Huawei’s alleged “spying” accusations driven by US intelligence services and its Five Eyes counterparts across the world could be really triggered by the company’s quantum cryptography that makes eavesdropping virtually impossible, David P. Goldman, an American economist, suggested in a recent op-ed for The Asia Times.
According to the author, Huawei’s 5G leadership and quantum communication technologies may result in “US eavesdropping blocked” and “spies unemployed”. The development could deal a heavy blow to Signals intelligence (SIGINT), an intelligence-gathering by interception of signals, which receives a major share of the $80-billion US secret service budget.
China Spearheading Quantum Computing Research
The question then arises whether China’s telecom giant Huawei really possesses the cutting-edge technology.
“It is very possible they have some capability”, says Graeme Batsman, a data security consultant and blogger at Data Security Expert website. “Quantum computing is a new topic which is still experimental and requires very clever people plus expensive large equipment to work. Such top end cryptography is not going to be rolled out to mass market products or services anytime soon”.
The data security consultant pointed out that many states, “including universities which may be getting government money, will have such capabilities and it is likely they are quieter about their capabilities than China”.
“The UK and US tend to be better innovators than China so indeed their tech maybe more advanced”, he remarked.
According to Goldman, at least three organisations are actively developing quantum cryptographic applications for 5G broadband, namely, the University of Bristol, SK Telecom, and Toshiba Research.
As The Diplomat noted in September 2018, many Indo-Pacific nations “have joined the race to develop quantum-related technologies” referring to the National University of Singapore, Japan’s National Institute of Information and Communications Technology (NICT), as well as India’s Raman Research Institute in Bengaluru and the India Space Research Organisation.
China, however, became the first nation to establish a quantum network between Earth’s surface and its satellite Micius in June 2017 and held the first-ever quantum-encrypted video conference the same year
“So far what we know is about Micius, a satellite, which was used for a secure a video conference between China and Austria”, Batsman recalled.
Furthermore, as Asian Scientist magazine pointed out in April 2016, China’s 13th five-year plan for 2016-2020 was specifically focused on quantum communications and computation as a number one priority.
AP Photo / Jin Liwang
In this photo released by China’s Xinhua News Agency, a Long March-2D rocket carrying the world’s first quantum satellite lifts off from the Jiuquan Satellite Launch Center in Jiuquan, northwestern China’s Gansu Province, early Tuesday, Aug. 16, 2016
Vast Majority of Compromised Technologies Were Once Deemed ‘Unhackable’
Matthew Hickey, a security researcher and co-founder of the cyber-security firm Hacker House, agreed that the Chinese have been looking into quantum computing for quite a while, but expressed doubts that the quantum technology could make SIGINT obsolete.
“Signal analysis and collection is unlikely to disappear even in the event a solution such as quantum cryptography is adopted to prevent interception and manipulation of encryption key materials”, Hickey noted. “Signals interception and analysis is unlikely to go away even with enhancements to security of communication protocols we use, much of our existing electronic devices are still prone to information disclosures”.
To illustrate his point the security researcher noted, that “analysing signals emitted from the LCD of a smart phone could be used to view a person’s mobile messages at a distance”.
“Whilst these weak signals are not suitable for mass-collection, they will certainly become a stronger focus for SIGINT resources in the event communications networks become hardened to common man-in-the-middle and interception attacks, something which quantum cryptography is aiming to achieve”, he said.
According to Hickey, “the vast majority of broken mobility security technologies we know today were once introduced as either impenetrable or unhackable or secure by default”.
“Quantum cryptography is believed to be secure as transfer of key material occurs through the use of photons being sent from A to B, in the event that someone attempts to read or measure the photons they would disrupt their position and thus destroy any key or cryptographic material”, he explained. “However what effect does a photon have on its environment when passing through? Can the effects on the environment be measured as a form of side-channel attack against the photon and thus allow for key recovery? These are questions that may be answered once this supposedly secure technology becomes available and as more people become familiar with its operations”.
Mark Rossini, former FBI Special Agent, shares Hickey’s skepticism: “It’s all digital now”, he said. “Just a series of 1’s and 0’s to make code. Whether it’s [German Chancellor] Angela Merkel or you or I. That said, I am not sure of the consequences of the Huawei 5G to interfere with the ability of the US or other Western Intel services to continue their operations”.
Graeme Batsman also admits that “there is often a way round it”: “[One can] get malware on the device to bug the microphone at source rather than intercept the signal as it travels over cable or radio”.
Quantum Computing is a Double-Edged Sword
Still, the cyber experts agree that quantum technology is double-edged.
According to Daniel Tobok, the CEO of cyber-security firm Cytelligence and an internationally recognised cyber security and digital forensics expert, quantum computing could provide “access to every one’s data, online behaviour, and digital footprint”.
“As it stands now, a person’s digital footprint could be uncovered and used for good or bad purposes”, Tobok said. “The world is going to change further with every ones’ privacy going down the drain. Privacy will become the new luxury”.
While data security consultant Graeme Batsman believes that quantum technology will help break “existing encrypted messages which are from terrorists or drug barons”, former FBI special agent Rossini warns that advanced communication technologies may also help the “‘bad actors’ – terrorists and organised criminal gangs – to communicate in secrecy”.
“Quantum communications is the future and as with every advancement, there are benefits and perils”, former FBI special agent Rossini emphasised. “I hope that the technology is not used for nefarious purposes, because in the end we all lose”.
‘Huawei Produces Technology, It’s Not a Threat as a Company’
Tobok believes that quantum technology could really become a game changer.
“This could be a big impact and cause strategic and critical changes to the programme and of course pave the way for pillars for new initiatives”, says Tobok. “It’s a cat and mouse game and one must pre-plan and foresee the changes coming”.
According to the cyber security expert, “there are many advances in the field [of quantum communications] around the world” and “countries like China have greatly invested in this capability”.
Following China’s space-to-ground quantum communication demonstration in 2017, Huawei performed a “groundbreaking trial” of the application of quantum cryptography on commercial optical networks together with Telefónica Spain and Polytechnic University of Madrid (UPM) on 14 June 2018.
The company revealed in a press release that the advent of quantum computers helps resolve once unresolvable problems “including breaking the keys used by current methods”, which makes “most of our security infrastructure useless”. At the same time, the technique known as Quantum Key Distribution (QKD) provides both protection against the threat posed by quantum computation and “a much higher security level for any exchange of data”.
A logo of Huawei is displayed at a electronic retail shop in Hong Kong, Friday, March 29, 2019. Chinese tech giant Huawei’s deputy chairman defended its commitment to security Friday after a stinging British government report added to Western pressure on the company by accusing it of failing to repair dangerous flaws in its telecom technology.
Tobok does not believe that Huawei’s aim is “spying”. Addressing Western “spy” accusations, put forward by the Trump administration in 2018 against Huawei, he highlighted that “it’s important to note that Huawei is a company that produces technology, they are not a threat as a company”.
He added that “the environment they operate under and the legislation in the country of origin has particular laws and obligations for them to comply with”.
“Huawei does not manufacture eavesdropping equipment or solutions”, he stressed, adding that “any telco, or data company can have eavesdropping capability”.
In fact, the Chinese started to dig into quantum technology capabilities in a bid to create an “unhackable” network following former CIA contractor Edward Snowden’s revelations about the extent of the NSA’s secret surveillance programme named Prism in 2013. Launched in 2007, Prism allowed the US spooks to collect vast amounts of data on Americans and foreign citizens.
The views and opinions expressed by the speakers do not necessarily reflect those of Sputnik.