Software vulnerabilities could have given Huawei unauthorized access to the operator's fixed network at its Italian subsidiary, which provides Internet services to millions of homes and businesses in that country.
For months, Huawei Technologies has faced US accusations that it has violated sanctions against Iran, attempted to steal trade secrets from a partner and could facilitate Chinese espionage through telecommunications networks being built across the West.
Vodafone has now acknowledged to Bloomberg that it has encountered vulnerabilities that date back to years in equipment provided by Huawei for its Italian unit. While Vodafone says the issues have been resolved, disclosure could further undermine the company's reputation, which is an emblem of China's global technology power.
Europe's largest telephone company has found backdoors hidden in software that could have given Huawei unauthorized access to the operator's fixed network in Italy, which provides Internet services to millions of homes and businesses in that country. , according to Vodafone's 2009 and 2011 security information documents that Bloomberg had access to.
Vodafone has asked Huawei to remove backdoors from Internet routers from homes in 2011 and has received assurances from the vendor that the problems have been corrected, but subsequent testing has revealed that the security vulnerabilities have been maintained. Vodafone has also identified backdoors in parts of its fixed access network known as optical service nodes, which are responsible for transporting Internet traffic through fiber optics and other areas called broadband network gateways, which handle authentication of subscribers and Internet access, said sources who asked to reserve their identity because the matter is confidential.
A backdoor, in terms of cyber security, is a method to bypass security controls to access a computer system or encrypted data. Although backdoors may be common on some computers and network software because developers create them to manage the computer, intruders can exploit them. In the case of Vodafone, the risks included possible access by third parties to personal computers and customers' home network.
The Trump administration has argued that such shortcomings in Huawei equipment could facilitate spying on the Chinese state and are trying to persuade Western allies to block the company's next-generation mobile networks. Huawei has repeatedly denied the creation of rear doors and says it is not subject to the Beijing authorities.
Huawei's ability to continue to conclude contracts with Britain's Vodafone, despite security concerns, underscores the challenge facing the United States in trying to stop the world's leading supplier of telecommunications equipment and the second in smartphones. Huawei is competing with a stable group of western companies, such as Nokia and Ericsson, to deploy 5G or 5G wireless networks.
Vodafone defended Huawei against the US attack, which put Europe, Huawei's largest market outside China, amid a trade battle between the two superpowers. At stake is the leadership in key areas, especially 5G technology, which is designed to support the Internet of things and new applications in sectors ranging from automotive and power to medical care. Vodafone CEO Nick Read has teamed up with his colleagues to publicly oppose Huawei's bans on launching 5G, warning of higher costs and delays. The challenge shows that the countries of Europe are willing to take the risk of defying the US in the name of preparations for 5G.