The NSA hacked the blazes out of Huawei, according to the latest story to be plucked from Edward Snowden’s bag of secrets. The New York Times and Der Spiegel reported on Saturday that the Chinese telecoms equipment firm was targeted in 2009 via a program called “Shotgiant”, and also that the NSA spied on the Chinese government and other companies there.
The Huawei hackery, which netted the company’s source code for multiple products, is a bit awkward when you consider how Huawei has been blackballed in the U.S. due to its supposed links to the Chinese military. According to the weekend reports, there’s no indication of whether the NSA found any Chinese backdoors in Huawei’s gear, but the U.S. agency was itself trying to find out how it could exploit the equipment to spy on end users.
It was also stealing lists of customers and various other internal documents. Previous Snowden documents have shown how the NSA had backdoors for unspecified Huawei routers, with the codename HEADWATER, for use by the NSA and CIA.
Huawei kit may be off the menu in the U.S. and Australia, but it’s readily consumed elsewhere, providing stiff competition for the U.S. networking firm Cisco and Sweden’s Ericsson. The U.K. is a particularly keen customer – BT runs loads of Huawei equipment all the way into people’s living rooms.
GCHQ, the British equivalent to the NSA and a close partner to the American signals intelligence agency, has a special facility for testing Huawei equipment, to make sure it isn’t quietly offering access of some kind to Chinese spies and hackers. That said, GCHQ allowed “The Cell” to be staffed by Huawei employees, so it may not be the most effective setup.
Apart from the Huawei stuff, Saturday’s reports show the NSA spying on former Chinese President Hu Jintao, the country’s trade ministry, banks, telecoms firms – and Chinese hacking groups. These groups have apparently been hacking into U.S. government networks, as well as those of Google and drone and nuke manufacturers, according to the NYT’s sources in the intelligence community.
In other words, the U.S. and China are hacking each other with a degree of symmetry, and the moral high ground is vacant as always. And Huawei, which has repeatedly denied presenting a security risk, is apparently providing attack vectors for the Americans and perhaps the Chinese too.