The United Kingdom’s recent actions resulting in Huawei being allowed to supply the country with 5G equipment has been questioned by a senior former Australian spy who says that it is not in the nation’s interests due to China being unable to be prevented from exploiting the technology for their own requirements.
Working as a director of the Australian Signals Directorate until December of last year, Simeon Gilding has announced that the Australian intelligence agency could not design their own cyber security controls to stop the Chinese government from accessing the technology via the ‘backdoor’ of Huawei.
Writing for an Australian think tank, Gilding stated:
“We developed pages of cyber security mitigation measures to see if it was possible to prevent a sophisticated state actor from accessing our networks through a vendor. But we failed.”
He also expressed concerns that the UK are relying on “a flawed and outdated cyber security model to convince themselves that they can manage the risk that Chinese intelligence services could use Huawei’s access to UK telco networks to insert bad code.”
In a week that has already seen the country officially leave the European Union, Prime Minister Boris Johnson and his government confirmed that Huawei would be allowed to supply a maximum of 35% of all 5G base stations and antennas.
This decision has been heavily criticized by many of his Conservative party as well as politicians in Washington.
Like the United States, Australia made the choice to ban all Huawei equipment due to security risks, however spy agencies in the UK have stated they believe any risks can be alleviated regardless of the fact China has a reputation for state sponsored hacking.
Both countries’ national and intelligence security analysts have announced they believe that once the equipment is embedded in the network it cannot be guaranteed that the Chinese government will not use it for corrupt reasons.
China currently has an intelligence law from 2017 that states they have the power to demand any company to spy for them if requested. Gilding asks you to put yourself in China’s position saying with that law they can ask themselves “what could we do with that and could anyone stop us? We concluded that we could be awesome, no one would know and, if they did, we could plausibly deny our activities, safe in the knowledge that it would be too late to reverse billions of dollars’ worth of investment.”
Many of the UK’s politicians are against the ruling with one MP, Bob Seely, using Gilding’s words in a debate during a parliamentary hearing. Seely said that the posting made him believe there were “justifiable questions” over the UK’s Huawei policy “and that we all collectively need to think very carefully about this decision.”
The US secretary of state Mike Pompeo echoed these concerns, saying that by allowing Huawei technology within the UK network would be “very difficult to mitigate”.
“When you allow the information of your citizens or the national security information of your citizens to transit a network that the Chinese Communist party has a legal mandate to obtain, it creates risk.”
Other communications companies including Vodafone and the EE network appear to have encouraged the decision stating that without Huawei’s technology 5G rollout could be delayed by around two or three years and with the equipment being so much cheaper than their rivals it could result in consumers having to pay more.
The decision by the British Prime Minister is a move that has been seen as a risk to the ‘special relationship’ between the UK and America with US officials claiming it could lead to restricted intelligence being shared with a country usually described as its ‘closest ally.’
It is not just the UK that has announced that they cannot afford alternative technology. Germany has also been debating whether to allow Huawei into their 5G networks. Although Merkel did not name Huawei specifically she was quoted as saying at the annual meeting of the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland:
“I don’t think I make myself particularly secure if I completely eliminate providers in their entirety and then don’t know how they develop – I am sceptical about that.”
However senior members of Merkel’s conservative party Norbert Roettgen confirmed there was a growing movement of support with lawmakers to demand all companies that are involved in rolling out Germany’s 5G network must be free of any political influence, specifically from their own country.
Founded in China in 1987, Huawei is a multinational telecommunications equipment and services company that has seen a lot of controversy in recent years. In the last thirty years they have grown from a phone and cable network business into one of the biggest companies currently in the world.
Currently Huawei supply their solutions and products to over 170 countries serving over one third of the global population.