Huawei Pressed In The UK, Australia On Telecom Cybersecurity Issues

China-based telecommunications giant Huawei continues to be pressed on multiple fronts regarding allegations its equipment could be used to provide cybersurveillance capabilities for the Chinese government.

In the latest in what has become a full-court press against Huawei, the U.K. government confirmed to the BBC that it is probing the Cyber Security Evaluations Centre in Banbury, Oxfordshire, which was set up by Huawei to assess possible cyber risks related to the company's equipment.

Meanwhile, the former head of the CIA and National Security Agency told the Australian Financial Review that he believes Huawei is a "significant security threat" to both the U.S. and Australia.

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These actions, which follow an October report by the U.S. Congress that found equipment from Huawei to be a potential security threat in the U.S., form a serious triangle of resistance to Huawei's telecom market expansion despite being the world's second-largest telecommunications provider.

In the U.K., the government this week said it is reviewing the security arrangements provided by the Cyber Security Evaluations Centre, known as the "Cell," in the wake of a June report by the Intelligence and Security Committee that found serious issues with how the Cell was managed.

The Cell in 2010 was set up and funded by Huawei as part of a 2005 agreement between it and British Telecom related to a government contract. All Cell personnel except its head, a former deputy director of Government Communications Headquarters, are from Huawei as well.

The BBC quoted a Cabinet Office spokesperson as saying that the government takes threats to its critical national infrastructure seriously, and that it has robust procedures in place to ensure confidence in U.K. telecommunications networks security.

"However, we are not complacent and as such we have agreed to the main recommendation of the report to conduct a review of Huawei's Cyber Security Evaluation Centre [the 'Banbury Cell'] to give assurance that we have the right measures and processes in place to protect UK telecommunications," the spokesperson was quoted as saying.

Meanwhile, in Australia, where Huawei is working to promote its telecom equipment as a safe offering from a company independent of the Chinese government, the Australian Financial Review on Thursday published an interview with Michael Hayden, the former head of the CIA and NSA, in which Hayden said he is certain Huawei supplied sensitive intelligence to China in his "professional judgment."

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Hayden said Western intelligence agencies knew about Huawei's alleged clandestine activities. The company, at a minimum, had "shared with the Chinese state intimate and extensive knowledge of the foreign telecommunications systems it is involved with," the paper quoted him as saying.

Huawei has steadily maintained that the company is completely independent of the Chinese government, noting several times in the past that if that were not so, the company's business outside of China would be at risk.

A Huawei spokesperson said in a statement emailed to CRN that the company welcomes the U.K. Government's response to the Intelligence and Security Committee June report.

In the statement, the spokesperson called out a quote from the U.K. response: "Our work with Huawei and their UK customers gives us confidence that the networks in the UK that use Huawei equipment are operated to a high standard of security and integrity."

"Huawei supports the decision that the National Security Advisor should review the Cyber Security Evaluation Centre. Huawei shares the same goal as the UK government and the ISC in raising the standards of cyber security in the UK and ensuring that network technology benefits UK consumers. Huawei is open to new ideas and ways of working to improve cyber security," the spokesperson said.

Gary Fish, founder and CEO of FishNet Security, a Kansas City, Mo.-based solution provider specializing in networking security, said he doesn't partner with Huawei today, but not necessarily because of security concerns. Instead, Fish said, it's more a matter of customer demand.

"We tend to look at customers and what they are demanding and asking for, and they are not asking for that today," Fish said. "I don't know if the security threat is real or not with Huawei. We use a lot of hardware and software that's not manufactured here in the U.S. Products are innovated all over the world, so, to me, it doesn't necessarily make them not secure."

Glenn Conley, president and CEO of Metropark Communications, a St. Louis-based solution provider and Huawei partner, said there seems to be a lot of posturing going on around Huawei.

"It could be simply deflection at the highest levels pointing fingers at Huawei in the face of more of Western spying efforts that may come out," Conley said. "Huawei is an easy target [because] they have a .com after their name and not a .gov. I can't speak for the people in the U.K., but the Huawei equipment seems to be very sound, with no back doors to Beijing."