Pot calls the kettle hack as China claims Uncle Sam did digital sneak peek first

Beijing accuses US of breaking into Huawei servers in 2009

The ongoing face-off between Washington and Beijing over technology and security issues has taken a new twist, with China accusing the US of hacking into the servers of Huawei in 2009 and conducting other cyber-attacks to steal critical data.

China's Ministry of State Security made the allegations in a posting (and here, translated) on WeChat, claiming that in 2009 US intelligence services "began to invade servers at Huawei headquarters and continued to monitor them."

The post goes on to claim that more recently, it was discovered that the US had carried out "tens of thousands of malicious network attacks" on targets in China, including Northwestern Polytechnical University; that it had controlled tens of thousands of network devices; and stolen a large amount of high-value data.

A further allegation is that Washington has forced the implantation of backdoors into software and equipment produced by technology companies, enlisting the help of its global technology brands to monitor and steal data.

The translated post claims that China's National Computer Virus Emergency Response Center recently managed to isolate a spyware sample it called "Second Date" when dealing with an incident at Northwestern Polytechnical University, and said it is a cyber espionage tool developed by the US National Security Agency (NSA) that "runs secretly on thousands of network devices in many countries around the world."

The "Second Date" incident was reported earlier this month by sites such as South China Morning Post, and was claimed to have been used in conjunction with various network device vulnerability attack tools from the NSA's Office of Tailored Access Operations (TAO).

This is a reversal of the claims that Beijing and Chinese companies such as Huawei have been facing from Washington for a long time; that they implant backdoors into technology products and recruit tech companies to conduct intelligence gathering operations.

The US sanctions imposed on Huawei as a consequence have taken a toll, with the company seeing its profits cut in half in the first quarter of this year.

In effect, China is saying to the US: "We're not the ones spying, you are."

The WeChat post makes this point explicitly, saying: "It has long been an open secret that the United States has long relied on its technological advantages to conduct large-scale eavesdropping on countries around the world, including its allies, and carried out cyber theft activities."

It goes on to add: "At the same time, the United States is trying its best to portray itself as a cyber-attack victim, inciting and coercing other countries to join the so-called 'clean network' program under the banner of maintaining network security, in an attempt to eliminate Chinese companies from the international network market."

We contacted the US Department of State for its response to these allegations made by China, but have yet to receive an answer.

For its part, Huawei has always denied that it or its products pose a security threat, and researchers at the UK's National Cyber Security Centre (NCSC) charged with examining the firmware in Huawei's network kit found plenty of vulnerabilities due to shoddy coding, but nothing to suggest any backdoors had been planted.

However, as previously noted, under Article 7 of China's National Intelligence Law, its citizens and organizations are required to function as covert operatives of the state if ordered to do so. ®

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