British telecoms company Vodafone discovered hidden backdoors in its Huawei-supplied equipment that could have allowed the Chinese company access to Vodafone’s fixed-line networks in Italy.
According to a report from Bloomberg, the vulnerabilities were first discovered in 2009, after which Vodafone claims it asked Huawei to remove such backdoors from its systems. Vodafone undertook more tests in 2011, which found similar vulnerabilities still existed. Despite this, Vodafone continued to use Huawei’s services, because — as per Bloomberg’s report — the Chinese company’s services were competitive with other such suppliers.
The findings will come as a source of vindication to some. Many western governments have long harbored suspicions about the relationship between Huawei and the Chinese government. Opponents of the Chinese company fear Huawei would install backdoors in equipment that could be used by the Chinese government to access confidential information. These suspicions led to the U.S. government’s ban on Huawei equipment in federal agencies, and the reticence of the British government to allow Huawei to supply core parts for the United Kingdom’s 5G network. However, until this revelation, there had been no “smoking gun” to indicate this might be the case.
It’s important to note Vodafone has downplayed the significance of these backdoors, telling Bloomberg that such vulnerabilities are not uncommon. However, Bloomberg is cynical of Vodafone’s comments, pointing out Vodafone and other carriers have a financial interest in ensuring the equipment market is not monopolized by North American and European suppliers. In short, Huawei’s and other Chinese companies presence in the market helps to keep costs down.
However, even though this has been referred to as a smoking gun, it’s unlikely this report will change much. As Vodafone rightly points out, such vulnerabilities are not uncommon, and this common fact of life may have been blown out of proportion by the continued controversy surrounding Huawei.
But you can be absolutely sure that this incident will be used against Huawei by its opponents. While on the other end of the scale, it’s unlikely to put seasoned Huawei users off. Instead, Huawei-lovers are probably having too much fun with the recently released Huawei P30 Pro, which looks set to be one of the best phones of the year.
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