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Chinese telecoms equipment maker Huawei seems the obvious target of an executive order signed by US president Donald Trump, who has declared a “national emergency” to protect US IT networks from what the order calls “foreign adversaries”.
According to a White House statement accompanying the order, Trump aims to “protect America from foreign adversaries who are actively and increasingly creating and exploiting vulnerabilities in information and communications technology infrastructure and services”.
Huawei is not explicity named in the executive order.
The Chinese company recently attracted fresh controversy in the UK when a decision seemingly made at a meeting of the National Security Council (NSC) on 24 April to allow Huawei access to the “non-core” portions of the country’s future 5G wireless telecoms network was leaked to the Daily Telegraph. Defence secretary Gavin Williamson was sacked as the suspected leaker the following week.
Coinciding with the US presidential order, Richard Dearlove, former head of SIS, has been reported to have urged the UK government to reconsider any decision to give even a limited role to Huawei in building 5G networks.
Dearlove expressed his views in the foreword to a report from neo-conservative think-tank the Henry Jackson Society, entitled Defending our data: Huawei, 5G and the five eyes. He wrote: “The fact that the British government now appears to have decided to place the development of some its most sensitive critical infrastructure in the hands of a company from China is deeply worrying… the engagement of Huawei presents a potential security risk to the UK.”
On BBC Radio 4’s Today programme today, two security experts from the UK and the US clashed over Trump’s executive order.
Mark Lyall Grant, former UK national security adviser, said: “China is an intelligence and security risk… but that does not mean we should not allow Huawei to play some role in our future 5G network”, in non-core work. Grant added that the government’s decision “if it has indeed been taken, would have been taken on the advice of the head of GCHQ, which has been monitoring Huawei for more than 10 years”.
He referred to the work of the Huawei Cyber Security Evaluation Centre Oversight Board, ultimately overseen by Ciaran Martin as head of the National Cyber Security Centre, and its annual report, the latest edition of which would have informed the NSC decision that was leaked. He said prime minister Theresa May is “tough on this issue [of Chinese involvement in the UK economy]”, so if she thinks “the risks can be mitigated, that is reasonable”.
Robert Spalding, retired US brigadier general and a former senior director for strategic planning for the National Security Council at the White House, said Trump’s executive order was “a long time coming”, adding: “Huawei acts as an agent of the Chinese Communist Party, so banning their activity makes a lot of sense. The root of the problem is that data is so important to our society and needs to be secured… Over time, US willingness to share information with any Five Eyes partner that has a close relationship with Huawei or the Chinese Communist Party will be threatened.”
The Five Eyes are the US, the UK, Canada, New Zealand and Australia.
Grant said that would surprise him and Spalding retorted that the statement was, in turn, “shocking, since the president has said this is a national security emergency”.
He added: “We thought we could push liberal values into totalitarian regimes, using globalisation and the internet, and really we are censoring ourselves as we adopt these companies into our own lives.”
In response to the executive order, Huawei said: “Restricting Huawei from doing business in the US will not make the US more secure or stronger. Instead, this will only serve to limit the US to inferior yet more expensive alternatives, leaving the US lagging behind in 5G deployment, and eventually harming the interests of US companies and consumers.”
This is in keeping with what Catherine Chen, corporate senior vice-president and director of the Huawei board, said to a group of UK journalists, representing publications including Computer Weekly, on a recent visit to Huawei’s headquarters in Shenzhen: “The US market is indeed very big and mature, but to Huawei, this market is just not that important, because over the past 10-plus years, we have hardly been allowed to do any business there. That’s not important to us any more. Last year, things went to a new extreme when we weren’t even allowed to sell our phones there. I think the people who suffer most are US consumers, not us.”
Chen added: “Huawei enjoyed rapid revenue growth in 2018 and Q1 2019. US consumers have lost an option. According to third-party reports, compared with Asian and European markets, consumers in the US have to pay higher prices for their communications services.
“Our values do not allow us to implant backdoors in our products or collect intelligence from other companies using our products. This is never going to happen. Our values are about creating value for our customers, and we never do anything that harms their interests.”
According to the BBC, during a meeting in London on Tuesday, Huawei chairman Liang Hua said the company was “willing to sign no-spy agreements with governments”.
But a group of countries under US hegemony, such as Australia and New Zealand, have raised concerns that the Chinese state could use Huawei products for surveillance in Five Eyes countries. In particular, the US has been turning the screw on allies to keep Huawei out of 5G mobile networks, the next generation of wireless telecoms.
Read more about the Huawei affair
- Why worry over Huawei? A US ban of this Chinese company’s products should remind CISOs that now is the time to consider security issues related to the roll-out of the 5G network.
- Cabinet secretary Mark Sedwill has instituted an inquiry aimed at discovering who leaked confidential discussions about UK mobile operators’ use of Huawei in their future 5G networks to the press.
- Culture secretary tells MPs that a final decision on use of Huawei in UK 5G networks has not been taken, and says the government is taking the leak of confidential discussions at the National Security Council very seriously.
- The Cabinet Office has used an NCSC conference to lay out the government’s approach to the security of 5G networks, as controversy grows around using equipment from Huawei.
- The UK’s National Security Council has approved the use of Huawei’s networking equipment in parts of the country’s 5G mobile networks in spite of widespread opposition.
- John Suffolk, global cyber security and privacy officer at Huawei, tells Huawei Analyst Summit that growth is the best answer to US criticism.
- Troubles continue for Huawei as new bans and government reports put security into question, but the company is attempting to fight back against the criticism.
- If the UK government decides to impose tighter restrictions, or an outright ban on the use of Huawei in national 5G networks, the country faces severe consequences, according to a report.
- Huawei has become one of the world’s largest technology companies by revenue, suggesting the accusations over its ties to the Chinese government are failing to have much impact.
- Huawei has made no material progress on addressing the issues identified last year by the NCSC, according to the latest highly critical report from its HCSEC Oversight Board.
- The chair of the Science and Technology Committee has criticised the government’s vague response to concerns about Huawei’s activities in the UK.
- Vodafone’s CTO and general counsel have defended its use of Huawei equipment in its mobile network and challenged its detractors to show evidence of wrongdoing.
- Huawei has filed a lawsuit accusing Washington of violating the US constitution by banning it from government contracts.
- US secretary of state Mike Pompeo has reinforced his attacks on Huawei as the firm apparently prepares to sue the US government over its federal-level ban.