Who’s Afraid Of Huawei?

As countries move towards the fifth generation of mobile broadband, 5G, the United States has been loudly calling out Huawei as a security threat. It has employed alarmist rhetoric and threatened to limit trade and intelligence sharing with close allies that use Huawei in their 5G infrastructure.   By Emily Taylor

While some countries such as Australia have adopted a hard line against Huawei, others like the UK have been more circumspect, arguing that the risks of using the firm’s technology can be mitigated without forgoing the benefits.

So, who is right, and why have these close allies taken such different approaches?

The risks
Long-standing concerns relating to Huawei are plausible. There are credible allegations that it has benefitted from stolen intellectual property, and that it could not thrive without a close relationship with the Chinese state.

Huawei hotly denies allegations that users are at risk of its technology being used for state espionage, and says it would resist any order to share information with the Chinese government. But there are questions over whether it could really resist China’s stringent domestic legislation, which compels companies to share data with the government. And given China’s track record of using cyberattacks to conduct intellectual property theft, there may be added risks of embedding a Chinese provider into critical communications infrastructure.

In addition, China’s rise as a global technological superpower has been boosted by the flow of financial capital through government subsidies, venture and private equity, which reveal murky boundaries between the state and private sector for domestic darlings. Meanwhile, the Belt and Road initiative has seen generous investment by China in technology infrastructure across Africa, South America and Asia.

There’s no such thing as a free lunch or a free network – as Sri Lanka discovered when China assumed shares in a strategic port in return for debt forgiveness; or Mexico when a 1% interest loan for its 4G network came on the condition that 80% of the funding was spent with Huawei.

Aside from intelligence and geopolitical concerns, the quality of Huawei’s products represents a significant cyber risk, one that has received less attention than it deserves.

On top of that, 5G by itself will significantly increase the threat landscape from a cybersecurity perspective. The network layer will be more intelligent and adaptable through the use of software and cloud services. The number of network antennae will increase by a factor of 20, and many will be poorly secured ‘things’; there is no need for a backdoor if you have any number of ‘bug doors’.

Finally, the US is threatening to limit intelligence sharing with its closest allies if they adopt Huawei. So why would any country even consider using Huawei in their 5G infrastructure?

Different situations
The truth is that not every country is free to manoeuvre; 5G technology will sit on top of existing mobile infrastructure.

Australia and the US can afford to take a hard line: their national infrastructure has been largely Huawei-free since 2012. However, the Chinese firm is deeply embedded in other countries’ existing structures – for example, in the UK, Huawei has provided telecommunications infrastructure since 2005. Even if the UK decided tomorrow to ditch Huawei, it cannot just rip up existing 4G infrastructure. To do so would cost a fortune, risk years of delay in the adoption of 5G and limit competition in 5G provisioning.

As a result, the UK has adopted a pragmatic approach resulting from years of oversight and analysis of Huawei equipment, during which it has never found evidence of malicious Chinese state cyber activity through Huawei.

At the heart of this process is the Huawei Cyber Security Evaluation Centre, which was founded in 2010 as a confidence-building measure. Originally criticized for ‘effectively policing itself’, as it was run and staffed entirely by Huawei, the governance has now been strengthened, with the National Cyber Security Centre chairing its oversight board.

The board’s 2019 report makes grim reading, highlighting ‘serious and system defects in Huawei’s software engineering and cyber security competence’. But it does not accuse the company of serving as a platform for state-sponsored surveillance.

Similar evidence-based policy approaches are emerging in other countries like Norway and Italy. They offer flexibility for governments, for example by limiting access to some contract competition through legitimate and transparent means, such as security reviews during procurement. The approaches also raise security concerns (both national and cyber) to a primary issue when awarding contracts – something that was not always done in the past, when price was the key driver.

The UK is also stressing the need to manage risk and increase vendor diversity in the ecosystem to avoid single points of failure. A further approach that is beginning to emerge is to draw a line between network ‘core’ and ‘periphery’ components, excluding some providers from the more sensitive ‘core’.

The limited rollouts of 5G in the UK so far have adopted multi-provider strategies, and only one has reportedly not included Huawei kit.

Managing the risks to cyber security and national security will become more complex in a 5G environment. In global supply chains, bans based on the nationality of the provider offer little assurance. For countries that have already committed to Huawei in the past, and who may not wish to be drawn into an outright trade war with China, these moderate approaches offer a potential way forward.

Chatham House

Emily Taylor is an associate fellow with the International Security Department at the Royal Instiute of International Affairs

You Might Also Read:

Five Things to Know About 5G:

AI Will Shape The Future 6G Network:

 

 

« Cyber Security Does Not Follow From Cyber Awareness
Thomas Cook Is A Cyber Collapse »

Perimeter 81

Directory of Suppliers

XYPRO Technology

XYPRO Technology

XYPRO is the market leader in HPE Non-Stop Security, Risk Management and Compliance.

Clayden Law

Clayden Law

Clayden Law are experts in information technology, data privacy and cybersecurity law.

Practice Labs

Practice Labs

Practice Labs is an IT competency hub, where live-lab environments give access to real equipment for hands-on practice of essential cybersecurity skills.

Perimeter 81

Perimeter 81

Perimeter 81 is a Zero Trust Network as a Service designed to simplify secure network, cloud and application access for the modern and distributed workforce.

MIRACL

MIRACL

MIRACL provides the world’s only single step Multi-Factor Authentication (MFA) which can replace passwords on 100% of mobiles, desktops or even Smart TVs.

Syxsense

Syxsense

Syxsense brings together endpoint management and security for greater efficiency and collaboration between IT management and security teams.

Jooble

Jooble

Jooble is a job search aggregator operating in 71 countries worldwide. We simplify the job search process by displaying active job ads from major job boards and career sites across the internet.

FREE eBook: Practical Guide To Optimizing Your Cloud Deployments

FREE eBook: Practical Guide To Optimizing Your Cloud Deployments

AWS Marketplace eBook: Optimizing your cloud deployments to accelerate cloud activities, reduce costs, and improve customer experience.

Authentic8

Authentic8

Authentic8 transforms how organizations secure and control the use of the web with Silo, its patented cloud browser.

BackupVault

BackupVault

BackupVault is a leading provider of completely automatic, fully encrypted online, cloud backup.

Compumatica

Compumatica

Compumatica is a leading European ICT security manufacturer for cybersecurity and encryption products. Solutions include network security, SCADA/ICS security, Mobile/BYOD and email encryption.

Logsign

Logsign

Logsign is a Security Orchestration, Automation and Response (SOAR) platform with next-gen Security Information and Event Management (SIEM) solution.

Combined Selection Group (CSG)

Combined Selection Group (CSG)

CSG are Global Talent Experts, we operate across 7 specialist sectors, including Information Technology and Cybersecurity, and take a pro-active approach to executive search and headhunting.

Blockchain Solutions

Blockchain Solutions

Blockchain Solutions Limited is a technological One Stop Solution provider, for Blockchain technology.

Techleap.nl

Techleap.nl

Techleap.nl is a non-profit publicly funded organisation helping to quantify and accelerate the tech ecosystem of the Netherlands.

Concentric

Concentric

Concentric Data Risk Monitoring and Protection. Deep Learning to discover, monitor and remediate risks to sensitive data on-premises and in the cloud.

Corsha

Corsha

Corsha is on a mission to simplify API security and allow enterprises to embrace modernization, complex deployments, and hybrid environments with confidence.

DeVry University - Cyber Security Degree

DeVry University - Cyber Security Degree

Explore the dynamic world of data protection with a hybrid or online cyber security degree specialization with DeVry's IT & Networking Bachelor's Degree.