Security Platforms/Tools

Security Concerns Cling to Huawei

No matter how much it protests, Huawei Technologies Co. Ltd. continues to be dogged by concerns that it has ties to the Chinese state.

A report from the U.K.'s Intelligence and Security Committee, published Thursday, raised concerns, long denied by the vendor, that Huawei has links to the Chinese state. That, in turn, creates the perception that Huawei's relationship with communications network operators, particularly BT Group plc, could pose some sort of security threat.

And the report pulls no punches. "The alleged links between Huawei and the Chinese State are concerning, as they generate suspicion as to whether Huawei's intentions are strictly commercial or are more political," it states.

While the full report is clearly forthright, the version published Thursday has been amended in 21 places. The report notes that "sensitive material that would damage national security [has been] blanked out ('redacted')."

Among the content left in, though, is criticism of how BT's initial engagement with Huawei 10 years ago was handled by the state. The report notes that, while BT informed U.K. government officials in 2003 of its plan to use Huawei technology in its 21st century network, the issue was not referred to government ministers because the officials who knew of the potential engagement between BT and Huawei did not believe that any intervention was possible. The report notes that "this now appears not to have been the case." (See BT Unveils 21CN Suppliers.)

It adds: "There was no justification for failing to consult Ministers about the situation when BT first notified officials of Huawei’s interest. Such a sensitive decision, with potentially damaging ramifications, should have been put in the hands of Ministers." The report concludes that there will "always be a risk in any telecommunications system, worldwide. What is important is how it is managed, or contained … GCHQ [Government Communications Headquarters] must have greater oversight of the Cell [Huawei's U.K. Cyber Security Evaluation Centre] and be formally tasked to provide assurance, validation and audit of its work; and Government must be involved in the selection of its staff, to ensure continued confidence in the Cell."

Huawei issued a statement following the report's publication, stating that "Huawei has the full support of the UK government and telecoms operators, including BT, having invested in the UK for 12 years. They trust Huawei because of its steadfast commitment to security and its open, discreet and cooperative attitude."

That might be over-stating the case, but the U.K. report adds to official statements from other government bodies around the world that have stressed how Huawei is perceived to be a threat because of the alleged links to the Chinese government. It is certainly the case that Huawei is being treated as guilty until proven innocent. But, as we have noted before, Huawei's track record does invite suspicion. (See US vs Huawei/ZTE: The Verdict and Can Huawei Change?)

What impact will this report have? It's unlikely to have much impact on Huawei's current relationship with BT and it's hard to see how the GCHQ's involvement at the U.K. Cyber Security Evaluation Centre will have much practical impact.

What it will do, though, is inflame the ire of Huawei's detractors, adding fuel to the fire that the Chinese vendor is perceived to be some sort of security threat. And that will likely make it harder for Huawei to win new business in the U.K.

— Ray Le Maistre, Editor-in-Chief, Light Reading

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