As US officials warned pm the dangers of buying from Huawei Technologies Co (華為) out of fear that the Chinese firm would create “back doors” in its equipment enabling China’s military or Beijing-backed hackers to steal corporate and state secrets, the US National Security Agency (NSA) was creating its own back doors directly into the telecom’s networks, documents disclosed by the New York Times and Der Spiegel have revealed.
The agency pried its way into the servers in Huawei’s sealed headquarters in Shenzhen, China, documents provided by former NSA contractor Edward Snowden say. It obtained information about the workings of the giant routers and complex digital switches that Huawei boasts connect one-third of the world and monitored communications of the company’s top executives.
One of the goals of the operation, code-named “Shotgiant,” was to find any links between Huawei and the People’s Liberation Army (PLA), one 2010 document showed.
Yet the NSA’s plans went further: exploit Huawei’s technology so that when it sells equipment to other countries — both allies and nations that avoid US products — the NSA can roam their computer and telephone networks to conduct surveillance and, if ordered by the US president, offensive cyberoperations.
“Many of our targets communicate over Huawei-produced products,” the document said, adding that: “We want to make sure that we know how to exploit these products, to ”gain access to networks of interest” around the world.
Although US President Barack Obama and Chinese President Xi Jinping (習近平) have begun talks about limiting the cyberconflict, it appears to be intensifying.
For example, the NSA is tracking more than 20 Chinese hacking groups — more than half of them Chinese military units — as they break into the networks of the US government, firms like Google, and drone and nuclear-weapon part makers, US officials say.
The Obama administration distinguishes between hacking and corporate theft, and intelligence operations. US officials have said the NSA breaks into foreign networks only for national security purposes.
Yet that does not mean the US does not conduct its own form corporate espionage with different goals, and those concerning Huawei were in the 2010 document, which read: “If we can determine the company’s plans and intentions, we hope that this will lead us back to the plans and intentions of the PRC [People’s Republic of China].”
The NSA was also interested in tunneling into key Chinese customers, including “Iran, Afghanistan, Pakistan, Kenya, Cuba.”
Huawei says it is a victim of protectionism masked in security concerns and that it has no PLA ties.
Huawei executive William Plummer said the firm had no idea it was an NSA target, adding: “The irony is that exactly what they are doing to us is what they have always charged that the Chinese are doing through us.”
The documents offer no answer to the question: Is Huawei a front for the PLA, as US officials suggest but have never publicly proved?
“If such espionage has been truly conducted, then it is known that the company is independent and has no unusual ties to any government, and that knowledge should be relayed publicly to put an end to an era of mis- and disinformation,” Plummer said.