Telecommunications equipment giant Huawei has been banned by New Zealand from participating in the country’s 5G network rollout plans citing significant network security risks.
In a statement released earlier today, Andrew Hampton, Director-General of Government Communications Security Bureau (GCSB), New Zealand’s premier intelligence agency, said that telecom network Spark’s proposal to use 5G equipment from Huawei could not be cleared as “a significant network security risk was identified“.
Use of Huawei equipment poses significant security risks
The decision is likely to affect Spark’s plans to roll out a 5G network in New Zealand by July 1, 2020. Spark said that it was disappointed by the government’s decision but expressed confidence that it will be able to roll out its 5G network as per set timelines.
New Zealand’s decision to ban Huawei from participating in 5G network rollout comes a mere three months after neighbouring Australia announced its decision to ban both Huawei and ZTE from participating in the rollout of 5G network infrastructure, stating that the telecommunications giants were “likely subject to extrajudicial directions from a foreign government that conflict with Australian law”.
Danielle Cave, senior analyst at the Australian Strategic Policy Institute’s International Cyber Policy Centre, told ABC News that by banning Huawei and ZTE, the Australian government wanted to ensure that China could not use its National Intelligence Law to force Huawei and ZTE to spy on Australians.
The National Intelligence Law requires Chinese organisations to “support, assist, and cooperate with state intelligence work” and to provide necessary support, assistance, and cooperation to national intelligence work institutions. The law also states that national intelligence work institutions “are to use the necessary means, tactics, and channels to carry out intelligence efforts, domestically and abroad”.
“Huawei could be used to enable espionage, with or without Huawei corporate’s complicity. Espionage doesn’t necessarily require sophisticated ‘backdoors’— even compelling Chinese engineers to assist could enable Chinese intelligence services to get useful access to Australia’s 5G network,” noted Tom Uren, a visiting fellow at ASPI’s International Cyber Policy Centre, in an article for The Strategist.
Earlier this year, the United States government also banned both Huawei and ZTE from participating in the development or testing of 5G networks in the country over concerns that equipment sold by the two firms in the U.S. could be used by the Chinese government to carry out extensive surveillance on American citizens and the government itself.
In Germany, senior government officials in the interior and foreign ministries are mulling a ban on both Huawei and ZTE from participating in 5G network rollout plans in the country as they are concerned that China may use its National Intelligence Law to compel both firms to create backdoors in network installed in Germany.
NCSC batted for Huawei, but reviews stand
In the UK, however, Huawei has been enjoying tremendous support from government agencies and the National Cyber Security Centre and is actively working with telecom network Three UK to roll out a 5G network in the country soon.
Fellow Chinese network equipment provider ZTE hasn’t been so lucky though. In April, Dr. Ian Levy, the technical director of the NCSC, wrote a letter to telecommunications companies in the UK, asking them not to purchase or deploy equipment and services provided by ZTE as the same would pose a threat to the UK’s national security.
“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,” Dr. Levy said.
However, when people started wondering if Huawei would suffer a similar fate in the UK, the NCSC came out to publicly support Huawei’s operations in the UK, championing its robust partnership with the company to develop future technologies while managing cyber security risks at the same time.
“Huawei is a globally important company whose presence in the UK reflects our reputation as a global hub for technology, innovation and design. This government and British telecoms operators work with Huawei at home and abroad to ensure the UK can continue to benefit from new technology while managing cyber security risks,” an NCSC spokesman told The Telegraph.
In a twist of events, the National Cyber Security Centre wrote to leading telecom firms earlier this month, stating that they should be careful while selecting their 5G equipment suppliers and must take into consideration the findings of a recent review of the UK’s telecoms infrastructure which was initiated to ensure that the UK’s “critical national infrastructure remains resilient and secure”.
The Future Telecoms Infrastructure Review was announced in July this year with a view to facilitate the transition from copper to full fibre networks, connect 15 million premises to full fibre networks by 2025, to ensure 5G coverage to a majority of the population by 20207, and to ensure full fibre network coverage across all parts of the country by 2033.