The European Union (EU) is worried about potential cyber security risks from Chinese technology companies. Several members are concerned with China’s behaviour in the cyber realm, and calling for regulations reinforcement in the upcoming 5G spectrum auctions.
Huawei, one of China most successful tech company, is often the cited culprit over the security concerns. The company is accused of being a tool that could be used by the Chinese government for espionage.
The fears come from China’s National Intelligence Law, which states that “organizations and citizens shall, in accordance with the law, support, cooperate with, and collaborate in national intelligence work.”
Western governments interpret this as a risk that Huawei would be forced to build “backdoors” in its equipment to give China access to sensitive data. Besides, the company has run into hot water recently, having its chief financial officer, Meng Wanzhou, arrested in Canada on 1 December 2018, for allegedly taking part in Iran sanctions fraud.
The United States, New Zealand, Australia and Japan have banned Huawei’s telecom infrastructure to varying degrees. In Europe, Brussels is encouraging its members to evaluate the options carefully before making decisions.
As once the auctions are complete, the involved members wouldn’t want to be in a scenario where an infrastructure provider with probable security risks is supplying equipment to an entire continent.
“We are urging everyone to avoid making any hasty moves they might regret later,” commented an unnamed diplomat who spoke to the Financial Times.
Several EU members have already hardened their stance on Huawei. The Czech Republic’s cybersecurity agency has issued a warning that Huawei’s products pose a cybersecurity threat, while the Belgian cybersecurity agency is reportedly considering a ban on the Chinese company’s products.
No evidence of backdoors
Meanwhile in the UK, British Telecom (BT) has decided to remove Huawei products from the core areas of its existing 3G and 4G equipment, and doesn’t plan to deploy its products during the 5G rollout either.
BT’s stance is surprising as Huawei has set aside £1.5 billion ($2 billion) to be spent over the next five years so that it can address the security concerns raised by the British intelligence and security agency GCHQ (Government Communications Headquarters).
Moreover, Huawei firmly denies any improper links with the Chinese government, and researchers including GCHQ have never found any evidence of such backdoors.
Germany’s Federal Office for Information Security recently found out that its network infrastructure wasn’t any less secure when compared to its rivals such as Europe’s Nokia and Ericsson, along with South Korean Samsung.
Despite the concerns, Huawei has already made headway in some EU member countries. T-Mobile Poland, for instance, launched the first fully functional 5G network in the centre of its capital Warsaw, and is tapping Huawei to build its 5G network further.
Altice PT, the largest telecommunications service provider in Portugal, signed a partnership deal with Huawei to develop and implement 5G services in Portugal. In all, the Chinese tech giant has made deals with telecom providers and had its infrastructure scrutinized in several other European countries.
That’s not surprising as Huawei has been known to provide telecom equipment at competitive rates, and there have been reports suggesting that the security concerns could be overblown.
The Chinese company is also allowing telecom operators to put security firewalls in its 5G network architecture so that they can view, monitor, and control the information flowing through. These efforts seem to be working in the company’s favour as the Huawei Cyber Security Evaluation Centre in the UK mentioned in its annual report that the company has “fulfilled its obligations” to the country’s government and telecom operators such as O2, EE, and Vodafone.
But the overall negativity surrounding Huawei means that the EU can be expected to play an important role in the region’s 5G infrastructure rollout by closely auditing and vetting the participants so that it can minimize any supplier-related risk.