Former Pentagon analyst: China has backdoors to 80% of telecoms

Former Pentagon analyst: China has backdoors to 80% of telecoms

Summary: A former Pentagon analyst reports the Chinese government has "pervasive access" to about 80 percent of the world's communications, and it is looking currently to nail down the remaining 20 percent. Chinese companies Huawei and ZTE Corporation are reportedly to blame for the industrial espionage.


Former Pentagon analyst: China has backdoors to 80% of telecoms
The Chinese government reportedly has "pervasive access" to some 80 percent of the world's communications, thanks to backdoors it has ordered to be installed in devices made by Huawei and ZTE Corporation. That's according to sources cited by Michael Maloof, a former senior security policy analyst in the Office of the Secretary of Defense, who now writes for WND:

In 2000, Huawei was virtually unknown outside China, but by 2009 it had grown to be one of the largest, second only to Ericsson.

As a consequence, sources say that any information traversing "any" Huawei equipped network isn't safe unless it has military encryption. One source warned, "even then, there is no doubt that the Chinese are working very hard to decipher anything encrypted that they intercept."

Sources add that most corporate telecommunications networks use "pretty light encryption" on their virtual private networks, or VPNs.

I found about Maloof's report via this week's edition of The CyberJungle podcast. Here's my rough transcription of what he says, at about 18 minutes and 30 seconds:

The Chinese government and the People's Liberation Army are so much into cyberwarfare now that they have looked at not just Huawei but also ZTE Corporation as providing through the equipment that they install in about 145 countries around in the world, and in 45 of the top 50 telecom centers around the world, the potential for backdooring into data. Proprietary information could be not only spied upon but also could be altered and in some cases could be sabotaged.

That's coming from technical experts who know Huawei, they know the company and they know the Chinese. Since that story came out I've done a subsequent one in which sources tell me that it's giving Chinese access to approximately 80 percent of the world telecoms and it's working on the other 20 percent now.

Even if you manage to avoid Chinese products (good luck!), your firm still isn't safe. That's because the electronic intrusions are supposedly done remotely through the use of the commercial networks set up by Huawei and ZTE that they have established in numerous countries. For example, companies communicating using VPNs with partner companies in countries where Huawei and ZTE have installed network equipment are potentially compromised, according to Maloof's sources.

Not only do Huawei and ZTE power telecom infrastructure all around the world, but they're still growing. The two firms are the main beneficiaries for vtelecommunication projects taking place in Malaysia with DiGi, Globe in the Philippines, Megafon in Russia, Etisalat in the United Arab Emirates, America Movil in a number of countries, Tele Norte in Brazil, and Reliance in India.

These deals are being struck because the equipment produced by Huawei and ZTE Corporation is reportedly subsidized by the Chinese government. State-backed Chinese banks supply national telecommunications infrastructure and don't seek payment on any of the equipment for years, according to Maloof's sources. This makes them very attractive since Western companies cannot compete with their prices for domestic and international development projects.

This is a lot to digest, and these claims seem a little crazy to me. Don't get me wrong; it would not surprise me in the slightest if the Chinese government had backdoor access via products made by some of its companies. After all, this not a new story:

I just find it a little hard to believe that it's so widespread. What do you think?

See also:

Topics: Security, Government, Hardware, Telcos, China, Tech Industry

Emil Protalinski

About Emil Protalinski

Emil is a freelance journalist writing for CNET and ZDNet. Over the years,
he has covered the tech industry for multiple publications, including Ars
Technica, Neowin, and TechSpot.

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  • Ummm....

    Writing for WND is not exactly a hallmark of good credibility....
    • WWN

      Seriously, Wold Net Daily is basically the Weekly World News for wingnuts. The only real difference between the two publications is that most people who read the Weekly World News did so knowing full well that the stories were all fake.
  • Cheap PR stunt

    This is pure speculation; otherwise, Pentagon/CIA would already contact those telecoms about the issue -- unless Pentagon/CIA has their own "backdoors" there, too, and does not want to expose them accidentally. The latter is much worse than supposed China's backdoor, since for the last few decades the most aggressive country of the world was USA. The world guesses how many countries and how soon will be attacked next.
    • Of course they've already told them. Why do you think Australia announced

      it shut Huawei out of bidding?
      Johnny Vegas
    • PR stunt?

      You pass it off as a PR stunt,but consider this, close to 95 % of PCs, smart phones,routers,switches,cable head-end equipment, VOIP multimedia adapters, are made ,or assembled in China.These are communication devices.It is not impossible to imbed a chip in the circuitry of these devices that can send information back to the Chinese.An article found elsewhere says that Lenova is just 2.7 % away from being the #1 PC manufacturer, overtaking HP.Irony is, Lenova is Chinese, and HP products are assembled in China.China now rules the world,and they don't have to waste money building up their military when American companies are giving economic might and superiority!
      • Assembled to strict specifications

        There are no doubt some low-end commodity products sold with US names where the circuit is whatever the Chinese company turned out. But many brand-name products assembled in China are built to strict specifications. Apple, HP, and others who use Chinese contract manufacturers order their own parts and design the PC boards. There is literally no place to insert a sooper-seekrit spy chip.

        Like most of WND's claims, it's laughable.
  • As old saying goes

    do not ever trust a communist!
    • Communist?

      The Chinese government has embraced the 'free-market' economic capitalism system, but always careful to leverage things to their advantage. The ideology of 'communism' in this context makes little sense. The Chinese leadership maintains a repressive dictatorship, to be sure.

      To those who fret about 'communism', I have to wonder how many things they own that are made in China.
      • Another way of putting it is...

        ...there is no such thing as truly private enterprise in a totalitarian state; the Platonic guardians (aka the leaders of the ruling party) can always intervene whenever they think it necessary, managers won't dare say "no", and outsiders will never know about it (no red tape and no rule of law).

        At present, "Communist" is more a brand than an ideology. The Chinese flavor has mostly abandoned Marxist economic principles, but retains Leninist political organization and social controls (ie. instead of Marxist-Leninist, it's Leninism without Marxism); since I've always considered Leninism to be much more dangerous to human freedom than is Marxism (which is at it's heart, simply bad economics, long ago discredited), I long ago ceased to be impressed by Chinese economic reforms.
        John L. Ries
      • Quite a few...

        ...simply because it's getting increasingly difficult to find alternatives (though I've always liked my Chinese-made cello). It doesn't make me feel any better about China's increasingly aggressive stance on the world stage or persuade me that China is in any danger of becoming a free country.

        Interestingly enough, I've always felt more comfortable buying Chinese-made goods from Chinese companies than from Western ones (why not skip the middleman?).
        John L. Ries
        • more about brinng home the bacon

          This is yet another attempt by the US government using scare mongering tactics to bring home the bacon for US private enterprises (i.e. likes of Cisco).

          And if actual facts are concerned. There is not a single shred of evidence that China telecoms have backdoors. In fact, Huawei have offered their source code for examination to win the Australian NBN project.

          What is going on today vis-à-vis US-China is no different from the Banana Wars of US past.
          • Well said.

            That right. The recent attacks on ZTE and Huawei is because they are encroaching on the US corporation Cisco's turf. Simple. The Chinese is providing competition to the US and the US don't like it. It's one standard for the US and another for everyone else.

            Also Australia is so far up the US's rear end that it can't have an independent thought - and if by some miracle it did, are afraid to get punished by the US.
          • EU lawsuit against price dumping - ZTE and Huawei

            EU is also looking into the fact they employee 100's of Chinese workers in EU against Work Visa National Laws.

            Stevie Wonder
          • But *sniff* competition is a good thing!

            Just do it cheaper, but not always better... we're driven by cost. Not by quality. Not by ethics. It's just business.
          • How is your reply relevant to my post?

            I said nothing about the backdoor allegations and have no idea whether or not they're true. Since, Chinese corporations are ultimately subject to the authority of the Chinese Communist Party (established by law as the leading force in the state and society, and with no practical restraints on its authority), I think the allegations plausible, but plausibility is not evidence, much less proof.
            John L. Ries
        • increasing aggressive stance on the world stage?

          You might have read one too many US editorials disguised as actual reporting. What "aggressive" stance are you talking about?

          USA has invaded Iraq, Afghanistan, Libya just within the last decade. What countries has China invaded?

          China does does have conflicting territorial claims against Vietnam, Philippines, Brunei, India, and Japan. In all instances, a good case can be made in favor of China. In the case with Japan, a nullification of forced annexation in 1895 of Diaoyu Islands after invasion of Taiwan. In the case with other countries, China was most likely the first to discover and settle based on historic records; China has a very long seafaring history. Media in the US like to bring up EEZ under Law of the Sea Treaty, but US itself has not ratified this treaty. And might I add, there is not a single bullet fired in these disputes in the last decade.

          Aggressive stance? I'm afraid you have once more been hoodwinked by US yellow journalism. What the US media is putting out, add to what the US government is saying and doing, all points to one thing: contain a growing China using its Asian pawns. The best US can hope for is a military confrontation between China and its neighbors, and I hope China does not fall into that trap.
          • Forgetting something?

            Perhaps the reason China hasn't been "invading" other countries is because those countries haven't attacked them.
            - USA wasn't attacking Iraq until after Iraq invaded Kuwait (ally).
            - USA wasn't attacking al-Qaeda & Taliban (multi-country) until the attacks on US citizens.
            - Libya's Gaddafi had a history of exporting terrorism. With some intention of supporting one side of a civil war, USA spent a lot of missiles and Intel Ops supporting the war, but it wasn't an "invasion by USA".

            You seem well-informed, but I'm not persuaded by rhetoric. I am convinced that China is becoming more aggressive internationally, even though they have no interest in war.
          • you're not persuaded by rhetoric??

            First off, you have your facts WRONG:
            - US invaded Iraq for the SECOND time in 2003. Iraq invaded Kuwait in 1990. There was absolutely NO reason for the US to invade Iraq as Iraq had ZERO "weapons of mass destruction." This is all in the UN reports.

            - Taliban had nothing to do with attack on US citizens. It ran Afghanistan, and some elements of the so-called al-Qaeda hid in Afghanistan mountains. A country so remote that even the US military is finding it difficult to rid of the so-called al-Qaeda after 10+ years in Afghanistan.

            - Gaddafi supported American efforts in fighting "terrorism" after the 9/11 incident. Britain and France, among other European nations actually did business with Gaddafi, before they and USA bombed him for the Libyan oil.

            All American wars are fought to protect and expand the power of its private enterprises; nothing more.

            Your assertion that "China is becoming more aggressive internationally, even though they have no interest in war" is laughable.
      • It's not a free market when those who subsidize it get less in return

        Our politicians vote to give or to continue to give our tax money to corporations that offshore. How is that "free market"?

        And the corporations, regardless of country they operate from, do things for their own benefit. Again, it's just business.

        And how long of a list would you like?
    • Do not ever trust the unethical

      There are some people, regardless of persuasion, who are decent people.