Huawei's NSA Schadenfreude isn't Silicon Valley Corruption

By Doug Mohney December 31, 2013

Schadenfreude - a feeling of enjoyment that comes from seeing or hearing about the troubles of other people. (Merriam-Webster.com)

Edward Snowden will never have to pick up the tab if he goes partying with Huawei. 

The telecommunications equipment manufacturer has long been the target of suspicion for its suspected ties to the Chinese government and accusations of backdoors in Huawei network equipment. Members of Congress have hit the panic button when it came to Huawei's purchase of 3Com back in 2008.  U.S. telecommunications providers have been dissuaded from purchasing Huawei equipment for fear that China would have a direct line into America's phone networks.

Snowden's continued revelations about the National Security Agency's (NSA) penetration into the world's communications infrastructure have to be a source of schadenfreude for Huawei. Der Spiegel's article this week about a 2008 NSA 50 page "catalog" of technologies designed to penetrate Cisco, Juniper Networks and, yes, even Huawei equipment, including various makes and models of firewalls and routers. 

In hindsight, it appears part of the case against Huawei was built upon NSA's own catalog of expertise in penetrating U.S. and internationally produced telecommunications equipment. We cannot be sure what was said behind closed doors between members of Congress and the U.S. intelligence community,  but it probably went something along the lines of "We know with certainty Huawei equipment is compromised."  If the NSA managed to break into Huawei systems without (or with) access to source code, it would not be unreasonable to assume that the Chinese government could do the same -- if not better -- with access to the original designers of the devices.

While Huawei gets a good laugh and Snowden will never have to pay for a drink or meal if he visits Shenzhen, it doesn't change the fact that Huawei's equipment has been compromised. I suppose there's some warm-fuzzy in there that it was clearly compromised by the NSA, but that has to be balanced off by adding on the list of practically every brand-name vendor plugged into every network around the globe.

The latest angst out of Silicon Valley is how it has been "harmed" by the NSA's activities.  I don't know if to laugh or cry at these assertions.   At the beginning of the day, the unspoken truth is we -- the U.S. citizenry at large -- want to know our government could break into any system, any box, any server it needed to in order to ensure our safety.  We do not want that power turned upon us in an Orwellian fashion, but we want to have the electronic Big Stick available to protect our lives and homeland.

It also has been an unspoken truth that other countries suspected  -- and perhaps expected -- that the U.S. would have some means of access into U.S. made equipment. U.S. CALEA legal wiretapping requirements  have been around for decades, with the FBI constantly pushing for more and easier access to data.  It would stand to reason that the NSA would want equal or better access, even if such desires weren't spoken in public.

At the end of the day, telecommunications service providers are still going to have to buy routers and firewalls and all the other bits and pieces to operate their networks. Assuming U.S. telecom products are less trustworthy than that made by Ericsson or Huawei or any other non-U.S. company doesn't fly because everyone's been compromised.

About the winner in this mess is open source. Companies that have open source products tested by the community at large demonstrate they literally have nothing to hide.  The software-defined network (SDN) community might be a winner if OpenFlow solutions are also open source, available for inspection and improvement by the world at large.




Edited by Cassandra Tucker

Contributing Editor

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