Is Huawei a national threat? US experts examine the issues

Tech experts weigh in on the Huawei security threat

Huawei has come under heavy scrutiny by U.S. officials these past months (or at least, more so than usual). The reason is summed up in a word, 5G.

In the very near future, 5G networks will spark a massive evolution across most modern industries. From empowering the artificial intelligence of self-driving cars, to connecting the electronics of entire cities. Before long, these networks will be integrated into virtually everything.

Anticipating potential security threats, lawmakers and intelligence officials speculate that Huawei’s 5G devices could be used by the Chinese government to spy on U.S. activity.

In a recent The Verge article, writers Colin Lecher and Russel Bramdon gathered insights on Huawei from U.S. experts. Through these tech and law officials, we get a close look at the driving rationale behind U.S. suspicions toward Huawei.

Considering the Potential Risks

Robert Williams, the executive director of the Paul Tsai China Center at Yale Law School, expresses that the U.S. focus must center around the reliability of companies providing 5G networks.

“If one views 5G telecommunications networks as critical infrastructure… the question is whether the risks of espionage or sabotage are unacceptably high… This may help to explain why Western governments broadly agree that Huawei poses security risks…”

Coincidentally, Nicholas Weaver, staff researcher at the International Computer Science Institute at UC Berkeley, offers an answer to this question.

“Sabotage can be really, really subtle… It is even more so in hardware. For example, you could sabotage the cryptographic random number generator so that if you knew the secret you could predict it, but if not, you can’t. This is worse in telecommunications systems, as those systems are specifically designed to be wiretapped. Just because the design is what you ‘certified’ doesn’t mean that the thing you buy is what you certified.”

As Weaver makes clear, no matter where 5G technology originates, all sabotage takes is “a single microscopic difference.”

Analyzing China’s ties to Huawei

Much of the worries surrounding Huawei tie directly to the company’s residence in China. William Snyder, professor of law at Syracuse University, emphasizes this is the true cause for security concerns.

“Huawei is a threat to U.S. national security, but that misses the bigger point. Even if Huawei is not committing the sort of crimes for which a U.S. 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.”

But Qing Wang, professor of marketing and innovation at the University of Warwick, believes Huawei’s reputation should be no concern.

She explains, “There is no hard evidence to support this notion…Huawei founder Mr. Ren Zhengfei once served in the People’s Liberation Army. As we know, serving in the army was one way of getting out of poverty… His time in the army was a short one and he was not in any important position.”

Wang also dismisses suspicions about the company and its connection to the Chinese government. “Huawei is a private enterprise… the textbook case of a great company in the making; unfortunately, it has fallen victim to the anti-globalization policy and sentiment of the U.S. and the ongoing trade war with China.”

Huawei is a threat, but…everyone is a threat

Understanding that any 5G hardware is vulnerable, some experts believe the U.S. approach to Huawei and other potential threats must shift. Such experts include Francis Dinha, the CEO of OPENVPN.

“The U.S. is right to treat Huawei as a security threat, but I don’t believe any ban on equipment is the right solution. No matter what equipment we use for 5G, there will be security risks.”

In response to this problem, Dinha provides the idea for a potential solution. “Rather than relying on our network to be secure, we ought to seriously consider building an overlay secure virtual network across the 5G infrastructure that could provide end-to-end security… We need guidelines to improve network security…No matter who is making our 5G equipment, we need to be proactive about cybersecurity.”

Where Huawei Stands

As of now, Huawei hasn’t explicitly demonstrated any wrongdoing, and the company maintains its longtime stance that its services pose no threat to the U.S. or any other nation.

From these expert’s observations, we can determine that yes, technically, Huawei is a threat. But, so is every other 5G provider.

Moving forward, it seems to boil down to two options. One, the U.S. completely isolates 5G networks from certain nations to avoid negative foreign influence, but at the risk of weakened international trade opportunities. Or two, the U.S. opens its arms to 5G telecommunications companies from all over, accepting and preparing for the inevitable security threats.

Regardless, the ongoing tensions between China and the U.S. will likely prove the largest factor in how 5G technology spreads.

To reference the full interviews featured on The Verge, click here.