Huawei and ZTE defend position against US security charges

Alan Burkitt-Gray
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Chinese vendors in ‘robust’ response to FBI director’s comments to Senate Intelligence Committee

Huawei and ZTE are responding robustly to attempts by US government authorities to extend the existing ban on telecoms network equipment to smartphones and enterprise equipment.

They are both replying to comments made before the US Senate Intelligence Committee in Washington DC this week, which echo those made last year about Russian anti-virus company Kaspersky, whose products are now banned from US government networks.

The committee heard from FBI director Chris Wray, who said: “We’re deeply concerned about the risks of allowing any company or entity that is beholden to foreign governments that don’t share our values to gain positions of power inside our telecommunications networks.”

Wray said that equipment “provides the capacity to exert pressure or control over our telecommunications infrastructure. It provides the capacity to maliciously modify or steal information. And it provides the capacity to conduct undetected espionage.”

Huawei and ZTE have not been able to sell network equipment to the big four US companies, AT&T, Sprint, T-Mobile US and Verizon, since at least 2012, when a congressional report said there were security risks.In 2010 Sprint dropped a plan to buy from Huawei after protests. 

There has been no restriction on smaller operators buying their kit, and AT&T has Huawei equipment in its Mexican 4G network. Huawei, ZTE and other Chinese companies have continued to sell phones in the US, though a handset announcement by AT&T and Huawei due for January’s Consumer Electronics Show was dropped at the last minute.

Because this week is Chinese New Year – with virtually all employees in China visiting their families – Huawei and ZTE’s responses have come from the US and Europe.

Huawei said by email that it “is trusted by governments and customers in 170 countries worldwide and poses no greater cybersecurity risk than any ICT vendor, sharing as we do common global supply chains and production capabilities. We are committed to openness and transparency in everything we do”.

ZTE told Techradar by email: “Our mobile phones and other devices incorporate US-made chipsets, US-made operating systems and other components. ZTE takes cybersecurity and privacy seriously and remains a trusted partner to our US suppliers, US customers and the people who use our high quality and affordable products for their communications needs.”

The US is unusual in taking such as line on Huawei and ZTE network kit and smartphones. Telecoms companies from Japan to India and Brazil to the UK commonly use their equipment in their networks and there is no restriction on sale of smartphones.

In the UK, Huawei has funded the Huawei Cyber Security Evaluation Centre, housed on a trading estate in Banbury, Oxfordshire, where government security test the company’s equipment and software for vulnerabilities. The centre was set up in 2010 and, seven years later, companies such as BT and Vodafone still buy network equipment and software from Huawei. BT also has its own extensive security operation which analyses all equipment and software the group buys. 

Huawei’s statement continued with a verbal shrug: “Ultimately Huawei will continue to develop its global business through a significant commitment to innovation and R&D and to delivering technology that helps our customers succeed in all markets that value the innovation and value it delivers.’

ZTE’s statement to Techradar said: “ZTE is proud of the innovation and security of our products in the US market. As a publicly traded company, we are committed to adhering to all applicable laws and regulations of the United States, work with carriers to pass strict testing protocols, and adhere to the highest business standards.”

An executive close to one of the Chinese companies said: “The one person losing out is the US customer, who’s being denied choice.”