Though the company is coming off of its best year ever in most of the world, Huawei cyber security is set for a big boost in 2019 and may end up becoming the company’s central focus going forward. Much of this is due to concerns in Western countries about the security of their hardware.
China’s Huawei has had a fraught relationship with both the United States government and major US telecoms ever since it began expanding into overseas markets in the early 2000s. The company endured multiple accusations of intellectual property theft, including a 2014 incident in which T-Mobile claimed that Huawei employees physically removed parts of a testing robot from one of its labs.
These controversies did little to slow the company’s phenomenal growth, however, which saw it pass Apple to become the world’s second-largest smartphone manufacturer in 2018 and the biggest of the Chinese telecoms. That is, until the accusations of espionage began.
Huawei took a heavy blow in mid-2018 when the Trump administration approved a ban on the use of all Huawei and ZTE products by government entities and their contractors. Earlier in the year, AT&T abruptly pulled out of a deal to distribute their smartphones in the US – largely thanks to government pressure. And to the north in Vancouver, chief financial officer Meng Wanzhou remains in the custody of Canada after her arrest at the request of the United States.
Huawei has denied allegations that it participates in espionage on behalf of the Chinese government. However, whether or not these allegations are true, they have created public relations problems for the company in the West. In response, Huawei cyber security will undergo major reforms as part of a $2 billion effort to revamp software source code for greater transparency.
The Huawei cyber security pledge
Huawei cyber security efforts in 2019 will focus on two central areas: software engineering and the way in which hardware is deployed.
Huawei’s present software system is basically “out of the box” for any end user, with the company only making information security changes upon specific request from government agencies. Huawei has yet to make a public statement on exactly what their new approach will be, but is slated to deliver a report to the British National Cyber Security Centre (BNCSC) sometime soon before releasing information to the public. This move was in response to a BNCSN threat to exclude Huawei entirely from the United Kingdom’s 5G network should they not respond to a list of specific national security concerns.
The hardware issue concerns Huawei’s network. Huawei cyber security is such a concern because the majority of traffic on their networks in many Western countries ends up passing through Huawei equipment that governments do not have oversight of or access to. More details on Huawei’s cyber security strategy for 2019 are also forthcoming after their meeting with the BNCSN, but it is safe to presume that they will increase government access to more of this hardware.
It is unclear if the new Huawei cyber security approach will address United States concerns. The company appeared to concede that territory in April of 2018, when it issued a statement indicating that they would “focus on existing markets” going forward.
Huawei founder Ren Zhengfei also signaled commitment to this new direction for the company in an internal letter in early January. The letter stressed the importance of the company’s credibility to the future of its business.