First on Cheddar: Huawei's Security Chief Denies Spying Allegations

January 7, 2019
Updated 1mo ago

By Carlo Versano

The head of security for Huawei, the embattled Chinese tech giant that has been accused of working as a front for Chinese intelligence services, told Cheddar's Hope King on Monday that "no government has ever asked us to spy" and that those accusations were part of a "drumbeat of anti-Huawei criticism."

Andy Purdy, the chief security officer for Huawei's U.S. business, said that efforts by American businesses and government agencies to block Huawei devices from their networks is not based on evidence that any Huawei phones are compromised, or that the company has given personal data to the Chinese government.

"Blocking Huawei is not going to make America or anybody else safer," said Purdy, a former federal cybersecurity official in the George W. Bush administration.

Huawei is actively looking to make its case to federal authorities and the public, Purdy said, a portion of which already relies heavily on Huawei devices. Purdy said that customers of the 30 to 40 "tier 3" carriers ー typically smaller, more rural telecom providers in places like Oregon and Idaho ー will suffer without access to its products.

"They can't get similar service for similar prices," he said.

Huawei owns about 28 percent of global market share for telecom equipment and overtook Apple ($AAPL) last year as the second largest shipper of smartphones. But as a leader in 5G technology, a foothold in the American market is critical. Its American business has become hamstrung by concerns about its ties to the Chinese government, leading federal agencies to ban the use of Huawei devices and some retailers like Best Buy declining to stock its products.

Tensions with the U.S. further escalated in December, when Huawei CFO Meng Wanzhou was arrested in Canada at the request of U.S. authorities. The U.S. has charged that Meng committed fraud by defying American sanctions on Iran. China has countered that the arrest was simply an example of the U.S. attempting to stifle growth at a tech powerhouse ー a company that happened to also be a point of national pride for China.

Since Meng's arrest, China has detained more than a dozen Canadians on various infractions, leading the U.S. State Department to issue a travel advisory for travelers to China, warning that "arbitrary enforcement of local laws" may put U.S. citizens at risk of being detained in an escalating tit-for-tat.

Purdy said only: "We have confidence that both the Canadian and U.S. legal systems will be fair and they'll be independent."

While denying that Huawei devices were specifically compromised, Purdy warned that all device makers are at risk of security issues, particularly given the diffused state of the supply chain.

"Five nations in the world can maliciously and virtually implant functionality in products on the global supply chain," he said, adding that Huawei is open to discussions with the U.S. government about how to best protect users of all devices.

"There are legitimate security concerns about the technology," he said. "We have to protect America from all the vendors' supply chain."

Despite the pinch from tariffs, the arrest of one of its high-profile executives, several national bans on its devices and a spreading concern among consumers that it is a backdoor for Chinese espionage, Huawei is entering 2019 with more than $100 billion in annual revenues. But concerns over security continue to dog the company ー it was most recently dropped by Japan's SoftBank and France's Orange ー and a sense that opportunities for Huawei to grow internationally are dwindling, despite its best efforts at saying otherwise.

"There is no major security incident involving Huawei anywhere," Purdy said. "We are trusted around the world."

For full interview click here.