Why did the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) formally bar China's Huawei from the U.S. telecom supply chain and 5G buildouts back in 2020?
At first glance, the answer involved vague U.S. claims that Huawei was a surveillance apparatus of the Chinese government, reinforced by a 2017 Chinese law mandating citizens disclose sensitive information to the government.
But take a closer look, and perhaps the FCC's decision to ban Huawei equipment involved a hack on the other side of the globe.
Indeed, a little known breach by Huawei into an Australian telecom company conducted nearly a decade ago used a malware-laded software patch to infiltrate the carrier’s networks, according to a new Bloomberg report. The malicious code, which reportedly scrubbed itself from systems after a few days, worked like a digital wiretap, transmitting information back to China.
Australia’s discovery, which was communicated privately to world leaders, cemented suspicions that China used Huawei equipment in spying operations, Bloomberg reported. And, it “helps clarify previously opaque security concerns driving a battle over who will build 5G networks,” the news service said.
Which Australia Telecom Provider Was Allegedly Hacked by Huawei?
American intelligence officials subsequently confirmed that some of Huawei’s equipment located in the U.S. had been used by China in a similar attack, according to national security officials. Mike Rogers, the former chair of the House intelligence committee from 2011 to 2015, told Bloomberg that the federal bans on Huawei originated from Australia’s evidence of telecom tampering.
For the most part, the identity of the telecom hit by the cyberattack has been kept under wraps. However, a former senior U.S. intelligence official and a former Australian telecommunications executive told Bloomberg that Singtel Optus Pty Limited (known as Optus) headquartered in Macquarie Park, New South Wales, Australia was victimized in the intrusion. Optus is Australia’s second largest mobile carrier.
Bloomberg acknowledged that it had not unearthed proof that Huawei's leadership knew of the infected patches. Along those lines, John Suffolk, Huawei’s global cybersecurity officer, told the news outlet that Huawei considers the possibility of its workers being compromised a “valid threat” and takes steps to protect against it, including restricting access to source code and using “tamper-proofing mechanisms” to guard against abuse.
Additional Global Security Concerns
Concern over the security of Huawei’s technology hasn’t been confined to the U.S. and Australia. Similar worries and actions have taken root in the U.K., Canada, Germany and Sweden. In addition, some 60 countries have endorsed a U.S. State Department program pledging not to use Chinese equipment in their telecommunications systems.
According to Bloomberg, in 2012, Optus chose Huawei to supply equipment for part of its 4G network. Five years earlier, Optus approved Huawei to work on the build out its 3G network.