Just when you thought you had done reading about NSA hacking stories, it seems that its efforts went overseas and hit one of the most talked about technology companies in the world.
Back in 2012, the White House cleared Huawei of any wrongdoing and said it did “not pose a cyber espionage threat to the United States”. The allegations stretched back to 2010, when a group of eight Republican senators warned the Obama administration to be wary of Huawei winning a bid to sell equipment to American telecom giant Sprint Nextel. Allegations were made about Huawei supplying equipment to Saddam Hussein’s regime in Iraq and Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard.
However, all was cleared and all issues put to bed because Huawei posed no threat. Yet, the threat seems to have switched sides as reports have emerged that the company’s servers were breached by the NSA.
According to the New York Times, classified documents show that the National Security Agency was creating its own back doors — directly into Huawei’s networks. The NSA pried into the servers in Huawei’s sealed headquarters in China and it was able to obtain information about the workings of the giant routers and complex digital switches that Huawei boasts connect a third of the world’s population, and monitored communications of the company’s top executives.
While the world was stunned by revelations that the agency had hacked into American companies Google and Yahoo, perhaps this will be less of a shock. After all, the initial investigation into Huawei was undoubtedly led by concerns about Chinese infiltration into American computer networks; read the Mandiant report into the APT1 threat for more on this.
Was it hacking into the threat all along, therefore completely in the know about what threat was posed? An NSA document said: “Many of our targets communicate over Huawei-produced products. We want to make sure that we know how to exploit these products.”
Revelations were jointly released by De Spiegel, who said that among the American intelligence service’s targets were former Chinese President Hu Jintao, the Chinese Trade Ministry, banks, as well as telecommunications companies, but the NSA made a special effort to target Huawei.
It said that having infiltrated the network, the Americans were able to read a large share of the email sent by company workers beginning in January 2009, including messages from company CEO Ren Zhengfei and Chairwoman Sun Yafang.
Also according to CSO, the operation began in 2009 with the codename “Shotgiant”. This was three years before Australia took the decision to ban Huawei from bidding for the National Broadband Network (NBN).
For the Chinese tech giant, this marks a serious blow to its own national security. The efforts of the NSA were to try and find a link between the national army and the private company, and this would be the effect of the Chinese army hitting a company like Cisco, HP or Dell – major tech companies with national interests both in and out of the country.
As for what we would expect back, retribution? I think it is unlikely that this is the case, but with relations already rocky between the US and Russia, it does not need another cyber concern over its head. Obama, who is currently on a state visit to the country in what is either an unfortunate or impeccably well timed visit, has called a halt to the mass data collection, reported the Silicon Valley Business Journal.
It reported that the President will propose sweeping legislative changes to overhaul th
e NSA’s collection and storage of large amounts of phone data, while Huawei criticised the NSA on the news of the access, and called for new standards to block cyber misconduct.
What I find to be most interesting is that the White House sought to investigate Huawei in 2010, despite having hacked and monitored them for over 12 months. Surely they knew what threat it posed, or was it an intentional diversion to show that the US Government was above board? Or is the US Government not so connected that the White House is not in communication with the NSA? So many questions and only the revelations of Edward Snowden have the answer.