Cyberwar Flashback: Remembering the Huawei Hacks of Cisco and Nortel
by Jim Lundy
Huawei is under fire and has been accused by many of being a spy for its home country of China. This week, Huawei increased its PR game by claiming that no one can prove that it is spying for China. However, it does have a long history of spying for its own profit.
This blog recalls the hacks of Cisco and Nortel by Huawei.
Australia Has Secret Report Claiming Huawei Helped China Spy
Since the arrest of Huawei CFO Meng Wanzhou, the daughter of Huawei Founder and Chairman Ren Zhengfei, Huawei has gone on a PR offensive. However, even before her arrest, there were already reports in Australia that claim Huawei did help China spy on others by providing usernames and passwords to Huawei accounts.
If this is true, and it appears that it is, these allegations are the basis for many of the bans that are occurring worldwide on Huawei products and services. However, given the PR surge from Huawei, we thought we should remind everyone of the great historical hacks that Huawei has been involved with.
The Hack of Nortel by Huawei
Nortel was once one of the dominant telecom providers globally, but in early 2004, Huawei was caught stealing trade secrets from Nortel. This was proven by Nortel security expert Brian Shields. However, Nortel management had a hand in their own eventual downfall when it outsourced manufacturing to Huawei in the ’90s.
In the hack, Huawei gained credentials of Nortel executives, including CEO Frank Dunn and Brian McFadden. It then simply stole documents that contained the future product and marketing plans of Nortel.
The hack went even further than usernames and passwords. It has never been proven, but U.S. sources discovered that it was most likely Huawei that used sophisticated malware to record nearly every phone call that Frank Dunn made. After all of this, Huawei grew and Nortel faded, eventually going bankrupt.
The Hack of Cisco by Huawei
Cisco got out in front of the hack by Huawei and sued Huawei in U.S. court in 2003. It was over theft of designs and the actual software code. Huawei then did admit to using a few lines of code, but Cisco claimed it copied the entire design. In 2004, the suit was settled out of court, with no admission of guilt.
Jump ahead to 2012. Huawei claimed it never did anything wrong, to which Cisco quickly responded with a powerful blog that released details from the confidential settlement. Here is one snippet of what Cisco said (courtesy of Cisco):
From a section entitled Comments and White Space: “The exactness of the comments and spacing not only indicate that Huawei has access to the Cisco code but that the Cisco code was electronically copied and inserted into [Huawei’s] [CODE NAME REDACTED].”
Conclusion: Huawei Grew by Hacking Others
There are many other firms we could mention that were hacked by Huawei, including Motorola. There is absolutely no doubt that Huawei is a professional hacking organization that steals IP of competitors.
Canada’s Long Memory
So, should anyone be surprised that the Canadian government arrested the Huawei CFO? Remember, Nortel was based in Ottawa, the Canadian capital. You could say that perhaps it was more than happy to assist the U.S. with the arrest.
No one should be surprised that governments around the world are banning Huawei from doing business within their countries, which includes giving them access to their new 5G networks. Enterprises need to be smarter and learn from the lessons provided by the hacks of Cisco and Nortel, especially considering Nortel no longer exists as a company.
Editor’s Note: Make sure you see the Cyberwar Part II Blog that talks about Huawei and China hacking Apple, Google and India.