Huawei opened its seventh cybersecurity center on Wednesday and used the occasion to insist once again that it can be trusted when it comes to network security.
Speaking at the grand opening of the Cyber Security and Privacy Protection Transparency Centre in Dongguan in China, Ken Hu, rotating chairman of Huawei, said: "In some places, unfortunately, there is still a misconception that country of origin affects the security of network equipment and technology. This is simply not true."
US-led geopolitical opposition to China-based vendors such as Huawei and ZTE is of course well documented. The vendors have always strenuously denied that they are not conduits for the Chinese government to spy on foreign powers.
At the opening, Hu was flanked online and on-site by representatives from countries that clearly still work with Huawei, including Indonesia and the United Arab Emirates (UAE).
Also speaking at the event were Mats Granryd, director general of the GSMA, and Ernest Ketcha Ngassam, general manager of information security architecture and technical excellence at South African operator MTN.
An unadvertised speech was even made by Tao Qing, director of China's Ministry of Industry and Information Technology (MIIT), who said the center is a "platform for global cybersecurity practitioners to exchange ideas, work together and explore technologies standards and management practices. It plays a positive role in promoting the exchange of cybersecurity ideas, industry cooperation and experience."
A more neutral Granryd made use of his keynote to highlight work at the GSMA in the field of network and cybersecurity. He pointed to two initiatives, the 5G Secure Cybersecurity Knowledge Base and the Network Equipment Security Assurance Scheme (NESAS), and emphasized the need for broad industry collaboration.
Maintaining a diplomatic tone, Granryd even managed to name-check Huawei's fiercest rivals, Ericsson and Nokia, as well as domestic rival ZTE, noting that they are also involved in NESAS, which was launched last year.
First in China
The Cyber Security and Privacy Protection Transparency Centre in Dongguan was described as Huawei's seventh and biggest center, and the first to be opened in China. The previous center was opened in Brussels in 2019.
Huawei also made use of the event to launch a new white paper, "Huawei Product Security Baseline."
In essence, the Chinese vendor was making a further, major attempt to reframe the debate around its own, somewhat precarious reputation as a secure supplier, stressing key aspects such as trust, collaboration, public private partnerships, the need for standardization, and the importance of open source technology.
John Suffolk, global cybersecurity and privacy officer at Huawei, stressed that the industry needs centers like Huawei's to continually test products.
"And it is not security or privacy that will get in the way of progress," he said. "That's not the challenge. The challenge of progress is fear of the unknown."
No oxymoron here
The geopolitical issues were, as expected, raised in the final Q&A with the media.
On the point that the Biden administration shows no sign of easing up on vendors like Huawei, Suffolk expressed the view that America has a course of action, which "is looking to maximize the strength of America and weaken the capability of anyone that they see as a competitor. We don't see that changing for the foreseeable future."
Suffolk added: "Some people might think that it's an oxymoron that Huawei is opening a transparency center. But we're not doing it to please those people. We're doing this to continue to support our customers."
"We hope that geopolitics will not get in the way of the adoption of technology. We need to put that to one side," Suffolk said.
Regarding standards, Suffolk opined that cybersecurity norms will not be achieved "in this generation."
"I believe we will make progress and I think we will improve security. But we have this dichotomy between national security, including government spying, versus privacy and security. And you can't on the one hand say, I have the right to go and invade digitally any network, any infrastructure around the world ... but on the other hand, [say] we are going to protect privacy and protect security. There is this clash of internal objectives of governments that only governments can solve."
He concluded: "At Huawei, we close our ears, and we get on with our job. We solve problems, and we improve products."
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— Anne Morris, contributing editor, special to Light Reading