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More bad news for telecom giant Huawei — Dr Ian Levy, Technical Director of the National Cyber Security Centre, has gone on the record by saying the Chinese company’s approach to its engineering practices is ‘shoddy’ at best. The revelation means the British government could, in all likelihood, ban the firm’s mobile equipment in sensitive geographical areas such as Westminster and around military bases, as well as bar it from the UK’s 5G networks, seen by him as being too sensitive, he told BBC Panorama.
Plans on restrictions — or even a blanket ban — on the company operating in the UK will be revealed next month, though so far no details on the decision have been leaked out.
Huawei, in response to the worries put forward by Levy, has reiterated it will work on any problems it has with its network and technology.
Apprehension lies deep. A recent security review of Huawei’s products and technology, backed by GCHQ, confirmed worries it would be tough to control the risk management of any of the Chinese company’s products until flaws in its cyber-security operations are ironed out.
Problems stemming from the development of its software have been identified, which in turn have created defects in current products. Although the company has stated the problems have been fixed in past versions of software, this is clearly not the case.
Ryan Ding, chief executive of Huawei’s carrier business group, stated in a recent interview:
“We hope to turn this challenge into an opportunity moving forward. I believe that if we can carry out this programme as planned, Huawei will become the strongest player in the telecom industry in terms of security and reliability.”
He also added the company promised to allocate more than $2 billion for a ‘transformation programme’ that will address growing concerns by foreign governments of vulnerabilities in its security systems.
In response to Ding’s position, Levy has said he does not believe the claims. “The security in Huawei is like nothing else — it’s like it’s back in the year 2000 — it’s very, very shoddy.” He then added: “We’ve seen nothing to give us any confidence that the transformation programme is going to do what they say it’s going to do.”
The Technical Director of the National Cyber Security Centre also asserted “geographic restrictions — maybe there’s no Huawei radio [equipment] in Westminster”
In spite of all the fallout, when it comes to sales the Chinese company’s figures have been impressive, with in excess of $100 billion in revenue claimed for last year.
Many though, think stopping Huawei in its tracks would see a setback in the implementation of 5G technology in the UK. Dangers also lie if Huawei’s hardware is used at the core of companies networks, which do such functions as checking IDs on devices and the more sensitive issues of encrypted code. Huawei’s equipment was previously used by EE for its 3G and 4G core until the network provider’s takeover by BT. Now, the telecom giant is slowly removing it from its infrastructure because of the ongoing cybersecurity issues.
Yet, Huawei’s existing infrastructure is not without its clear benefits, especially regarding its base stations and antennae, as these radio access networks are seen in the industry to be essential in permitting mobile devices to connect wirelessly to the network through radio signals which are sent over the airwaves.
In Washington, too, the fires of doubt have been stoked about the potential threat of Huawei’s products on the market. Many in the White House see one of the world’s biggest tech firms as a proxy secret service to Beijing. US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, though not issuing this belief outright, has said:
“Huawei is owned by the state of China and has deep connections to their intelligence service. That should send off flares for everybody who understands what the Chinese military and Chinese intelligence services do. We have to take that threat seriously.”
The US worries that Huawei follows Xi Jinping’s every word, and that its actions — though covertly — are always first and foremost for the benefit of the Communist Party.
The National Defense Authorization Act, signed by President Trump last year, which set in law the ban on any company or US government agency from using equipment and components produced by any of the Chinese communication companies, ZTE and Huawei included.
The Chinese government, as a result of the lost business between Huawei and other Chinese companies and their American telecommunication partners, currently wants to sue the US government as they see the law as unconstitutional.
Congressman Mike Conaway, a member of the United States House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence and the man chosen to lead the investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 United States elections, interviewed on BBC Panorama had this to say:
“Obviously, the terrific relationship between the UK and the United States — English-speaking countries — is important to maintain.”
He then added:
“But as a part of that we will have to assess what kind of risks we would have in sharing… secrets that would go across Huawei equipment, Huawei networks.”
Supportive words for the UK. But it is obvious Trump and his fellow Americans don’t trust the Chinese more than they can throw them:
“We can always share things old-school ways by, you know, paper back and forth. But, in terms of being able to electronically communicate, across Huawei gear, Huawei networks, would be risky at best.”
Maybe the UK needs to rethink its strategy.
Words of solidarity with the UK and the rest of America’s allies, but this does not bode well for the ongoing trade war between Washington and Beijing. And with no quarter likely to be given by either party, it only looks to get worse.
With a decision on Brexit still up in the air, and the UK on the hunt for friends outside the European brotherhood that is Brussels, it may seem to many in Downing Street a good course of action to listen to its biggest ally across the Atlantic.
Doing business with companies like Huawei and ZTE, and the repercussions of that if anything goes wrong in the case of cybersecurity issues, could have massive — as well as long-ranging effects — on the UK for a very, very long time.
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