Huawei controversies timeline

Huawei controversies timeline

America's accusatory tone against Huawei is nothing new - read on for our extensive list of controversies pinned to the company

Credit: Martyn Williams

Chinese telecommunications and consumer electronics manufacturer Huawei has found itself at the centre of a long list of controversies in recent months. Far and away the leader in 5G network infrastructure, the company's business units have performed spectacularly, but as America continues to pursue bellicose trade policies with China, the firm's relationship with Europe and the countries in the 'Five Eyes' alliance with the USA - Britain, Canada, New Zealand, and Australia - has been strained.

Are the latest accusations warranted - or fair? See our extensive timeline below for the long list of controversies pinned on the company.


December - Indian security services accuse Huawei of aiding Taliban

As far as we can tell, this is the most prominent early example of security fears levied at the country. Reports from India's intelligence agencies, said EETimes, led to the placing of Huawei's India operations on a watch list for "alleged business dealings with the Taliban, Pakistan and Iraq".

At the time, the Cabinet Committee on Security in India was considering whether or not to deport 178 Chinese engineers working at the Bangalore R&D centre.

The accusations were described by a spokesperson as untrue and that the company's global business "is in compliance with the United Nations' standards and regulations".


January - Cisco sues Huawei

While not overtly a national security issue, Cisco filed a lawsuit against Huawei alleging that the latter had unlawfully copied intellectual property from the American networking infrastructure firm. It said this related to the unlawful copying of Cisco IOS software, which included source code, as well as documentation and other materials, plus infringements of Cisco patents.

Mark Chandler, general counsel at the time for Cisco, said then: "Huawei has unlawfully copied Cisco's intellectual property and refused Cisco's numerous attempts to resolve these issues. As a result, Cisco has no choice but to protect its technology and the interests of its shareholders through legal action."

However, according to NetworkWorld, a spokesperson for Huawei rebuked that it had "always respected intellectual property rights" and had "attached importance to safeguarding its own property rights".

The lawsuit was settled out of court in 2014, in exchange for a promise from Huawei to modify its product, the Register reported at the time.

While Cisco reported this as a "victory for the protection of intellectual property rights", Huawei claimed that it meant Cisco "cannot bring another lawsuit against Huawei in the future asserting the same or substantially similar claims," as the American courts had dismissed Cisco's claim "with prejudice" after a third-party review.

Huawei did say that an employee had inadvertently used two percent of the 1.5 million lines of copied code that Cisco had alleged, but that it was provided by someone who wasn't a Cisco or a Huawei employee - and was instead on a disk passed from one Huawei to another, CNET reported.


August - Marconi under fire for Huawei, ZTE talks

Beleaguered British manufacturing firm Marconi, which before its collapse in 2006 still employed thousands of people in the UK, was in talks with Huawei as well as rival manufacturer ZTE for "potential business combinations".

Peter Skyte, national officer for the now-defunct Amicus trade union, suggested at the time that if Marconi was to be sold "whether it is to the Chinese or someone else" that the union would "expect the government to look very closely at that under the mergers and acquisitions framework. Despite its troubles it's still a key company in terms of research and development in the UK."

Ultimately financial difficulties led to the collapse of Marconi in 2006, when much of the business was sold to the Swedish telco infrastructure company Ericsson.


October - Bush administration warned on Huawei-3Com deal

Following a joint venture between Cisco rival 3Com and Huawei in China called H3C Technology, Bain Capital agreed to buy 3Com in its entirety for more than $2 billion with minority equity financing from Huawei in 2007, translating to a 16.5 percent stake in the overall business.

It was this that prompted US lawmakers to complain to George H W Bush that the deal should not be approved by the Committee on Foreign Investment in the United States, which is an inter-agency panel that examines contracts with non-US companies.

According to Reuters, Florida Republican representative Ileana Ros-Lehtinen led the calls. She said it would "be a grave error for US regulators to approve a deal that permits minority ownership in 3Com by one of the least transparent companies operating in China, a firm with shadowy ties to Chinese army and intelligence services."

The deal failed, with Hewlett Packard ultimately picking up 3Com in late 2009.


March - UK government warned over BT 21CN network

Alex Allan, who was chairman of the Joint Intelligence Committee, told then-home secretary Jacqui Smith that the steps BT had taken to secure its network for the 21CN network transformation rollout in Britain might not have been adequate.

Ministers heard that Britain hadn't paid "sufficient attention to the threat [from Huawei] in the past," the Register said, and that GCHQ had also warned that the network would have been open for the targeting of attacks from China.

Officials in Britain noted that the risk was low, but that the impact of such an attack would be high.


October - Former GCHQ boss joins Huawei

Andrew Hopkins, now an independent consultancy owner but previously a deputy director at GCHQ, joined Huawei in 2010 and was based at the centre in Banbury.

The Sunday Times noted that he was once head of engineering and procurement at GCHQ, having been around the intelligence world for 40 years.

December - Huawei opens infosec centre in Oxfordshire

In 2010 Huawei opened the Huawei Cyber Security Evaluation Centre (HCSEC) in Banbury, Oxfordshire. Nicknamed 'The Cell', it was to be overseen by CESG, part of GCHQ, to test Huawei products and equipment for security holes. A Huawei spokesperson told ZDNet UK at the time: "The aim of this security centre is to address growing concerns from organisations, and from governments generally, about the safety of cyberspace and the need for built-in network protection to help society and businesses withstand malicious attacks from the outside."

John Suffolk, who had previously held a high-ranking position in the civil service as the government's CIO, joined Huawei from the role to head up the firm's global cybersecurity efforts. He had been CIO and senior information risk owner since 2006, ComputerWeekly reported.

He had to consult former British prime minister David Cameron for clearance to join Huawei, which was approved. As part of the agreement Suffolk would have to steer clear of direct work with government for two years - which included lobbying and government endorsements.

Suffolk remains at Huawei.


March - Huawei banned from Australia's National Broadband Network

A report from the Australian Financial Review revealed that Huawei had been banned from participating in Australia's National Broadband Network, citing security concerns.

Although Huawei had worked to create an oversight board to examine its equipment - with former foreign minister Alexander Downer leading the effort - the company was nevertheless blocked.

Downer said that the "whole concept of Huawei being involved in cyber warfare is based on the company being Chinese" and said that the scandal was "ridiculous".

September - David Cameron brokers £1.3bn UK investment deal with Huawei

David Cameron and Huawei founder Ren Zhengfei met to confirm a £1.3 billion investment in Britain including research and development spend and its employee headcount. The meeting saw Huawei mark £650 million for operations work in the UK, and £650 million for procurement in the five years to follow, Silicon UK reported.

Cameron said at the time that the investment "demonstrates once again that the UK is open for business" and that Britain valued the "important relationship with China".

"Both countries have much to offer each other and the business environment we are creating in the UK allows us to maximise this potential," he said.

Ren Zhengfei said: "The UK is one of the most important European markets in which Huawei has invested. Over the past 11 years we have found its government to be transparent, efficient and practical. The UK is an open market, which welcomes overseas investment."

While this was by no means Huawei's first major investment in the UK, it cemented future investment patterns before the latest controversies erupted.

October - lawmakers seek Huawei, ZTE ban

A US House of Representatives Intelligence Committee report (PDF) warned of the potential for state influence threats from both Huawei and ZTE. The report followed, said Reuters, an 11-month investigation.

In a press conference, the chairman of the committee, Mike Rogers, said that they had received allegations of strange behaviour from using equipment from Huawei and ZTE, including sending packets of data to China overnight. The report authors suggested to the Committee on Foreign Investment in the United States that contracts with Huawei or ZTE were to be blocked.


March - US carriers agree to block Huawei deals

Before Sprint Nextel was acquired by Japanese conglomerate SoftBank, the two entities agreed not to use technology from Huawei.

Michigan Republican Mike Rogers, said: "I am pleased with their mitigation plans, but will continue to look for opportunities to improve the government's existing authorities to thoroughly review all the national security aspects of proposed transactions."

April - Eric Xu: Huawei no longer interested in US market

Eric Xu, who is now one of three rotating chairmen of the company retorted in an analyst call that Huawei is no longer interested in the US market. It followed statements from telcos like Sprint Nextel, as well as the Japanese conglomerate Softbank that acquired Sprint Nextel, that they wouldn't use Huawei technology.

July - UK finds Huawei staff auditing equipment instead of government's

Led by Malcolm Rifkind, a report from Parliament's Intelligence and Security Committee called Foreign Involvement in the Critical National Infrastructure found that it was Huawei staff who were scrutinising the company's technology for security holes rather than GCHQ.

July - Former CIA head Michael Hayden slams Huawei

Speaking with the Australia Financial View, Hayden, who had previously headed both the CIA and the NSA, described Huawei as an "unambiguous national security threat to the US and Australia".

He said that when Huawei was attempting to enter the American market, they were courting figures such as Hayden.

"I reviewed Huawei's briefing paper," Hayden said. "But God did not make enough slides on Huawei to convince me that having them involved in our critical communications infrastructure was going to be OK."

October - Australia commits to continuing Huawei broadband ban

Tony Abbott's incoming Conservative government confirmed that Huawei would not be an option for Australia's national broadband network, based on advice from its security agencies. Labor had previously banned Huawei from the National Broadband Network, also based on advice from intelligence.

December - David Cameron defends Huawei investment

Following American senators once again insisting that Huawei equipment posed a security risk, David Cameron defended the earlier UK-Huawei £1.3 billion deal. He said that Britain had a "proper system in the UK for examining whether investments in the UK are pro-competitive and whether they're in the national interest".

"We also have a very good way of defending ourselves in terms of cybersecurity," he added. "I think we're one of the most advanced countries in the world in terms of the action we're taking on cybersecurity, and I've made sure we've put extra money into it."

However, Cameron's government did commit to further security checks at the Huawei security centre in Banbury.


Oversight board created for The Cell in Banbury

Following the 2013 Intelligence and Security Committee report, Britain created a new board that would oversee the scrutinising of Huawei equipment for security holes, staffed by experts from Vodafone, Huawei, and BT, and chaired by Ciaran Martin, director general for cybersecurity at GCHQ.


March - The Cell finds Huawei code is better, but has room for improvement

The first annual report from the Cell with the newly created oversight board found at the time that although code quality had improved, it was below industry standards.

Critically, it concluded that there was no evidence Huawei presented "any risk to the UK's national security," as ComputerWeekly wrote, and no evidence of espionage.

An important fact to note here is that these observations were made after Huawei had given the entirety of its source code over to the info security experts at GCHQ.


August - Huawei beats other device vendors on security patching - report

Despite the long list of controversies and fears - Huawei performed remarkably well on security patching tests, when compared to other Android vendors such as Samsung and its other competitors.

As CSO reported, although Samsung accounted for 62 percent of all Android devices, only 15 percent of phones were patched to the latest security standards, according to a report from Duo Labs.

In contrast, 77 percent of Huawei phones that were able to run the latest security updates were running the most recent patches.

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