Huawei is seen as a threat to American national security because of the software loopholes in its telecom equipment, but TechRepublic’s James Sanders says that Huawei could rid itself of spying accusations if it would open-source its telecom software.
Open-sourcing its telecom software would allow third parties to see it, examine vulnerabilities, and investigate the software apart from Huawei. To open up the software would allow other companies to gain trust in Huawei and roll back the concerns of Chinese espionage that everyone has on their minds nowadays following the spying accusations.
Huawei says open-source telecom software isn’t possible right now
Huawei USA Chief Security Officer Andy Purdy says that open-sourced telecom software could be possible down the road, but that it isn’t possible with the level of innovation closed-source provides, particularly in 5G. “Maybe, eventually, over time it could do it. But, open source can’t give you that innovative functionality you’re looking for, I don’t think. I don’t see how it could,” says Purdy.
The other concern Purdy has concerns opening up Huawei’s software so that others could use it without cost. “I don’t know that we would spend money for R&D — that we would create our own software — that we would immediately make it open source to allow others to use it for free?”
Each statement here merits a response.
Open-source telecom software would be free of charge
Open-sourced telecom software would be free of charge, Purdy says, and to that extent, yes, it would. Charging for telecom equipment involves charging for software, which is where Huawei has an edge with the development of its 5G functionality. Closed-source is indeed where the money is.
And yet, perhaps it’s the case that Huawei would make more money and sell more telecom equipment with its preloaded software if it would comply in order to put the fears of Americans and other international citizens at ease. Purdy says that Huawei spent $15 billion on R&D in 5G last year, and that money would be spent in vain if it simply gave away its software free of charge.
At some point, though, Huawei has to wonder if it’s willing to tolerate the constant suspicion about its software that has followed it for an entire decade now — or if Huawei is willing to be vulnerable to put the fears of others at ease. Huawei could make back that $15 billion plus a whole lot more if it would stop closing off its software experience. You can’t be accused of something when others are staring your work (in this case, Huawei telecom software) in the face.
Open-source software doesn’t yield the innovations of closed-source telecom software
Purdy says that open-sourced telecom software doesn’t lead to the innovations one can create in closed-source software. Perhaps that’s true; but at the same time, though, innovations in the open-source telecom software would push the industry forward. That’s the thing, though: Huawei doesn’t want its competition eliminated in the industry and wants to maintain its distinct work so as to profit from it.
The same innovations could come from open-source telecom software as come from closed-source telecom software, but Purdy isn’t talking about how it won’t be the same innovative experience; it’s likely that Huawei wants to keep its technological secrets to itself and isn’t in a generous mood to share its work with the telecom world.
Why Huawei should open-source its telecom software
The issue for Huawei is mistrust. It is a Chinese company whose name Huawei means China’s (Hua) advancement (wei), a reminder that the company is extremely nationalist and loyal to Beijing. As the “largest privately-owned company,” Purdy says, that receives government subsidies, Beijing is tied to Huawei’s side for some interesting reason; that leads to the growing suspicion about national security in the US.
For Huawei to rid itself of the spying accusations, allowing its software to be accessible to the public would not only ensure Huawei can be trusted, but it would actually improve Huawei’s telecom software. As Sanders points out, and as I’ve pointed out here at Android Headlines over the last several weeks, the security reports from Finite State and the HCSEC (Huawei Cyber Security Evaluation Centre, a Huawei-backed UK organization) demonstrate that Huawei doesn’t update its telecom software, and its devices have potential backdoors.
Huawei looks suspicious because it has done very little to ensure the security of its software for consumer use — a sign that the backdoors and vulnerabilities, as I’ve said time and time again, are part of the solution rather than part of the problem.
Huawei has, so far, declined to make its telecom software open-source, citing all its hard work that has gone into 5G telecom equipment. Perhaps that’s true; and yet, what good is all that hard work if other countries grow in their suspicion of you until your customer base starts to shrink and your profits subside? Trust is the key to income and financial success: if people trust your product, you’re sure to make a profit. Huawei wants to make profit its own way, despite the mistrust, missing out on the extra millions/billions it could make if it would surrender its software to third parties.
When you can’t surrender your software to public inspection, it’s like the thief with stolen goods in his car who doesn’t want law enforcement to inspect his vehicle: you can’t surrender to an inspection because you’re guilty, and you don’t want anyone to know.