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[UPDATED] WSJ: Huawei Using Backdoors to Snoop on Mobile Networks; DOJ Announces Indictments

The US Government believes it has the final nail in the coffin for Huawei's Western operations.
Photo: Brücke-Osteuropa

UPDATE (02/13/2020 3:00 PM)

The US Department of Justice has announced it has charged Huawei, its subsidiaries and it CFO with racketeering conspiracy and conspiracy to steal trade secrets.

According to the 16-count indictment, Huawei allegedly stole intellectual property & technology from six US companies, including source code and documentation for networking tech. They are also accused of recruiting competitors’ employees in an effort to obtain trade secrets. Huawei is accused of instituting a bounty program to reward employees who produced usable materials from other companies. When confronted with these allegations, Huawei officials are accused of lying to government agencies and attempting to stall the investigation.

The indictment includes new allegations relating to Huawei’s dealings with nations currently under US, EU and UN sanction:

The superseding indictment also includes new allegations about Huawei and its subsidiaries’ involvement in business and technology projects in countries subject to U.S., E.U. and/or U.N. sanctions, such as Iran and North Korea – as well as the company’s efforts to conceal the full scope of that involvement.  The defendants’ activities, which included arranging for shipment of Huawei goods and services to end users in sanctioned countries, were typically conducted through local affiliates in the sanctioned countries.  Reflecting the inherent sensitivity of conducting business in jurisdictions subject to sanctions, internal Huawei documents allegedly referred to such jurisdictions with code names.  For example, the code “A2” referred to Iran, and “A9” referred to North Korea. 

Huawei employees also allegedly lied about Huawei’s relationship to Skycom, falsely asserting it was not a subsidiary of Huawei.  The company further claimed that Huawei had only limited operations in Iran and that Huawei did not violate U.S. or other laws or regulations related to Iran.  In fact, the indictment alleges Skycom was Huawei’s unofficial subsidiary that, among other services, assisted the Government of Iran in performing domestic surveillance, including during the demonstrations in Tehran in 2009.

US Department of Justice

The new indictment also includes previous charges filed in early 2019 against the company and CFO Meng Wanzhou, who were indicted for financial fraud, money laundering, conspiracy to defraud the United States, obstruction of justice and sanctions violations.

The original article follows.

Chinese cellular manufacturer Huawei is once again under scrutiny after a Wall Street Journal report accusing the company of using backdoors in infrastructure equipment to spy on mobile networks worldwide.

The Journal cited unnamed government officials who confirmed the report. Huawei allegedly used backdoors intended for law enforcement use to access networks without authorization through antennas, base stations and switching gear for over a decade. The report says the US has begun warning many of its international partners who are still on the fence about banning the company’s technology from its telecom systems, or have been planning an extended phaseout. Huawei denied the allegations.

Huawei “has never and will never do anything that would compromise or endanger the security of networks and data of its clients,” the company said. “We emphatically reject these latest allegations. Again, groundless accusations are being repeated without providing any kind of concrete evidence.”

A senior Huawei official dismissed the suggestion that Huawei could access the interface in the way U.S. officials described. “The use of the lawful interception interface is strictly regulated and can only be accessed by certified personnel of the network operators. No Huawei employee is allowed to access the network without an explicit approval from the network operator,” the official said.

Wall Street Journal

President Donald Trump issued an executive order last year that banned US telecoms from purchasing equipment from “foreign adversaries,” which many presumed to include Huawei & fellow Chinese tech firm ZTE. The relationship between the US and Huawei has been steadily souring since 2012, when the US House Intelligence Committee put out a strong warning to American companies advising them to avoid using equipment from Huawei or ZTE, citing concerns over both companies’ relationships with the Chinese government. In November, the FCC unanimously voted to bar carriers from using subsidies provided by the Universal Service Fund to purchase equipment from companies deemed national security threats, including Huawei & ZTE.

The company has also been accused of corporate espionage, including an infamous incident in which a company employee allegedly stole a proprietary robot arm from a T-Mobile quality control lab in Seattle with the aim of reverse-engineering it for Huawei’s use. Meng Wanzhou, the company’s Chief Financial Officer – who is also the daughter of its founder – was also indicted for allegedly selling US technology to Iran and is currently under house arrest in Canada awaiting possible extradition to the United States.

Huawei’s US customers were granted a series of temporary exemptions from the White House ban last year but it is unlikely to be renewed, meaning the company’s US operations will likely be shut down on February 16.

Kenny Hitt

Kenny Hitt

Kenny Hitt (@gulchcastkenny) is an Associated Press Award-Winning videographer, photographer and graphic designer, with his work having been featured by NBC, Image Comics and Scholastic Publishing. He has had a lifelong fascination with science & technology, especially in the entertainment & communications arena.
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