Huawei allegedly put surveillance backdoors in its equipment to spy on the West. Now we know the NSA might have put its own back doors in these backdoors.
The NSA has long harboured suspicions that Chinese firm Huawei has been planting backdoors into its telecom equipment, and now we gained have a comic insight as to why; in 2010 the NSA had set up its own operation, codenamed ‘Shotgiant’ to hack into Huawei’s corporate network so it could do exactly the same.
For anyone who has been following this story since a famous (or infamous) 2012 US House Intelligence Committee report that warned that Huawei and fellow Chinese mobile firm ZTE posed a security risk to the US, the story of who has been hacking whom will be starting to sound like the Russian dolls-within-dolls metaphor of Cold War clichÃ©
What doesn’t seem to matter any longer is who hacked first. We know that the House allegations about Huawei were sufficient to see Huawei’s equipment shut of the large US market for the foreseeable future. In the UK, BT had already bought Huawei in 2007 to power the country’s 21st Century Network backbone, which reportedly caused a mixture of mirth and anxiety in US circles. To head off ridicule, GCHQ subsequently let it be known that it had set up a Huawei-watching project called ‘Cell’ to comb BT’’s equipment for backdoors and other deliberate flaws that might give China’s spies an in.
Then Snowden complicated this rather simple picture, revealing three months ago that the NSA’s Tailored Access Operations (TAO) had an established plan to introduce its own backdoors into backbone routers from firms such as Cisco, Juniper and, yes, Huawei too.
According to leaked documents seen by The New York Times, Shotgiant went beyond this, attempting to intercept communications between senior Huawei executives to see just how far its (alleged) links to the Chinese Government might run. Not only that, to the NSA Huawei’s expansion and success represented a major opportunity to spread these backdoors into telecoms infrastructure across the new world.
We can leave the espionage to the spooks, but the intriguing theme of the sometimes opposed interests of business and state surveillance is starting to emerge. Regardless of the truth of the spying accusations against Huawei, might the firm be starting to realise that spying and business don’t mix?
There is a widespread perception that large firms in China will do the bidding of the Government but it is just possible that the tarnishing of its image could be exerting pressure in the other direction. The same theme can be seen playing out among the US’s big Internet firms such as Google, Yahoo and Microsoft as well as Cisco and others; none want to be seen as extension of Uncle Sam because they know this risks severely damaging their businesses in the long run.
The spooks of both sides have been running circles around citizens and businesses in the US and we must assume in China too. But spy agencies won't always have the last word on this. The opinions of corproations, businesses and ordinary citizens could turn out to have the final say.