Published on
Common Dreams

Snowden Docs Reveal NSA Hacking of Key Chinese Tech Firm

US intelligence tried to find 'back doors' into Chinese products that make up "backbone of the internet"

Jon Queally, staff writer

(Photo: Shepherd Zhou/AP)

Revelations based on documents provided by NSA whistleblower Edward Snowden and reporting on by both the New York Times and Germany's Der Spiegel newspaper on Sunday show that the National Security Agency infiltrated China's premiere technology company, obtained detailed product blueprints, spied on its executives, and took so much data the NSA analysts didn't "know what to do with it" all.

The NSA's targeting of Huawei—which makes devices for public use like smartphones but also industrial infastructure components used in large fiber-optic and other network systems is something like the Chinese equivalent of Apple and Cisco combined—is not surprising by itself. But the documents show a striking level of peneatration into the company's network and also reveal that the targeting of high level political officials in the Chinese government, including former Chinese President Hu Jintao and his successor and current President Xi Jinping..

According to the Der Spiegel:

NSA made a special effort to target Huawei. With 150,000 employees and €28 billion ($38.6 billion) in annual revenues, the company is the world's second largest network equipment supplier. At the beginning of 2009, the NSA began an extensive operation, referred to internally as "Shotgiant," against the company, which is considered a major competitor to US-based Cisco. The company produces smartphones and tablets, but also mobile phone infrastructure, WLAN routers and fiber optic cable -- the kind of technology that is decisive in the NSA's battle for data supremacy.

A special unit with the US intelligence agency succeeded in infiltrating Huwaei's network and copied a list of 1,400 customers as well as internal documents providing training to engineers on the use of Huwaei products, among other things. [...]

According to a top secret NSA presentation, NSA workers not only succeeded in accessing the email archive, but also the secret source code of individual Huwaei products. Software source code is the holy grail of computer companies. Because Huawei directed all mail traffic from its employees through a central office in Shenzhen, where the NSA had infiltrated the network, the Americans were able to read a large share of the email sent by company workers beginning in January 2009, including messages from company CEO Ren Zhengfei and Chairwoman Sun Yafang.

"We currently have good access and so much data that we don't know what to do with it," states one internal document. As justification for targeting the company, an NSA document claims that "many of our targets communicate over Huawei produced products, we want to make sure that we know how to exploit these products." The agency also states concern that "Huawei's widespread infrastructure will provide the PRC (People's Republic of China) with SIGINT capabilities." SIGINT is agency jargon for signals intelligence. The documents do not state whether the agency found information indicating that to be the case.

The operation was conducted with the involvement of the White House intelligence coordinator and the FBI. One document states that the threat posed by Huawei is "unique".

Both newspaper articles make the point that the US has specifically and repeatedly accused Huawei of being an untrustworthy actor, with US government officials warning that the company might be using its market position to support the intelligence and geopolitical ends of the Chinese governement.

As the Times reports:

American officials have long considered Huawei, the Chinese telecommunications giant, a security threat, blocking it from business deals in the United States for fear that the company would create “back doors” in its equipment that could allow the Chinese military or Beijing-backed hackers to steal corporate and government secrets.

But even as the United States made a public case about the dangers of buying from Huawei, classified documents show that the National Security Agency was creating its own back doors — directly into Huawei’s networks. [...]

One of the goals of the operation, code-named “Shotgiant,” was to find any links between Huawei and the People’s Liberation Army, one 2010 document made clear. But the plans went further: to exploit Huawei’s technology so that when the company sold equipment to other countries — including both allies and nations that avoid buying American products — the N.S.A. could roam through their computer and telephone networks to conduct surveillance and, if ordered by the president, offensive cyberoperations.

Voicing his approval of the reporting, though he was not directly involved in the publication of either, journalist Glenn Greenwald signaled the importance of the latest revelations by tweeting:


This is the world we live in. This is the world we cover.

Because of people like you, another world is possible. There are many battles to be won, but we will battle them together—all of us. Common Dreams is not your normal news outlet. We don't survive on clicks. We don't want advertising dollars. We want the world to be a better place. But we can't do it alone. It doesn't work that way. We need you. If you can help today—because every gift of every size matters—please do. Without Your Support We Won't Exist.

Please select a donation method:

Share This Article