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Wednesday, 26 June 2019 10:22

Huawei gear more vulnerable than that of rivals: claim

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Huawei gear more vulnerable than that of rivals: claim Pixabay

A hitherto unheard of company, Finite State, has claimed that telecommunications products made by Chinese equipment vendor Huawei Technologies are more likely to contain flaws that could be used for malicious activity than gear made by its rivals.

The rivals in question are Juniper and Arista. Not, as one would think, Ericsson and Nokia.

This is from a report in The Wall Street Journal. But some serious questions hang over it and it looks like the kind of propaganda which is common in US mainstream media when an agenda needs to be pushed. At the moment it is the question of Huawei's security credentials; the next US-China summit is a few days away and every little bit of pressure helps.

On Tuesday, the US/Israel security firm Cybereason claimed that numerous telcos had been breached by a group known as APT10, which it said was tied to China. Coverage of that report was questioned too.

Finite State is two years old. Its report — not even the title is cited — has only been shown to select entities. The firm has no media contacts listed and has no way of being contacted apart from a web form meant for those who want to make business inquiries. There is no phone number for the company on the site either.

The company's chief executive Matt Wyckhouse says in the WSJ report that the security report was done pro-bono and that the best way to inform policy makers of these issues is to make them public. But the company's website has no copy of this "research" for public examination.

The report says Wyckhouse plans to publish it this week. That's akin to putting the cart before the horse, but I'll let it pass. And his aim? "We want 5G to be secure." Noble, indeed. Certainly not to meant to drum up business by approaching the WSJ, then.

The WSJ claims that "cyber security experts" from the company have made the claims and "top US officials" say they appear credible. Those top officials are unnamed White House officials, Christopher Krebs of the US Department of Homeland Security, Michael Wessel of the US-China Economic and Security Review Commission, a committee that advises Congress, and Republican Representative Mike Gallagher. That is indeed a non-partisan bunch who can be relied on to give an unbiased verdict.

It is not stated whether either of the WSJ reporters, whose bylines appear on this piece, has the technical qualifications to evaluate a report that makes the claims it does. It was not shown to any third-party security expert either.

To quote the WSJ: "Finite State said it used proprietary, automated systems to analyse more than 1.5 million unique files embedded within nearly 10,000 firmware images supporting 558 products within Huawei’s enterprise-networking product lines." What products we do not know.

To add to its credibility, the WSJ report says unnamed sources found that the Finite report "broadly aligned" with a report from the UK National Cyber Security Centre issued in March. Exactly what "broadly aligned" means we are not told.

To refresh public memory, iTWire reported that the British report in March found "concerning issues" in the company's approach to software development, significantly increasing risk to operators and needing ongoing management and mitigation.

But it said it was not part of its functions to advise UK telcos on their purchasing decisions and did not recommend a ban on the use of Huawei equipment. The report was issued by the Huawei Cyber Security Evaluation Centre Oversight Board.

Huawei was asked about this Finite State report – but not provided a complete copy to make a judgement. That, perhaps, says the most about this effort by the WSJ.

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Sam Varghese

Sam Varghese has been writing for iTWire since 2006, a year after the site came into existence. For nearly a decade thereafter, he wrote mostly about free and open source software, based on his own use of this genre of software. Since May 2016, he has been writing across many areas of technology. He has been a journalist for nearly 40 years in India (Indian Express and Deccan Herald), the UAE (Khaleej Times) and Australia (Daily Commercial News (now defunct) and The Age). His personal blog is titled Irregular Expression.

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