March 19, 2019
The UK Government feels it is capable of mitigating any risk associated with Huawei 5G equipment, but the US is not so sure.
According to the Financial Times, a US delegation has reached out to the UK Government warning its means of testing and monitoring Huawei equipment will not protect it against any curious eyes from the Chinese Government. How this warning is received could dictate the US/UK relationship over the coming months.
The UK, and generally Europe on the whole, has taken a much more pragmatic approach in dealing with the potential threat of Chinese espionage. While the US was quick to banish any Chinese equipment from critical infrastructure, European governments are implementing new regulations and conditions to heighten security requirements, theoretically mitigating risk while also allowing telcos the luxury of increased choice.
This might sound like a perfectly logical way to manage a potentially nefarious situation, but the US is not happy. Perhaps this is evidence of the eroding influence which the US has on the world and a shift in the geo-political landscape. Once upon a time, US politicians might have been able to whisper in the ears of the European political elite and achieve their aims, but this does not seem to be the case anymore.
US officials fear that because 5G networks will be software-orientated, any equipment which is embedded into communications networks could altered at a later date, creating virtual backdoors at will. Theoretically, this is a genuine risk, however, nefarious individuals at any juncture of the supply chain, in any country, for any vendor, could also create the same vulnerability.
Although the National Cyber Security Centre is yet to respond to the comments from the US, CEO Ciaran Martin played down fears during a conference speech last week.
“Huawei’s presence is subject to detailed, formal oversight, led by the NCSC. Because of our 15 years of dealings with the company and 10 years of a formally agreed mitigation strategy which involves detailed provision of information, we have a wealth of understanding of the company. We also have strict controls for how Huawei is deployed. It is not in any sensitive networks — including those of the government. Its kit is part of a balanced supply chain with other suppliers.”
While the US has been visiting various countries around the world in an attempt to convince governments to ban Chinese companies, successes are becoming less frequent. European governments in particular have seemingly been very resistant to the idea, with the US reportedly threatening Germany with consequences; should the Germans allow Huawei into their networks, German intelligence agencies would not be granted access to US intelligence databases.
This plea to the UK Government seems to be setting up a similar timeline; should the UK not react in the same manner, the US might well start thumping its chest and stamping its feet, threatening a similar exclusion.
What is worth noting, is that while the US is preaching the benefits of a total ban on Huawei and other similar Chinese vendors, it has not done so itself. Chinese companies are barred from providing products and services in most critical and sensitive products, but the White House has not gone as far as a complete ban. Perhaps the worry is over repercussions from the Chinese, though it does not seem to care whether China punishes its allies.
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