Vodafone admits it once found secret backdoors in Huawei routers

30 Apr 2019

Image: rclassenlayouts/Depositphotos

Telecoms giant Vodafone has admitted that its Italian business discovered backdoors in devices provided by Huawei dating back a decade.

Huawei’s efforts to put itself forward as a company that western governments can trust have been dealt another significant blow following revelations made by Vodafone officials. Confirming with Bloomberg, Vodafone said its Italian division once found a number of vulnerabilities in devices provided to it by Huawei.

Vodafone said it identified the backdoors hidden within the devices’ software that would have given Shenzhen-based Huawei access to the network’s fixed-line network in Italy that included millions of homes and businesses. The affected timeframe was between 2009 and 2011, at which point Vodafone said it asked Huawei to remove the backdoors.

However, despite asking for assurances that the vulnerabilities would be removed, Vodafone said it found in further testing that the backdoors remained. Other vulnerabilities were reportedly discovered in Huawei’s optical service nodes for facilitating internet traffic through fibre networks, as well as broadband network gateways.

Almost a decade later, Vodafone has said that all of these issues have been removed by Huawei, but it comes at a time of increased criticism for the Chinese manufacturer.

Huawei versus the US

In the UK, a report released in March by the country’s National Cyber Security Centre claimed that Huawei had failed to adequately address security defects in its systems. While not providing evidence that the company was working on behalf of Chinese intelligence, it said it had failed to address “underlying defects” that had previously been pointed out.

The report described “significant technical issues” in Huawei’s engineering processes and claimed that the company’s approach to software development brings “significantly increased risk to UK operators”.

Meanwhile, US government officials continue to come down hard on Huawei and any nations that are looking to partner with the company to build 5G networks. Yesterday (29 April), the BBC reported that senior US official Rob Strayer said intelligence-sharing strategies with nations that work with Huawei would have to be re-evaulated.

“We think the stakes couldn’t be higher with regard to 5G technology, because of all of the things we build out over the coming years on top of that tech,” Strayer said.

“This is truly a monumental decision being made now… we think there’s unacceptable risk in letting untrusted vendors provide that base infrastructure because they could disrupt any of those critical services.”

A Vodafone logo on the side of a building. Image: rclassenlayouts/Depositphotos

Colm Gorey was a senior journalist with Silicon Republic