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Vodafone found Huawei backdoors in equipment

Manny Pham
April 30, 2019

Backdoors were found in home internet routers and fixed-line networks in Italy

Vodafone confirmed it found Huawei backdoors 10 years ago in equipment that could give the vendor access to millions of homes in Italy, according to a report.

This was according to Bloomberg citing briefing documents between 2009 and 2011, and sources close to the matter.

The backdoors were found in Vodafone Italy’s fixed-line network, on the optical service nodes, which are responsible for transporting internet traffic over fibre cables and the authentication of subscribers.

Europe’s largest operator also found backdoors found in internet routers, which Huawei then removed and reassured issues were resolved. However, further testing from Vodafone found security vulnerabilities remained, according to the documents.

Backdoors in cybersecurity allows the bypassing of security protocols resulting in access to computers and encrypted data. They are commonly placed to allow easier access for developers to manage equipment, but can also be taken advantage of by hackers.

However, Vodafone has refuted the Bloomberg report stating that Huawei could not have gained access to its fixed-line network.

A Vodafone spokesperson said: “The ”backdoor” that Bloomberg refers to is Telnet, which is a protocol that is commonly used by many vendors in the industry for performing diagnostic functions. It would not have been accessible from the internet.

“We have no evidence of any unauthorised access. This was nothing more than a failure to remove a diagnostic function after development.

“The issues were identified by independent security testing, initiated by Vodafone as part of our routine security measures, and fixed at the time by Huawei.

Huawei said the original report was “misleading” and strongly denied it had cyber backdoor access to millions of homes in Italy.

A spokesperson added: “It refers to a maintenance and diagnostic function, common across the industry, as well as vulnerabilities, which were corrected over seven years ago. There is absolutely no truth in the suggestion that Huawei conceals backdoors in its equipment.”

US vs Huawei
The US government has argued such backdoors allow the Chinese government the ability to spy on Western nations and have labelled the world’s largest telecoms equipment maker an “untrusted vendor”. Currently the US is rallying ally nations to not use Huawei gear in 5G networks.

A leak last week revealed the UK government will allow Huawei to bid to build non-core parts of networks. The US is threatening it could pull out intelligence support to Western allies that use Huawei equipment.

Huawei founder and CEO Ren Zhengfei vehemently denied earlier this year, that Huawei collaborated with the Chinese government for espionage or that he would allow such actions.

A full-scale ban of Huawei equipment could delay the UK’s 5G launch by two years according to Vodafone UK chief technology officer Scott Petty.

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