Last year the use of Huawei technology in UK 5G networks was given a massive thumbs down by the UK government, following a visit from senior US officials. It’s not known what was shared between the two but it was probably technical in nature illustrating how the Chinese company’s presence in UK 5G networks could be used to extract sensitive data and how it would put transatlantic intelligence sharing at risk.
No matter how stories are spun, and Huawei’s firm denial of deviant behaviour, there’s a trail of digital theft and systems hacking that stretches back over 20 years and leads directly to the doorstep of the Chinese military. It would be foolish to ignore this.
Huawei may have been knocked back from the UK’s 5G networks last year but with nation-state hacking a growing threat it’s a pertinent question to ask whether Huawei smartphones pose a risk.
Here’s a breakdown.
Who is Huawei?
According to various market research figures Huawei is the third most popular manufacturer of smartphones in the UK with roughly 10% of market share, some way behind Apple and Samsung who dominate the market.
Security concerns about Huawei centre on the equipment used in networks rather than Huawei handsets, tablets and other consumer tech. There’s certainly no evidence to suggest a Huawei devices are less secure than any other.
But of course with the US government, and the UK and other governments, narrowing their eyes at Huawei it’s understandable that there are suspicions that Huawei is under the control of the Chinese state.
Huawei smartphones use an open source version of Android. Android phones have a reputation for being less secure than Apple devices but this applies to all smartphones running Android, not just Huawei.
Android is considered less secure because more app developers can upload to Android app stores. As a result attackers who want to hide malware in apps tend to choose Android apps as their Trojan horse.
Issues with apps and app stores don’t automatically make Huawei smartphones any riskier than other Android devices, but they are a potential security problem that people need to be aware of.
Android apps that harbour malware are certainly not uncommon which is why it’s important to ensure you are running antivirus protection on your mobile devices.
Are the threats real?
Suspicion has been cast on Huawei because of national security issues and the hypothetical potential of the company using its place within the underlying communications network to act against the UK or its allies.
It’s hard to imagine the Chinese state being interested in your browsing histories, what you had for breakfast, whose shirts you buy or where you’re planning to hook up with friends at the weekend, unless that is, you hold a sensitive position in industry, the military or government.
In summary, no evidence has been released to show that using a smartphone manufactured by Huawei is any less secure than other Android devices. In fact, the greater threat is from Android apps that hide malware.
You can protect your Android smartphone from malware with free mobile antivirus from BullGuard. It also includes antitheft features, easy-to-use backup and remote management from a web dashboard, ideal for use if you mislay or lose your smartphone. A paid-for version which includes remotely managed parental controls to keep the kids safe, costs a little over £1 each month.