Will UK Rip and Replace Huawei Sooner Rather Than Later?Some British Lawmakers Want Chinese Vendor Gone From 5G Networks by 2025
Citing a new government report, some U.K. lawmakers are demanding that efforts to remove Huawei's equipment from the country's 5G networks should be sped up based on security concerns.
But some security experts question whether those concerns are legitimate.
"From a cybersecurity practitioner's point of view, it is biased to judge Huawei's products and solutions based on what seems to be hearsay and pressure, in parts from an ally," Dirk Schrader, global vice president at New Net Technologies, a U.K. cybersecurity firm, tells Information Security Media Group.
In July, the U.K. government reversed course and announced that it would ban Huawei technology from the country's 5G networks by 2027 – following similar action in the United States. Now, some lawmakers want to speed up that process by two years.
Two Sides of Issue
Schrader argues that proper technical analysis is missing and contends that “the topic has been drawn into a spin of opinions about motives and assumptions. Sometimes, the overall discussion looks a lot like a conspiracy theory, and one can begin to ask whether it is more dangerous to use Huawei tech or Facebook.”
But Ciaran Martin, the former chief of National Cyber Security Center, said at a Parliament hearing earlier this month that Huawei's relationship with China's government will eventually harm U.K. interests.
"We have to plan on the basis that at some point, Huawei could be made subservient operationally to the Chinese state," Martin said, the BBC reports. "You always have to have in mind a scenario where every bit of involvement of Huawei was turned against the U.K."
Defense Committee Report
The U.K. Defense Committee published a lengthy report last week that not only paints Huawei as beholden to the Chinese government but also urges the government to move up from the timeframe for removing the company's equipment from its 5G networks from 2027 to 2025.
The report also urges the U.K. to work with other nations to help rebuild technical expertise so other tech firms can better compete with Huawei.
Even with national security concerns looming, the report notes that implementing rip-and-replace strategy by 2025 will prove challenging.
"The issues surrounding Huawei's removal and the U.K.'s consolidated vendor ecosystem illustrate the need for a coherent long-term strategy for the U.K.'s technical and technological ambitions," according to the report. "It is not clear to us that the government has a cohesive strategy in this area."
Working with Chinese Firms
The report also addresses concerns about working with Chinese companies.
"The West does not succumb to ill-informed anti-China hysteria and recognizes the mutual benefits of Chinese involvement in our economy,” the report states. “We recommend that the UK and allies should ensure that decisions taken around the involvement of Chinese companies are taken in an evidence-based manner, and only when risk is demonstrable should decisions around removal be made.”
The Defense Committee report also notes that the U.K. and its allies regularly face cyberthreats from rogue hackers as well as state-sponsored actors from Russia, China and elsewhere. These attacks also target 5G networks, which makes it imperative for the government to counter such threats, according to the report. The presence of Huawei’s equipment in 5G networks has increased this risk, the report concludes.
The report acknowledges that moving up the deadline for removing Huawei equipment could cause a delay in 5G rollouts and have a negative impact on telecom operators as well as the economy. (see: UK Reverses Course, Bans Huawei Gear From 5G Networks).
Heightened Pressure from U.S. Sanctions
The U.S. has continued to warn that Huawei’s equipment could be subverted by China for spying. China could use its National Intelligence Law of 2017 to order a company to act in a manner that might harm other nations, the U.S. argues. As a result, it has taken a series of steps to prohibit the use of Huawei technology in American 5G networks.
In May, the U.S. altered an export control rule, called the Foreign-Produced Direct Product Rule - or FDPR - to prohibit companies from supplying chips to Huawei if any aspect of the design or manufacture of those chips involved U.S. technology, including software (see: Britain's 5G Policy Failure: No Ideal Alternative to Huawei).