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UK ‘naive’ to ignore Huawei cybersecurity threat, think tank warns

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Ministers should not give Huawei access to the UK’s communications infrastructure, including upcoming 5G networks, a think tank has warned after the Government’s stance on the company appeared to relax.

On Monday the National Cyber Security Centre concluded that it can mitigate cyber-security risks posed by using Huawei-made technology in telecoms infrastructure.

But the new report from the Royal United Services Institute (Rusi) said that ministers would be “naive” and “irresponsible” to allow Huawei access.

It said Beijing had a long record of cyber-attacks as part of its “ruthless” drive to advance Chinese interests at the expense of the West.

“It is possible to conceive that Huawei might, in future, if it has not already, covertly collect data via the UK’s systems,” the report reads. “Allowing Huawei’s participation is at best naïve. 5G will be crucial to the future functioning [of] many processes which will be reliant on the Internet of Things.”

It said that if Huawei was permitted to participate in the rollout of the new 5G mobile networks it could install a “hidden backdoor” giving the Chinese government access to the system.

The report, written by Charles Parton, a former diplomat with more than 20 years service in China, Hong Kong and Taiwan, said Britain must be prepared to resist Beijing’s interference across a range of spheres. On Huawei, it said that as far back as 2013, the Parliamentary Intelligence and Security Committee had warned that GCHQ could not be confident of detecting “insertions” in software which would enable the covert downloading of information.

“It is far easier to place a hidden backdoor inside a system than it is to find one.”

The report said there was no reason to suppose the UK was not a target for espionage by Chinese intelligence and urged UK security services to make combating their activities a priority.

The report also highlighted China’s attempts to interfere in academic life in other countries, including the UK, to suppress discussion on issues sensitive to Beijing - such as Tibet or the Tienanmen Square massacre - and to promote the Chinese line.

Its said the Chinese Students and Scholars Association - ostensibly a welfare organisation for Chinese students overseas - was used to report on their activities to the authorities and organise pro-Chinese demonstrations and protests. Chinese-born academics working in the UK were “invited to tea” by the embassy and told to support the Chinese line, while others were threatened with withdrawal of access to research opportunities in China which could be a “death knell” to their careers.

“Generally, the CCP’s preferred method is to create dependencies and induce self-censorship and self-limiting policies,” the report said.

However the report suggests the UK may be less vulnerable than countries such as Australia and New Zealand in attempts by Beijing to manipulate local ethnic Chinese populations to support its interests as they make up a smaller proportion of the overall UK population.

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