Huawei (yes, Huawei) pushing for global security standards

October 18, 2013: 11:20 AM ET

Chinese maker of telecom gear, blocked from U.S. market, seeks to overcome security concerns.

FORTUNE -- Remember that 1995 Alanis Morissette song, "Ironic?" Well, here's another unexpected situation to add to the singer's long list of ironies: Huawei, the Chinese telecom equipment maker that has been blocked from the U.S. market because of concerns about its alleged ties to China's government, is now pushing for global cybersecurity standards.

The company has tried, unsuccessfully, to bid for several contracts in the U.S. But it's been shut out of the market because of government worries that letting it provide building blocks for key infrastructure would leave American networks susceptible to cyber-espionage. In response, Huawei has embarked on an immense lobbying and PR campaign that aims to prove its products don't pose a threat to U.S. networks. It has tried to make nice with corporate America by committing to shelling out more than $6 billion on processors and other components from Broadcom (BRCM), Qualcomm (QCOM), and other local companies. It has attempted to win the public's trust by showing more transparency from its leadership (including a recent Fortune interview with Guo Ping, acting CEO of the company). Now, in an effort to recast its image, it is also pushing for international players to collaborate on a set of security standards. The chief security officer for Huawei's U.S. operations, Andy Purdy, says, "It may seem counterintuitive, but I joined [the company] to help make global infrastructure more secure."

This week Huawei published a white paper advocating a wide set of security standards. In a forward to the report, Huawei's deputy chairman, Ken Hu, also sought to allay fears about the company. "We can confirm that we have never received any instructions or requests from any Government or their agencies to change our positions, policies, procedures, hardware, software or employment practices or anything else, other than suggestions to improve our end-to-end cyber security capability," Hu wrote. "We can confirm that we have never been asked to provide access to our technology, or provide any data or information on any citizen or organization to any Government, or their agencies."

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The white paper, titled "Cyber Security Perspectives," calls on corporations and regulators to work together on setting global cybersecurity standards. To that end, Huawei has shared some of its own best practices and will soon release a list of 100 cybersecurity-related questions most frequently asked by its customers.

It's not clear how serious Huawei is on leading some kind of global security framework, or what steps it will take after publishing the white paper. But it's clear that Huawei is intent on entering the U.S. market one way or another.

Last spring several Huawei executives implied that the company was no longer interested in selling its wares in the U.S. That is not the case, says company spokesman William Plummer, who claims Huawei is the victim of unfair discrimination and protectionism in the U.S. The company had $35 billion in revenue last year but has insignificant share in the lucrative U.S. wireless market (while it's virtually banned from competing for network gear bids, it also sells handsets and various services). What's more, it still lacks brand recognition outside of its struggles with regulators.

That said, Huawei is patient, strategic, and deep-pocketed. While it's unlikely a white paper will swing the public's favor to Huawei's side, the company realizes that its political and public image battles won't be won overnight.

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About This Author
Michal Lev-Ram
Michal Lev-Ram
Writer, Fortune

Based in Silicon Valley, Michal Lev-Ram covers enterprise and mobile technologies for FORTUNE. Prior to joining FORTUNE, she wrote for CNNMoney, Fast Company, Popular Science and other business and technology publications. She was also a staff writer at Business 2.0 and holds a B.A. in journalism from San Francisco State University.

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