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Don't use phones from Huawei or ZTE, FBI director says

FBI Director Chris Wray and a team of security officials tell the Senate Intelligence Committee that Huawei and ZTE pose threats to the US.


Ian Knighton/CNET

Huawei has had carrier deals with AT&T and Verizon fall through in recent months, with rumblings that the US government encouraged the carriers to pass on the Chinese electronics giant. This was confirmed on Tuesday.

FBI Director Chris Wray told the Senate Intelligence Committee on Tuesday that the FBI was "deeply concerned" about the risks posed by Huawei and ZTE, Chinese companies that sell both phones and telecommunications equipment.

"We're deeply concerned about the risks of allowing a company or entity that is beholden to foreign governments that don't share our values to gain positions of power inside our telecommunications networks," he said.

That position of power would allow Huawei or ZTE "the capacity to exert pressure or control over our telecommunications infrastructure, it provides the capacity to maliciously modify or steals information and provides the capacity to conduct undetected espionage."

He commended AT&T and Verizon for heeding the government's warnings regarding Huawei, which led to the Mate 10 Pro not getting carrier support in the US.

This time last month, Huawei was expected to announce at CES that the Mate 10 Pro would be sold through AT&T. This would be big for Huawei -- a company that's selling well in China and Europe, but has yet to find success in the US -- as 90 percent of phone purchases in the US come through carriers. But it wasn't to be: AT&T pulled out of the deal before CES. Later in January, it was revealed that Verizon put the kibosh on a similar deal due to the concerns aired by Wray on Tuesday.

"This is a challenge that's only going to increase, not lessen, overtime," NSA Director Mike Rogers added.

When the panel of six, which also included officials from the CIA and Defense Intelligence Agency, was asked to raise their hand if they would recommend private citizens use a device from Huawei or ZTE, not one hand was raised.

Huawei defended itself by saying it's trusted in over 100 countries around the world, and criticised the US government for calling it more risky than any other given company.

"Huawei is trusted by governments and customers in 170 countries worldwide, connecting one-third of the world's population," said Huawei Vice President of External Affairs William Plummer. "Privacy and security are critically important to all of us these days and we must all be cautious to protect our personal and family and professional data from compromise."

He added that authorities should be careful too.

"In a world in which every information technology solution is the product of global supply chains, authorities should also be cautious not to brand one or another supplier as 'more vulnerable' than others - this is misleading at best, dangerous at worst."  

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