After Monday’s news that Huawei equipment is to be removed from the UK’s 5G networks no later than 2027, questions have arisen over the level of threat the Chinese telecoms giant really poses to UK cyber-security.
The ban represents a U-turn by the UK Govt., which announced Jan. that Huawei would play a “limited role” in UK”s 5G infrastructure.
Oliver Dowden, UK Culture Secretary, said that no new Huawei 5G equipment can be bought beyond Dec. 31, 2020, but older 2G, 3G, & 4G can stay until it reaches the end of its normal lifespan.
A spokesperson for Huawei UK commented that this “disappointing decision is bad news for anyone in the UK with a mobile phone. It threatens to move Britain into the digital slow lane, push up bills & deepen the digital divide.
Instead of “levelling up”, the government is levelling down & we urge them to reconsider. We remain confident that the new US restrictions would not have affected the resilience or security of the products we supply to the UK.”
US Trade Policy
“Regrettably, our future in the UK has become politicised, this is about US trade policy & not security. Over the past 20 years, Huawei has focused on building a better-connected UK. As a responsible business, we will continue to support our customers as we have always done,” the spokesperson concluded.
There have been many attempts recently to keep Huawei out of Western countries.
The Chinese Ambassador to the UK, Liu Xiaoming, warned in response, that a ban would ‘damage trust’ in the UK & its reputation as “a business-friendly, open, transparent environment”.
Threats to security?
Many of the alleged threats to security seem to be largely supposition & hearsay.
Ex-Google CEO Eric Schmidt told the BBC that there was “no question that Huawei has engaged in some practices that are not acceptable in national security”. He added that there is “no question that information from Huawei routers has ultimately ended up in hands that would appear to be the state”. Huawei has always denied these accusations, e.g. that it is part of the Chinese state.
Vince Warrington, CEO of Protective Intelligence & Dark Intelligence, commented that the threat is “in no way overstated”.
“What many in the West fail to realise is the symbiosis between the Chinese government & large Chinese companies. In the West, we’re used to having politics separate from business to a very large degree, but that’s not the case in China,” he explained.
Vince added that while Huawei probably doesn’t ‘consider itself’ to be state-owned, it will have a ‘political department’ inside the company that ensures it keeps ‘Party values’.
This, he observed, is “normal practice in China, & makes it impossible to separate the company from the Party”.
“CISO’s need to bear in mind that it’s businesses, not government agencies, that are exposed to the most sophisticated Chinese hacking techniques, such as using the darknet to mask their activities, & they’re also less well prepared to defend,” he commented.
Mike O’Malley, VP of Carrier Strategy & Business Development for Radware, outlined that despite Huawei”s executives making many statements saying there are no ‘back doors’ to their equipment, the concerns do continue.
“Two Chinese laws – the 2017 ‘National Intelligence Law’ & the 2014 ‘Counter-Espionage Law’ remain very problematic for Huawei.
One of the most worrying parts is Article 22 which states: “When the state security organ investigates & understands the situation of espionage & collects relevant evidence, the relevant organisations & individuals shall provide it truthfully & may not refuse”,” he warned.
“Legal experts have interpreted this as a legal basis upon which the Chinese government could compel any Chinese company including Huawei to share any & all customer data from equipment deployed both inside China & throughout the rest of the world,” O’Malley further added.
With a ban coming, Lord Browne has announced he will step down as UK chairman in 2 months, but he had been due to leave the company in March 2021.
BT has warned that it would be extremely difficult to remove Huawei equipment in the next 10 years. BT’s CEO Philip Jensen told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme that if the company was “not able to buy or transact with Huawei that would mean you wouldn’t be able to get software upgrades”, meaning that security could be put at risk.
Whether or not the allegations concerning Huawei are actually true, the ban will chill the economic & political relations between the UK & China & could potentially put the UK years behind in its 5G rollout.