Trump administration is leading a broadside against Chinese telecommunications giants Huawei and ZTE. But, there are concerns that the Chinese network gear could be used as backdoors for facilitating state-sponsored surveillance or disrupting critical infrastructure are not limited to America.
U.S. diplomats have met with European leaders in Brussels, warning them that using Huawei or ZTE would pose a risk to their critical infrastructure, militaries and national security.
U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo is visiting Hungary, Slovakia and Poland this week and the State Department has signaled that Huawei and ZTE will feature in the discussions as Pompeo advocates working together to counter Russian and Chinese influence.
Poland has signaled that it plans to block Huawei from its 5G rollout.
In January, officials in Poland arrested a Chinese employee of Huawei as well as a Polish security official on spying charges.
Five Eyes’ Response
Australia and New Zealand have blocked Huawei and ZTE from networking projects or 5G rollouth plans and both are members of the Five Eyes intelligence alliance, along with the U.S., Canada and the U.K.
Last August, a U.S. bill signed into law by President Donald Trump as part of the Defense Authorization Act, which banned the U.S. government from using Huawei and ZTE equipment.
The bill is scheduled to take full effect over the next two years.
President Trump is announced he is weighing using emergency powers to completely ban Huawei and ZTE from all U.S. telecommunications networks.
The White House has been increasing its pressure on Huawei. At the end of January, the U.S. Justice Department removed two indictments against Huawei, charging it with bypassing U.S. sanctions that prohibit sales to North Korea and Iran as well as economic espionage.
Huawei continues to denies aiding any country’s intelligence establishment. The charges show the U.S. is persistently accusing Chinese firms, including Huawei, of systemically stealing intellectual property via online hack attacks and espionage.
Many Countries Undecided
Canada remains undecided about using Chinese-built equipment in critical networks.
Many European countries are seeking consensus on whether Huawei and ZTE should be allowed or banned. According to German Chancellor Angela Markel, during her visit last week to Japan, stated that her country would require guarantees from Huawei that it would not steal data as a precondition of using the equipment.
In December 2018, the Czech Republic’s National Cybre and Information Security Agency warned that Huawei and ZTE software and hardware posed a security threat. Such warnings trigger legal requirements. The Czech Republic is part of the EU as well as NATO.
The Czech Republic’s tax authority blocked Huawei from being considered to supply technology for a new tax portal, and the government has signaled that it may fully block Huawei and ZTE from government contracts.
In response to Czech Repubic block, Huawei has threatened to sue.
Some countries remain on the fence. In 2018, India’s Department of Telecommunications excluded Huawei and ZTE from its list of companies asked to participate in 5G trials.
UK Demands Improvements
The U.K. has not officially banned Huawei as of yet. However, according to Alex Younger, the head of MI6, Britain’s foreign intelligence service, stated in a speech delivered last December in St. Andrews, Scotland, that serious questions have yet to be answered.
In response to an questing regarding 5G, Younger says we need to decide the extent to which we are going to be comfortable with Chinese ownership of these technologies and these platforms in an environment where some of our allies have taken a quite definite position.
In December 2018, British telecommunications giant BT announced that it will not use Huawei as part of its 5G network and BT has decided to remove Huawei equipment from its 3G and 4G networks as well.
‘A Difficult Balance’
The choice of whether to exclude Chinese manufacturers is not an easy one to make, especially when attempting to balance espionage and surveillance concerns with innovation and other business imperatives.
Robert Hannigan former director of the British intelligence agency GCHQ, stated that the UK is struggling to recognize China as threat or opportunity.
Hi view is that we want the benefits of Chinese technology and inward investment, and we should find ways of managing the risks, pushing back where necessary.
In the U.K., Huawei’s operations are monitored by the Huawei Cyber Security Evaluation Center and ran by GCHQ. The government launched the center in 2010, which is staffed by 35 heavily vetted analyst.
A report was issued in July 2018, regarding serious concerns with Huawei’s technology and engineering processes and relieve that Huawei’s processes are continuing to fall short of industry good practice and make it difficult to provide long-term assurance.
In response to the report, Huawei defended itself against suggestions that it was a tool of Chinese state espionage agencies, and guaranteed to spend $2 billion to improve its processes.
‘Trust But Verify’ Has Limits
Last October Alan Woodward, a visiting professor of computer science at the U.K.’s University of Surrey, told a Parliament joint committee that the country would do itself a disservice by restricting itself to only U.K. companies with U.K.-vetted supply lines.
Woodward advised that trust but verify requires having complete visibility into every aspect of equipment design, production and delivery.
Yet GCHQ’s Huawei Cyber Security Evaluation Center found that Huawei was not able to provide required verification for each process.
Furthermore, Huawei was not able to guarantee, and did not have a process in place to show, that what was coming off the production line and going into the networks was what had been evaluated.