Recent reports have suggested that the US Federal Communications Commission (FCC) has proposed banning telecommunication equipment from two Chinese electronics giants, Huawei and ZTE. The FCC argued that this decision was made to protect US networks from potential security risks.
This article looks at some security concerns raised about Huawei and ZTE.
Overview of Huawei and ZTE
Huawei and ZTE are two of the world’s leading telecoms companies based in China. They produce various services, including communications networks and electronic devices for consumer and enterprise customers. However, despite their well-known global presence, concerns have been raised about their involvement with Chinese authorities and their relationship with other major technology players like Amazon, Google and Microsoft.
In particular, many US officials have expressed concerns that Huawei and ZTE could be used to access sensitive US information without proper authorization. Furthermore, US regulators have recently suggested that these telecoms giants may be prohibited from selling in the United States for security reasons. This has raised questions about the security implications of using Huawei or ZTE technology in the US or elsewhere.
While there is still some debate over whether the risk posed by using Huawei or ZTE products is sufficient enough to justify a ban on sales in the US, there is no doubt that security must remain at the forefront when incorporating these technologies into any situation. Therefore, network administrators need to assess all potential threats within any given environment before allowing any types of Chinese-made technologies within that environment.
The security concerns surrounding Chinese telecommunications companies, Huawei and ZTE, have been mounting as the United States Federal Communications Commission (FCC) has taken steps to prohibit them from doing business with US companies. These steps taken by the FCC have raised questions about the security of products from these two companies.
In this article, we will explore these security concerns and how they affect businesses that use products from either company.
Potential for espionage
Security concerns over Huawei and ZTE have been a source of contention for some time, with many governments worldwide raising alarms about the potential for them to be used for espionage or sabotage.
The United States government has raised these concerns, restricting its federal agencies from using products manufactured by Huawei or ZTE. This ban is an extension of the security restrictions the U.S. Department of Defense put in place in August 2018 that required all retailers offering cellular equipment to prove they did not manufacture any products associated with Huawei or ZTE prior to admission. Additionally, both companies are currently facing criminal investigation into potentially violating U.S.-imposed trade sanctions against Iran and North Korea and claims of the Chinese government using their products to spy on American citizens and organizations.
This latest ban issued by the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) will prevent companies receiving federal subsidies from using equipment manufactured by either company; a move that FCC Chairman Ajit Pai has justified due to national security threats posed by these manufacturers’ “always-on connections” and “very real risk[s] to our communications infrastructure.”
Risk of backdoors in hardware
The security concerns surrounding Huawei and ZTE stem from reports that their equipment may contain a “backdoor” or other vulnerability allowing unauthorized access to the hardware or network function. This could give malicious actors greater control over the hardware, network function, or data, leading to a wide range of malicious activities on the Internet.
Backdoors in hardware are usually created as a hidden entry point for an attacker with privileged access. These backdoors can be used to gain unlawful access to data sent between devices and intercepted before it reaches its recipient. An attacker can also use backdoors in device firmware or operating systems for purposes such as espionage by wiretapping communications, bypassing firewalls and tracing network traffic without leaving any traces of their activity. Many governments have raised suspicions about Huawei and ZTE’s products because of this risk of backdoors in their hardware.
In 2019, the US Federal Communications Commission (FCC) began banning US telcos from using government subsidies to purchase devices manufactured by securing companies like Huawei and ZTE due to fears of potential security threats posed by these companies’ equipment. Additionally, many European countries such as the UK warn businesses against purchasing items made by these two companies due to concerns over espionage activities conducted via backdoors placed in the devices’ hardware or software.
Involvement in Chinese government activities
The widespread security concerns surrounding Chinese telecoms Huawei and ZTE have led to a bigger push from the US Federal Communications Commission (FCC) to ban the companies from participating in US government business.
Huawei and ZTE have been accused of close ties with the Chinese government, which could lead to potential risks for US citizens and companies. Specifically, it is feared that Beijing may direct these companies to serve as “back doors” into sensitive systems or even spy on Americans through personal devices such as cell phones. For example, it has been alleged that both Huawei and ZTE provided equipment that allowed the Chinese military to access confidential information stored on US computers.
The concerns stem from technical vulnerabilities associated with their equipment and the influence these companies may have within their own country’s governing political regime. It has been alleged that Huawei obtains technical assistance from China’s Armed forces while using investments from state banks to purchase American technology firms. Consequently, allowing their products to access American networks without proper authorization would be a major national security risk for the United States and its allies.
This resulted in an FCC order which states that no money can be used via federal subsidies—the Universal Service Fund—to purchase wireless equipment or services related to transitioning away from 2G networks as part of programs like Lifeline if those items come from Huawei or ZTE. The new order also limits FCC funding for copper-based communications facilities where Huawei- or ZTE-related gear already exists by preventing the affected parties from increasing speeds beyond what those components currently support if they wish for more subsidy money.
U.S. Government Response
The United States government has raised serious national security concerns about the potential use of the equipment and services provided by Huawei and ZTE. As a result, the FCC has taken steps to address the threat posed by these companies, by proposing a ban on them engaging in any business with the U.S. government or any of their contractors.
In this section, we will explore the response of the U.S. government to the security risks posed by Chinese telecommunications companies, and the implications of this ban.
Huawei, ZTE targeted in wider FCC ban
In 2019, the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) voted to approve banning most U.S. federal money from being used to purchase equipment or services from Huawei and ZTE, two Chinese companies. The ban was part of the “Secure and Trusted Communications Networks Act of 2019” aimed at strengthening security while protecting consumer privacy.
The FCC alleged that Huawei and ZTE were companies with ties to the Chinese Communist Party that posed a security risk to U.S. networks. In addition, the FCC argued that equipment made by these firms could present an opportunity for interception or spying, such as data-gathering in foreign intelligence operations. There was also concern that these firms had enabled repressive regimes in China and other states by providing them with surveillance technologies.
The FCC’s new rule further prohibits U.S.-funded carriers from using any equipment produced by Huawei or ZTE and any software or components produced by either firm in combination with any other piece of hardware or software provided by these firms. This move is another step towards ensuring American national security in the face of rising cybersecurity threats from foreign adversaries worldwide.
U.S. restrictions on government use of Huawei and ZTE
In 2018, the U.S. government restricted the use of products from Chinese telecom firms Huawei and ZTE in their networks and those of contractors. In addition, the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) voted unanimously for a measure that will make it harder for U.S. firms and others to buy, finance or otherwise support equipment made by the two companies, citing national security and cybersecurity risks posed by using their products.
The FCC ruling states that U.S. government funds should not be used to buy any goods or services from Huawei or ZTE, or be used to subsidize their products directly or indirectly, over security concerns of espionage and cyber-attacks coming from the Chinese government. The new rules applies not just to government agencies but also operators that manage federal contracts; companies like AT&T, Verizon Wireless and Sprint are now banned from using USF funds to purchase equipment manufactured by either company for their public safety communication networks – as well as anyone who does business with them as a subcontractor on behalf of a federally funded program such as rural internet connectivity programs.
Moreover, this ban is being extended beyond mobile telecommunication systems —for example medical devices — making it harder for Chinese tech products to gain traction in certain types of sectors due to these added restrictions on use in federal networks in the US market which would affect even enterprises not connected with public safety communications sectors when trading with either company’s goods related or unrelated IT services or hardware product lines.
In response to the presence of Huawei and ZTE in the US, many countries have taken stronger actions against the companies, citing security concerns. The US has largely led this response and the FCC has just recently announced that they are now moving to ban all products from the two companies.
Let’s examine how other countries have responded to this news.
UK’s response to Huawei and ZTE
The UK has cautiously but publicly voiced its position on the Huawei and ZTE security concerns raised by the US. In 2019, the UK’s National Cyber Security Centre (NCSC) released a set of guidelines for telecom companies that helped inform their decisions around introducing new suppliers into their networks. The NCSC noted that companies “need to be able to identify managed services they are buying and assess risk accordingly” and that it was “important to be clear up front on business roles and responsibilities to mitigate potential risks”.
In 2020, the British government ran a review of telecom operations which led them to issue guidance as part of their National Security Council’s new Telecoms Security Strategy Group, recommending that mobile operators stop buying equipment from Huawei by 2021, in line with US policy. Subsequently a few weeks later, the UK’s authority for digital infrastructure (Ofcom) granted permission for Vodafone to purchase 5G radio equipment from both Huawei and Ericsson along with Nokia – however this move was made subject stringent monitoring requirements from Ofcom.
The European Union also announced recently that it would continue using 5G equipment from Chinese tech giants due to competitive prices and pressing needs for coverage. However this move is also subject stringent monitoring requirements.
European Union’s response to Huawei and ZTE
The European Union (EU) has responded to the growing concern over Huawei and ZTE by stressing the need for more rigorous assessment of networking equipment across its member states. In March 2019, the European Parliament proposed a set of security requirements for 5G networks, including seven principles for safe and secure communication systems. These principles called for independent evaluation of suppliers, avoiding single points of failure, security testing for purchases, verification of hardware and software authenticity and integrity, and independent auditing following installation.
At a meeting in April 2019 between senior Huawei officials and EU Digital Commissioner Mariya Gabriel from Bulgaria, Gabriel reiterated these principles as essential requirements for any vendor selling 5G network components to an EU member state. She encouraged Huawei to continue cooperating with Brussels to ensure its products meet their standards.
In early 2020, the European Commission released recommendations on 5G security advising EU member states to identify Chinese telecom equipment vendors with “high risk”. The recommendations included measures such as increased cybersecurity testing before product deployment, support of local authorities in conducting best practice research on this type of technology and enhanced monitoring throughout its lifecycle. The Commission also warned that vendors like Huawei or ZTE could gain “undue influence” through supplying critical network elements if they became too dominant in parts of Europe’s infrastructure supply chain. Ultimately, it underscores the need for EU countries to maintain open networks that give access to existing market competitors. This would reduce information asymmetries leading to potential malpractice or foreign influence within Europe’s telecommunications sector.
In conclusion, the concerns raised by the FCC over security threats posed by Huawei and ZTE have been well-founded and widely accepted. The concerns have been raised not only concerning domestic telecommunications systems, but also concerning partnered international networks. Regulators worldwide have held tough standards against Huawei and ZTE products, making clear that their use can pose an unacceptable risk to data security. The FCC’s proactive decision to impose a blanket ban on these companies’ technologies warns other nations not to overlook the potential threats posed by these companies’ involvement in 5G technology, especially where sensitive infrastructure is at stake.
As the world races to adapt 5G-focused plans, adequate security measures must be put into place before companies such as Huawei and ZTE are allowed access.