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Huawei Employees Have Been Working With China's Military for at Least a Decade

Meanwhile, a report on Huawei devices found "hundreds of cases of potential backdoor vulnerabilities" that could be exploited by bad actors.

by David Gilbert
Jun 27 2019, 11:01am

Huawei employees worked closely with the Chinese military for at least the last decade to develop technologies that could be used to gather information on citizens.

According to publicly available documents, Huawei employees collaborated with the People’s Liberation Army (PLA) on a project to extract and classify emotions in online video comments. They also worked on an initiative with the elite National University of Defense Technology to explore ways of collecting and analyzing satellite images and geographical coordinates.

First reported by Bloomberg, the documents give more credence to White House claims that Huawei is a threat to U.S. national security due to its close relationship with the Chinese military — especially after a report published Wednesday said the security of Huawei equipment is much weaker than that of their competitors.

Over the course of the last decade, people identified as Huawei employees have collaborated with military researchers on at least 10 research projects. The Huawei employees’ names and the company name were listed prominently at the top of the research papers.

Huawei denies that working closely with the PLA, claiming these individuals were operating in a personal capacity when conducting the research.

“As far as I know, we don’t have military cooperation projects because we are a company dedicated to providing communications systems and (information and communications technology) solutions for civil use,” Song Liuping, chief legal officer at Huawei, told CNBC.

“Huawei doesn’t customize products nor provide research for the military. We are not aware of the papers some employees have published. We don’t have such joint-research projects” with the PLA, Liuping added.

But Huawei’s denials are likely to fall on deaf ears in Washington, where White House officials are reading a report published Wednesday that concludes Huawei’s networking equipment is more vulnerable than that of its competitors.

“We discovered that there were hundreds of cases of potential backdoor vulnerabilities – improper default configurations that could allow Huawei or a malicious attacker to covertly access a user’s device,” the report from Ohio-based cybersecurity firm Finite State concludes.

The report stops short of saying Huawei has purposely built backdoors into its products, and did not address the claims that the company conducts electronic surveillance on behalf of the Chinese government.

"Since 2009, Huawei has maintained covert access to some of the systems it has installed for international customers."

Inside the Trump administration, the report is seen as vindication of the campaign to ban Huawei from the U.S. and encourage its allies to do the same.

“This report supports our assessment that since 2009, Huawei has maintained covert access to some of the systems it has installed for international customers,” said a White House official told the Wall Street Journal.

As part of its crackdown on the Chinese telecoms giant, the White House has banned U.S. companies selling American technology to Huawei, although U.S. chip makers, including Intel and Micron, have found loopholes in the law to continue to sell hundreds of millions of dollars worth of components to Huawei, according to a New York Times report.

Huawei will be central to talks between Donald Trump and his Chinese counterpart Xi Jinping at the G20 summit in Japan on Saturday, according to the Wall Street Journal. Among the preconditions for any deal to settle the U.S.-China trade war, Xi plans to demand Trump lift the ban.

“We urge the U.S. to immediately cancel its pressure and sanction measures on Huawei and other Chinese companies, and push for the stable and healthy development of China-U.S. trade relations,“ Gao Feng, spokesman for the Ministry of Commerce said Thursday.

Cover: A man uses his smartphone outside of a shop selling Huawei products at a shopping mall in Beijing, Wednesday, May 29, 2019. Chinese tech giant Huawei filed a motion in U.S. court Wednesday challenging the constitutionality of a law that limits its sales of telecom equipment, the latest action in an ongoing clash with the U.S. government. (AP Photo/Mark Schiefelbein)

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