In less than a year in the eyes of the West, Huawei has turned from tech innovator into Beijing’s top spy. But it seems it’s not the same for everyone, as WhatsApp, recently caught in a hacking scandal, has nothing to worry about.
“No spying, no back doors,” promised Liang Hua, Huawei’s chairman during his visit to London on Tuesday where he tried to reassure European partners that Huawei doesn’t plan to snoop on them. In evidence Liang said the Chinese high-tech giant was ready to sign a “no-spy agreement” with the British government.
While Brits are weighing all the pros and cons of the possibility of future surveillance by Beijing, neither they nor other foreign politicians seem overly concerned about a snooping act which did actually happen. An unknown number of phones were attacked via a vulnerability in the popular American messaging app WhatsApp with spyware developed by the state-linked, secretive Israeli company, NSO Group.
The malware which hit WhatsApp could reportedly infect a device via a mere phone call – and the victim of the attack would not even have to answer the call. It is not even a new virus – international human rights organizations have already warned about the software being used to target activists, lawyers and journalists.
Meanwhile, accusations against Huawei are based on reported backdoors discovered by Italian Vodafone in Chinese equipment back in 2011 where the issue was resolved. But Huawei, it’s been alleged, has more of those backdoors elsewhere.
What is more concerning for the White House: Huawei’s spying capabilities or the fact that the company has quickly become one of the biggest players on European and international telecommunication markets? In an apparent answer to the question, President Donald Trump said “the race to 5G is the race America must win.” But not according to an unknown senior National Security Council official, who wrote “we are losing” in a memo leaked last year.
Amid the new hacking scandal does anyone call to ban WhatsApp, impose sanctions on Israel and schedule Congress hearings on national security? Not really, but Washington is still preoccupied with security – lawmakers are drafting a new act which would bar US companies from using telecommunications equipment made by firms posing a national security risk. Basically that would mean a ban on doing business with Huawei.
In the end, it was enough for WhatsApp to ask its 1.5 billion users to update the software for the story to disappear from headlines. And Huawei? Well, the company might have to build its chip research and development factory in the UK to regain the West’s trust.
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