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US cyber chief warns China will use Huawei to spy on UK

Image credit: Alexey Novikov | Dreamstime.com

US cyber chief, Robert Strayer, has warned China will use its telecoms equipment company Huawei as a gateway to ‘spy, steal and attack’ the UK.

Strayer, who is the deputy assistant secretary for the Cyber and International Communications, said that China was a threat to Western freedoms and should be denied any foothold to UK telecommunications.

Speaking at Westminster in a meeting hosted by the Henry Jackson Society, Strayer said Chinese authorities saw technology “as a tool of repression, mass surveillance, and a means to take advantage of the openness of democracies”.

He also warned that China’s desire to import technology into the UK networks will be a means to channel espionage, as well as steal private information, intellectual property and “the export of authoritarian values”.

Strayer added, although Huawei was not state-owned, the vendor was still subject to Chinese law, which does not give any “meaningful checks and balances” on the authorities’ power to compel cooperation.

“For example, because of the essential role that vendors play in networks and their maintenance, they could be ordered to undermine network security to steal personal information or intellectual property, conduct espionage, disrupt critical services, or conduct cyber attacks,” he said.

Strayer also said only partial access to the UK 5G network was not good enough because the distinction between the “edge” and the “core”, which is clear in its predecessor – 4G networks, was much less clear in 5G networks.

“Components anywhere in the network can interact in influential and dangerous ways where that capability used to be limited only to the core,” he added.

“For this reason, we strongly disagree with those who think they can mitigate risk by putting untrusted vendors only in the edge of 5G networks... this risk exists in both the core and edge of 5G networks.

“Given what is at stake and the uncertainty surrounding a rapidly evolving technology, we believe that using untrusted vendors anywhere in a 5G network introduces an unacceptable level of risk that cannot be mitigated.”

In light of Strayer’s comments on China, chairman of Huawei, Dr Liang Hua, said the company was prepared to sign a “no spying” agreement with countries, including the UK, in order to ease concerns about its technology, during a visit to the UK last month.

Strayer’s comments, however, are the latest in a series of US criticism on plans that could see Huawei allowed access to “non-core” parts of the new UK 5G network, which is still under review by the government.

US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo spoke out about his views on Huawei at a conference in the Philippines in early March, stating that the world must have "eyes wide open" to dangers posed by the Chinese telecoms firm.

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