clients.
“Huawei is only a sesame seed in the trade conflict between China and the US,” Ren said. “Trump is a great president. He dares to massively cut taxes, which will benefit business. But you have to treat well the companies and countries so that they are willing to invest in the US and the government will be able to collect enough tax.”
Ren said that he “personally would never harm the interest of my customers and me and my company would not answer to such requests”.
“No law in China requires any company to install mandatory backdoors,” he said.
January – Huawei says it could pull out of Western countries
Speaking at the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, Huawei chairman Mr Liang Hua said that the company could move its operations to where it was “welcomed” and added that the firm follows regulations in the territories it operates in.
He added that concerned parties were welcome to visit Huawei’s labs in China, and stressed Britain’s approach to “openness” and “free trade”.
Mr Liang Hua also said that the company would continue to focus on “providing value by offering the high bandwidth ultra low latency and high connectivity products” to its customers, said the BBC.
January – Chinese ambassador to EU slams Huawei network fears
Speaking of the cybersecurity concerns raised within Europe, senior diplomat Zhang Ming said that it is “not helpful to make slander, discrimination, pressure, coercion or speculation against anyone else”.
“Now someone is sparing no effort to fabricate a security story about Huawei,” the ambassador said, according to the FT. “I do not think that this story has anything to do with security.”
The diplomat added that global supply chains were intertwined and that because Huawei is a leading manufacturer in 5G, it would be “very irresponsible” to cut it out of the chain – and that doing so could mean “serious consequences to global economic and scientific cooperation”.
February – Merkel calls for further security reassurances
During a trip to Japan, Germany Chancellor Angela Merkel said further security guarantees must be in place for Huawei to be involved in the country’s rollout of 5G networks.
February – Alex Louder states outright ban might not be the right course for the UK
MI6 head Alex Louder, who had previously sounded the alarm about Huawei, clarified that he believes a blanket ban of the vendor might not be the most appropriate course for Britain – adding that the subject was complex.
He said in Munich: “There are some practical points about the number of vendors who exist at the moment. It’s not inherently desirable that we have a monopolistic supplier of any of our critical national infrastructure. We should be aiming for the maximum diversity as a matter of good practice.”
That meant taking a “principles-based approach” and that the first of these should be “around quality”.
“This has got nothing to do with the country of origin,” he added. “We should be insisting on the highest level of quality in any form of technology platform or service we choose to use and in particular security quality.”
The comments were echoed by an opinion piece penned by former GCHQ director Robert Hannigan in the FT, who said that in his view a blanket ban would not make sense, and calls for such were “short on technical understanding of cybersecurity and the complexities of 5G architecture.”
February – Huawei says it could take five years for ‘tangible’ security results
A letter penned by Huawei to MP Norman Lamb said that it could take as long as five years for “tangible results” from the firm’s commitment to addressing some of the security concerns.
In the letter, Ryan Ding, carrier business group president for the company said: “Modern communications networks are complex systems that keep evolving in new and innovative ways. Enhancing our software engineering capabilities is like replacing components on a high-speed train in motion …
“It is a complicated and involved process and will take at least three to five years to see tangible results. We hope the UK government can understand this.”
February – 5G is “not the atom bomb” says Huawei’s Eric Xu
Speaking with Computerworld UK and other British media at a comprehensive roundtable at Huawei’s Shenzhen headquarters, rotating chairman Eric Xu retorted to many of the security fears – where he outlined Huawei’s plans to address extensive legacy code to better align with current security standards, as well as future-proofing its product line.
He said that comments from American officials speak to a “well-coordinated geopolitical campaign” against the company, and that the USA is “essentially using a national machine against a small company”.
Xu asked: “Is the recent fixation on Huawei truly about cyber security or could there be other motivations?
“Are they truly considering the cybersecurity and privacy protection of the people in other nations, or are there possibly other motives? Some other people argue that they are trying to find leverage for US-China trade negotiations.
“Some other people argue that if Huawei equipment was used in those countries, US agencies would find it harder to get access to information of those people, or find it harder to intercept their mobile communications … I believe in the wisdom of 7 billion people in the world, and I figure they clearly can see those different types of possibilities.”
February – Huawei risk manageable according to British intelligence
According to the FT, an as-yet-unpublished report from the NCSC concludes that security threats from Huawei are manageable. This, added the FT, could well influence security policies across the rest of the EU.
February – Ren Zhengfei says US can’t “crush” Huawei
In an interview with the BBC, Huawei founder Ren Zhengfei hit out at the American criminal charges levied at the firm.
He said that there is “no way the US can crush us,” adding that “the world cannot leave us because we are more advanced”.
“Even if they persuade more countries not to use us temporarily, we can always scale things down a bit,” he said.
February – Trump tweets about 5G and ‘even 6G’
In a pair of tweets, the president of the USA, Donald Trump, said that he wants “5G, and even 6G, technology in the United States as soon as possible.”
“It is far more powerful, faster, and smarter than the current standard. American companies must step up their efforts, or get left behind,” he said.
According to Washington correspondent for CNBC Kayla Tausche, in the same month, Trump also signalled that he would be discussing the possibility for dropping the charges against Huawei as part of a trade deal.
Huawei’s Guo Ping said at Mobile World Congress that Trump was right to be concerned about America lagging behind in 5G.
“I think his message is clear and correct,” he said.
March – UK watchdog says Huawei poses ‘long-term security risks’
The UK’s Huawei oversight board has delivered a damning assessment of Huawei’s security failings in its annual report on the Chinese tech giant.
The government-led board set up to vet the firm cited “serious and systematic defects in Huawei’s software engineering and cyber security competence” that “significantly increased risk to UK operators.”
It claimed that the company had made “no material progress” to address the issues previously reported and that “further significant technical issues have been identified in Huawei’s engineering processes”.
The oversight body, which is funded by Huawei and chaired by the head of GCHQ’s National Cyber Security Centre, stopped short of calling for a ban on using the company’s equipment in the UK’s 5G networks, but its findings will influence the government reviews of Huawei bids for 5G contracts.
Matthew Green, an associate professor at the Johns Hopkins Information Security Institute, explained in a Twitter thread that other manufacturers probably have similar defects, those vendors don’t face the same need to gain the government’s trust.
April – CIA says it has ‘proof’ of Huawei-Chinese state link, according to anonymous Times leak
According to a leak in Britain’s The Times newspaper, America’s spy agency the CIA has warned that Huawei has received funding from Beijing’s national security apparatus as well as the People’s Liberation Army – however, the proof it said was offered to British officials has not yet been openly published anywhere.
The anonymous source told The Times that Huawei had additionally taken money from a third branch of Chinese state intelligence.
While not evidenced publicly, the claims can be seen as a tightening of the screws by American intelligence against one of its key allies in the Five Eyes network, the name given to a spying and surveillance agreement between the USA, Britain, Canada, Australia, and New Zealand.
Huawei has denied the claims. In a statement cited by the Times, a spokesperson said: “Huawei does not comment on unsubstantiated allegations backed up by zero evidence from anonymous sources.”
April – British PM proceeds with Huawei’s ‘non-core’ 5G infrastructure equipment
Britain’s National Security Council, chaired by prime minister Theresa May, has decided to allow Huawei to provide some of the UK’s 5G infrastructure, although it was described as “noncore” technologies such as antennas.
According to a report in The Telegraph, which broke the story, senior figures from the British government raised concerns about the agreement, including home secretary Sajid Javid, foreign secretary Jeremy Hunt, defence secretary Gavin Williamson, international trade secretary Liam Fox and international development secretary Penny Mordaunt.
Fears over cyber security will be discussed by the Five Eyes countries at a conference in Glasgow.
Foreign Affairs Committee chairman Tom Tugendhat said on the BBC’s Today programme that differentiating between core and non-core technologies in a 5G network could prove difficult, and also tweeted that the decision could “cause allies to doubt our ability to keep data secure and erode the trust essential” to the Five Eyes grouping.
A spokesperson for Huawei commented that the company was “pleased that the UK is continuing to take an evidence-based approach to its work” and that it will “continue to work cooperatively with the government”.
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