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Chinese networking equipment compromises British security, says NCSC

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UK telecom firms have been warned to avoid using networking equipment provided by Chinese firm ZTE over concerns that it could have a “long-term negative impact on the security of the UK.”

The warning came from the UK’s cyber-security watchdog, the National Cyber Security Centre (NCSC), which has warned telecommunication organisations not to use equipment or services from one of China’s leading companies over “potential risks” to national security.

In a letter to companies in the sector, the NCSC said that the UK telecoms network already contains a “significant amount” of equipment supplied by Huawei, also a Chinese manufacturer, meaning adding in equipment and services from another Chinese supplier would “render our existing mitigations ineffective”.

The NCSC said it would be “impossible” to manage the risks if ZTE equipment was deployed at scale, the Financial Times reports.

Huawei supplies much of the telecoms equipment used in British mobile and broadband networks and operates a cyber-security centre alongside members of GCHQ to monitor for interference or threats.

The company has close ties to the Chinese government which has prompted concern from many Western governments over the potential that they could intercept data that is transmitted using their equipment.

In January, Australia’s security agency banned the installation of an undersea cable made by Huawei from connecting to the Australian broadband network. 

Dr Ian Levy, NCSC technical director, said: “It is entirely appropriate and part of NCSC’s duty to highlight potential risks to the UK’s national security and provide advice based on our technical expertise.

“NCSC assess that the national security risks arising from the use of ZTE equipment or services within the context of the existing UK telecommunications infrastructure cannot be mitigated.”

It comes as the United States’ Commerce Department imposed a seven-year ban on US companies selling any products and services to ZTE, after it allegedly violated a sanctions settlement.

The company pleaded guilty in March 2017 to charges of illegally shipping US equipment to Iran and North Korea, with part of the settlement requiring ZTE to take action against employees involved in the violations.

“Instead of reprimanding ZTE staff and senior management, ZTE rewarded them. This egregious behaviour cannot be ignored,” said US secretary of commerce Wilbur Ross.

ZTE works with BT in a research partnership, but the British firm said that did not mean it would lead to a commercial deployment of its technology in the UK.

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