Andy Purdy, chief security officer for Huawei Technologies USA, says that concerns over whether the company can be used by China as a backdoor for spying fail to address the broader issue of governments already spying without permission.
Purdy made the comments during a wide-ranging discussion on Motherboard’s CYBER podcast, during which he commented on geopolitical tensions between China and the United States, the detainment of two Canadian nationals by Chinese authorities, and allegations that data from Huawei products ended up in state hands.
Questions regarding Huawei Technologies and its connection to the Chinese government have been at the center of actions against the company by the Trump administration, as Huawei bids to build 5G telecommunications networks around the world.
“There are at least five nations of the world that have the ability to virtually implant hidden functionality and malware, in hardware and software. So the fact that that's the case, blocking us is not going to address that larger issue,” said Purdy. “That larger issue exists in the global ecosystem.”
When asked what assurances Huawei can give the U.S. government that past instances in which backdoors in Huawei technology were found by security researchers wouldn’t be repeated, Purdy brought up the broader issue of spying done by governments and referenced reports from 2013 that said the National Security Agency had tapped Cisco products .
“The situation about backdoors in Cisco products. The question was, well, did Cisco give them permission? Or did the U.S. government hack in? My point is, I don't know. In a way, it doesn't matter,” Purdy said.
Purdy suggested focusing on managing the risk of backdoors, which could be done by putting in place third party mechanisms with independent monitoring that can demonstrate there are no backdoors in products. He also said there should be continued support for equipment after it is deployed.
When asked to address comments by former Google CEO Eric Schmidt “that information from Huawei routers has ultimately ended up in hands that would appear to be the state,” Purdy demanded Schmidt provide proof.
“Mr. Schmidt, if you have proof that Huawei has done this or doing this, don't you owe it to the rest of the world to provide notice? He’s claiming our routers have these problems, have this fact that this has happened, we're all over the world. Speak up, call it out,” Purdy said.
Purdy also touched briefly on the arrest in Canada of Meng Wanzhou, chief financial officer of Huawei Technologies. Subsequent charges of espionage have been brought against two Canadian nationals in China, which Canada believes is direct retaliation for the arrest of Meng.
“Regarding Ms. Meng and the Canadians that were seized, we haven't seen what's happened in terms of the facts or the adjudication or the resolution,” Purdy said. “Some were understandably concerned that I believe the formal charges weren't brought against the two Canadians for a much longer time than we deem acceptable in the United States.”