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New Delhi accuses Huawei of nobbling ZTE kit at state-owned telco

Cross-departmental body to figure out just what happened in Andhra Pradesh

Barbed wire surrounding communications tower

Huawei is facing renewed scrutiny in India after the government confirmed it has set-up a cross-departmental team to investigate allegations the firm sabotaged the network of state-owned telco BSNL.

Comms and IT minister T. Killi Kruparani told India’s lower house the Lok Sabah on Wednesday (via PTI):

An incident about alleged hacking of BSNL network by Huawei, a Chinese telecom company, has come to notice. The government has constituted an inter-ministerial team to investigate the matter.

The minister didn’t share any further details in the written reply, although reports about an alleged incident have circulated for months.

It is claimed that Huawei engineers hacked a BSNL base station controller (BSC) in Rajahmundry, Andhra Pradesh back in September/October 2013.

The story has added spice because Shenzhen rival ZTE had previously won a contract to expand BSNL’s network in Rajahmundry and elsewhere, so the telco suspected some form of "inter-corporate rivalry" was at work.

A report in The Hindu back in December 2013 claimed that the inter-governmental team had been set up because it wasn’t satisfied with BSNL’s private handling of the incident.

The Andhra Pradesh region is particularly sensitive for New Delhi because it is a stronghold for militant Maoist rebels, or Naxals, who've been involved in a long-running battle with the government.

“Several key questions have remained unanswered by the BSNL Andhra Pradesh circle … We will find out entire details about the hacking of BSC like failure of password management, change in database, accessibility of BSC from remote location and authorisation of commands to Huawei personnel,” a senior official told The Hindu at the time.

“Considering the fact that all this has happened in a coastal city, and that too in a Naxal-affected State, a thorough probe might bring out more facts.”

Huawei representatives in Shenzhen couldn’t immediately be reached for comment.

However, the Indian government has expressed concern in the past about potential security vulnerabilities in kit produced by it and ZTE. In May last year reports emerged that the Department of Telecommunications was planning to set up a dedicated lab to test telecoms equipment. ®

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