Huawei Uses NSA Scandal to Turn Tables on Accusers

Huawei’s R&D campus in Shenzen, China

Huawei Technologies, the Chinese telecom giant banned from selling to U.S. government agencies due to its alleged ties to Chinese intelligence services, has turned the tables on its accusers by offering itself as a safe haven for customers concerned that the NSA has compromised their own IT vendors.

“We have never been asked to provide access to our technology, or provide any data or information on any citizen or organization to any Government, or their agencies,” Huawei Deputy Chairman Ken Hu said in the introduction to a 52-page white paper on cybersecurity published Oct. 18. (Full report available here as a PDF.)

Huawei was banned from selling to U.S. government entities and faced barriers to civilian sales following a 2012 report from the U.S. House of Representatives that concluded Huawei’s management had not been forthcoming enough to convince committee members to disregard charges it had given Chinese intelligence services backdoors into its secure systems and allowed Chinese intelligence agents to pose as Huawei employees.

The ban didn’t keep Huawei from taking market share from competitors in several networking market segments, or making significant progress toward its goal of increasing its global networking and telecom business by 40 percent during 2013.

The scandal following Edward Snowden’s revelation that the National Security Agency (NSA) collects Web-surfing and telephone metadata on U.S. citizens, and requires many U.S. tech companies to provide it with customer information, put all tech companies under suspicion of collaborating with national intelligence agencies, one Huawei executive said in September. The NSA scandal simply lets Western companies understand how Huawei felt at being accused, he added.

Since the Snowden scandal broke, there have been a series of revelations about NSA backdoors or other hooks in products from Microsoft, Cisco, and in even in cryptographic standards and tools from the National Institute for Standards and Technology (NIST), according to a NetworkWorld story investigating the charges.

The unusual portion of Huawei’s cybersecurity white paper isn’t the rundown of security problems or call for stronger technical standards. The company’s description of its “end-to-end” security approach includes sections describing its organizational structure, rules of governance, management policies, positions on international laws regarding data protection, and its relationships with national governments.

The company has never been asked by any government to compromise its own products, would not agree to do so, and promises to create test centers where governments and customers can test its products and inspect its services as part of an “open, transparent and sincere” approach to questions about its alleged ties, according to a statement in the white paper from Huawei CEO Ren Zhengfei.

Using transparency about its internal management and governance is a novel way to counteract rumors of secret affiliations with national governments, Canalys analyst Nushin Vainai told Network World. “It’s funny, they have basically turned the tables.”

“America has genuine concerns, and it’s Huawei’s responsibility to satisfy those genuine concerns,” John Suffolk, Huawei’s global cybersecurity officer, said in an interview with Bloomberg News. “We will continue to work with our American colleagues to satisfy their needs and concerns and we believe we can do that.”

Image: Huawei Technologies, Ltd.