Huawei and ZTE Are Security Threat Warns Cyber Watchdog

A statement from the Czech National Cyber and Information Security Agency (NCISA) has warned network operators that using software or hardware made by Chinese telecom equipment suppliers Huawei and ZTE could represent a security threat.

Why?

Huawei, which the world’s biggest producer of telecoms equipment, is based in China, and according to the NCISA, private companies residing in China are required by law to cooperate with intelligence services.  This could mean that the products and services of those companies could, in theory, become part of the Chinese state security systems e.g. Huawei and ZTE could be used for spying on behalf of China.

Global Suspicion & Action

According to the Wall Street Journal, espionage chiefs from Australia, Canada, New Zealand, the U.K. and the U.S. (the so-called ‘Five-Eyes’), agreed at a meeting in July this year to try to contain the global growth of Chinese telecom Huawei because of the threat that it could be spying for China.

The US, Australia and New Zealand have barred Huawei Technologies Ltd. as a supplier for fifth-generation networks, and Japan also looks set to ban government purchases of equipment from Huawei and ZTE.

The U.S. government is also reported to have been putting pressure on Deutsche Telekom, the majority owner of T-Mobile US, to stop using Huawei equipment, although the head of Germany's Federal Office for Information Security (BSI) Arne Schoenbohm is reported to have told German news outlet Der Spiegel that proof is required to substantiate the accusations.

Detained

Meng Wanzhou, the chief financial officer of Huawei, was recently detained in Vancouver at the request of U.S. authorities for violating US sanctions on Iran. The arrest of Meng Wanzhou happened on the same night that President Trump was dining with Chinese President Xi Jinping during the G20 summit in Argentina.  China’s state-run media, and some other commentators have suggested that Meng's detention appears to be politically or economically motivated.

Response

The response by a Huawei spokesperson to the NCISA warning has been to deny any suggestion that a national security threat is posed by Huawei to the Czech Republic, and to call for NCISA to provide proof of its claims.

What Does This Mean For Your Business?

If the ‘Five-Eyes’ are to be believed, Huawei’s products and network software could have backdoors built-in to them which could, in theory, allow covert surveillance or control, or destruction of phone networks (which are accessible via the internet).  The fear is that those acting for the Chinese state could gain access to the data stored / routed through Huawei devices, telecoms equipment and software, and could even, perhaps, monitor the conversations on mobile phones.

There does, however, appear to be a lack of clear proof for the allegations, and bearing in mind that Huawei is the world’s biggest producer of telecoms equipment, and that its products are popular (this year it overtook Apple in terms of the number of handsets it was shipping worldwide) and that UK stores are still stocking and selling its handsets, the warnings of various governments look unlikely to be heeded for now.  It is worth noting that BT uses Huawei systems as part of its network, but is now is removing Huawei systems from the core of the mobile network EE, which it purchased in 2016.

The advice as part of the recent Czech warning is that system administrators in critical information infrastructure should take ‘adequate measures’ against the threat.  This advice appears a little vague, and until conclusive proof can be produced, many people and businesses will feel that they can decide for themselves what, if any, action to take.