NCSC Chief Says Huawei 5G Risk Can Be Mitigated

The head of the UK’s cyber-security agency, the NCSC, has said he is confident the risks of using Huawei in 5G networks can be mitigated.

The remarks by NCSC head Ciaran Martin are a sign that the UK may be moving toward allowing the Chinese telecoms equipment maker to participate in building the country’s 5G networks, in spite of intensifying US pressure on its allies to ban Huawei and other Chinese technology firms.

A UK decision in favour of Huawei could encourage other European countries, such as France and Germany, to follow similar lines.

Canada, the only other member of the ‘Five Eyes’ intelligence network yet to reach a formal decision on the issue, may also take its lead from the UK.

Five Eyes

As in the UK, Canada’s telecoms companies have a long history of using Huawei equipment, a practice that has come under fire by the US as companies prepare to begin building next-generation networks.

The other Five Eyes members, the US, New Zealand and Australia, have imposed partial or complete bans on Huawei in their 5G networks.

Speaking to the CyberSec conference in Brussels, the NCSC’s Martin said the agency recognised there was a potential risk to using equipment from Huawei.

He noted that Huawei gear is not used in “any sensitive networks” in the UK, including those of the government.

But he said such issues were well-known in the UK and that the country’s mitigation model – which includes an NCSC-headed oversight centre – “works”.

Martin said the UK did not underestimate the security “problems” that arose from working with Huawei and would continue to work with the company on resolving them.

‘No credible plan’

“We will monitor and report on progress and we will not declare the problems are on the path to being solved unless and until there is clear evidence that this is the case,” he said.

In a telephone briefing following Martin’s remarks, NCSC technical director Dr Ian Levy noted that the agency warned of security issues in Huawei’s engineering processes last year, and said that as yet it had “not seen a credible plan” from Huawei for resolving them.

At the same time, Martin said there had been no evidence of any actively subversive intent from the Chinese company.

“I would be obliged to report if there was evidence of malevolence… by Huawei. And we’re yet to have to do that,” he said, according to Reuters.

In a new paper, national security think tank the Royal United Services Institute (RUSI) said the UK should take a more hawkish position.

It said allowing Huawei to participate in the UK’s 5G networks would be “at best naive, at worst irresponsible”.

Ministers are set to make a final decision following the conclusion of a government review of the telecoms market in the spring.

A Huawei spokesperson said the company has presented the UK government with a $2 billion (£1.5bn) plan for addressing security concerns.

“We remain committed to designing and producing technology to the highest standards of security and safety for customers in 170 countries around the world,” the company said.

Matthew Broersma

Matt Broersma is a long standing tech freelance, who has worked for Ziff-Davis, ZDnet and other leading publications

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