Huawei Security Head says 'All Governments Hack'

By Peter Bernstein May 29, 2013

It seems that every day there are new revelations about significant cyber attacks that impact national security where the trail leads back to China. Just this past week saw the revelation that Chinese hackers gained access to secret designs of key U.S. weapons systems, and stole the blueprints for Australia's new intelligence agency headquarters. This follows on the U.S. Intellectual Property (IP) Commission report that China is the main source of IP theft and that the Indian government is investigating Huawei because of security concerns.

One would have thought that, given all of the scrutiny the international community has placed on Chinese cyber threats of all types, and in particular the activities of Huawei (which has close ties to the Chinese government’s intelligence community), that Chinese officials and company spokespeople would be taking a low profile. Such is not the case at least when it comes to Huawei.

In what can only be considered an unusual observation, John Suffolk, a former chief information officer with the British government who now heads security operations at Huawei, told the Australian Financial Review, “Governments have always done that…harsh reality is every government around the world has a similar strap-line for their security agencies."

Suffolk did not stop there. He went on to say, "Some people say that spying is the second-oldest profession, where people have tried to get information off us for somebody else, so I don't think anyone is surprised that any government around the world is trying to find out what other governments around the world are doing.” He added, "Governments have to really focus on what quiet steps they're going to take, accepting no government will really trust 100 percent another government, regardless of the laws, the policies and procedures."

The fact that Suffolk was willing to go on the record with such remarks is more than a bit astounding, even if what he said is something that those in the spy business take for granted. His timing is, to say the least, poor. 

U.S. officials have confirmed a story in the Washington Post that Chinese hackers had breached networks containing weapons designs, and the Australian Broadcasting Corporation (ABC) is sticking by its story this past week that documents taken in a cyber hit on Australia spy headquarters were compromised by Chinese hackers. The Chinese government so far has not commented on the U.S. allegations and has called the ABC accusations “groundless.”

Huawei, as pointed out in previous articles, has been a lightening rod in the business community because of suspicions about its cozy relationship with China’s intelligence community. Not only is the Indian government on edge, but the U.S. Congress has expressed concerns about the company being used for spying, which led Huawei to cast doubt on how active it would be going forward in pursuing business opportunities in the U.S. In fact, Congress requested that Huawei be excluded from government contracts and acquisitions, and Australia has barred the company from participating in its new national broadband network.

For his part, Suffolk said Huawei was a "piggy in the middle" of the dispute between China and the U.S. While a colorful description, it is hard to imagine such remarks are going to make policy makers around the world feel more comfortable about Huawei’s activities.

Edited by Alisen Downey
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