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Huawei’s ‘shoddy’ security could prompt Westminster ban

Image credit: Oleksandr Lutsenko | Dreamstime.com

Huawei equipment could be banned from Westminster and other sensitive areas over concerns regarding ‘shoddy’ security in the Chinese firm’s products, a GCHQ chief has suggested.

Dr Ian Levy, technical director of the organisation’s National Cyber Security Centre (NCSC), said “the security in Huawei is like nothing else –  it’s engineering like it's back in the year 2000 – it’s very, very shoddy”.

In an interview with BBC’s Panorama, Dr Levy said the NCSC’s concerns with the Chinese telecom’s equipment manufacturer were primarily due to “really, really poor” cybersecurity practices at the firm.

“We’ve seen nothing to give us any confidence that the transformation programme is going to do what they say it's going to do,” Levy said. He added that “geographic restrictions – maybe there’s no Huawei radio [equipment] in Westminster” is now an option for ministers to consider.

Last month, a GCHQ-backed security review of the company said it would be difficult to risk-manage Huawei’s future products until defects in its cyber-security processes were fixed. It added that technical issues with the company's approach to software development had resulted in vulnerabilities in existing products, which in some cases had not been fixed, despite having been identified in previous versions.

The executive of Huawei’s telecoms equipment division said it is investing US $2bn (£1.5bn) as part of a “transformation programme” that will tackle the security issues identified.

Ryan Ding, chief executive of its carrier business group, told the BBC the firm hopes “to turn this challenge into an opportunity moving forward”.

“I believe that if we can carry out this programme as planned, Huawei will become the strongest player in the telecom industry in terms of security and reliability,” he said.

The technology giant’s involvement in Britain’s new 5G network is expected to come under scrutiny in an upcoming Government review of the country’s telecommunications infrastructure, with its outcome expect to be revealed in May.

As well as Dr Levy, to date, defence secretary Gavin Williamson and the head of MI6 Alex Younger have publicly expressed their concerns over the company, while GCHQ chief Jeremy Fleming has spoken of both “opportunities and threats” posed by Chinese firms.

On 5 April 2019, US authorities said they gathered key information about Huawei Technologies Co Ltd through secret surveillance, with plans to use this in the case against the Chinese telecom’s equipment manufacturer, accused of bank fraud and breaking sanctions.

“You would never know when the Chinese government decide to force Huawei... to do things that would be in the best interests of the Communist party,” claimed Mike Conaway, a member of the US House Intelligence Committee.

In 2018, a diplomatic row between Washington and Beijing escalated with the arrest of Meng Wanzhou, the company’s chief financial officer, in Canada at the US’s request.

The firm has been blocked from providing its telecommunications equipment in New Zealand and Australia.

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