Digital forensic experts say there is not enough evidence to definitively say Huawei smartphones are not secure, but U.S. officials warn that the Chinese tech giant's cell network infrastructure allows China access to massive amounts of user data.
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U.S. officials and lawmakers are opposed to the Shenzen-based tech company because of its ties to the Chinese Communist Party and say it's a threat to national security. And the Department of Justice has accused Huawei of scheming to steal the intellectual property of American companies and racketeering conspiracy, plus bank fraud.
Huawei denies that the Chinese government sends sensitive information gathered on its devices and networks back to the Chinese government via backdoor access meant exclusively for law enforcement.
"Huawei is an arm of the Chinese Communist Party, and the Department of Justice ought to nail Chairman Xi's tech puppet to the wall," Sen. Ben Sasse, R-Neb., said in a Thursday response to the indictment. "These crimes – racketeering, conspiracy to steal trade secrets, and sanctions evasion – are part of Xi's strategy to make China the world's preeminent superpower. The U.S. and our allies have an obligation to stop them."
Despite all this tension on a federal scale, there is "no evidence at the moment that says one thing or the other" in terms of whether Huawei phones are secure, digital forensics expert Nicola Chemello told FOX Business.
He added, however, that Huawei uses 5G technology, which transfers "a huge amount of data" in real-time from devices to cell towers and vise versa, "so to analyze every Huawei device using 5G" to determine whether or not they are secure "would take years."
"There is a lot of suspicion about having Huawei installed in telecom systems" for this reason, Chemello said.
Huawei Chief Security Officer Andy Purdy denied the assertions from U.S. intelligence about backdoor access, calling on the government to make their findings public.
"The great thing is that the U.S. government has so-called declassified this information," Purdy told "Mornings with Maria," adding that "most of the world does not agree there is such evidence" to prove Huawei provides backdoor access to the Chinese government.
Purdy then mentioned Huawei's European partners, including Deutsche Telekom and Vodaphone --- which said it would remove Huawei equipment from its technology earlier in February --- "are not worried."
Vodafone, Europe's largest telecom company, in April said it discovered back doors in Huawei equipment that could have given the Chinse tech giant access to its fixed-line network in Italy, according to a report from Bloomberg.
This is where the confusion lies. Huawei is not just a phone maker; it also builds network infrastructure. That's where the vulnerabilities lie, Andrew Garrett, CEO of computer forensic science firm Garrett Discovery, explained.
While Huawei smartphones may not have backdoor access built into their technology, especially once they are shipped outside China, Huawei may have backdoor access to data through its wireless network infrastructure.
Garrett said all cell towers and networks have back doors that can be accessed by virtually anybody.
"It's a very loosey-goosey system," he said.
It's up to carriers like Verizon, AT&T and Vodafone to make sure actual phones do not have some kind of software or hardware built into their operating systems that can give backdoor access to bad actors before they are distributed to consumers, Garrett explained.
"If they do have back doors that the carriers don't catch, shame on the carriers," he said. "Why would you have a hardware device shipping data to China and it doesn't set off any bells and whistles? Everybody has firewalls that can see this stuff. My home has that firewall. You can see where your data is going all over the world."
Cell towers and networks are a different story, and that's where the issue lies.
"You can walk to any tower in America, open up the gate, there's no security, open the door at the bottom, and jack into any port that's on there and see data that's being transferred to and from that tower," he said.
"This technology is not so super-secret," he added. "Huawei is building more than just phones. They're building network equipment, so they can embed a backdoor in that equipment."