Huawei answers UK parliament’s security questions

In its latest bid to get US allies to chill out Huawei wrote to the UK parliament to address a bunch of concerns it had expressed about security.

On 15 January Norman Lamb, the Chair of parliament’s Science and Technology Committee, sent Ryan Ding, President of Huawei’s carrier business group, a letter entitled ‘Security of the UK’s communications infrastructure’. In it he noted the oversight board of the Huawei Cyber Security Evaluation Centre (HCSEC) had said in its latest report that it could only provide limited reassurance about the risk Huawei posed to the UK’s critical networks.

Ding was given two weeks to respond and used all of it, pinging over his response on 29 January. That response has only just been published and you can read it in full here, but in case you’ve got too much other stuff on your plate, we’ve condensed it into words of one syllable for you.

It starts by praising the UK for its openness and notes Huawei has operated here for 18 years without any aggro. In that time it has invested loads of cash in the UK and would be happy to keep doing so, given half the chance. The main part of the letter addresses four questions posed by Lamb in his earlier correspondence, so here they are, accompanied by a summary of each response.

What reassurances can you give to demonstrate that your products and services pose no threat to UK national security?

  1. We’ve been around for ages and nothing’s gone wrong so far.
  2. We do loads of work on cyber security.
  3. The HCSEC Oversight Board still reckons that’s the best way to keep an eye on us.

How do you respond to actions being taken over foreign involvement in communications networks by other nations, such as the UK’s Five Eyes allies?

Coverage of this stuff has been overblown; Canada hasn’t taken any action, New Zealand has only turned down one 5G proposal, only 5G is a problem for Huawei in Australia and even in the US legal restrictions only apply to federal funds. Furthermore banning us just creates a false sense of security because the supply chain is global.

How do you intend to respond to the HCSEC Oversight Board’s latest annual report?

More references to points two and three of the answer to the first question followed by vows to double down on things like security and transparency. Ding infered it would help if policy makers would try to be a bit less uptight and give Huawei the benefit of the doubt every now and then.

To what extent could Huawei be compelled to assist Chinese national intelligence work using its UK-based hardware or software, or information gathered in the UK?

  1. Huawei has never and will never do that stuff and if it did someone would notice and then it would be in serious trouble.
  2. China’s National Intelligence Law doesn’t oblige companies to install security backdoors and Huawei has never been asked to do anything like that anyway. But even if that did happen, it would not be against Chinese law to refuse.

In closing the UK is really important to Huawei and we still plan to spend £3 billion there from 2018-2023 if you let us. Feel free to get in touch any time and even visit us in Shenzhen if you fancy it.

So, what to make of this exchange? It’s good that our parliament is engaging with Huawei rather than just unilaterally acting against it and Huawei’s response seems like a genuine attempt to reciprocate that gesture by answering the questions in a constructive and comprehensive manner. Having said that the attempts to downplay the restrictions already imposed on it, especially in Australia and the US, were bit of a reach.

There’s nothing especially new in the response, however, as it’s largely a restatement of the defence Huawei has been using for years. Huawei is essentially a proxy for deep, visceral distrust towards the Chinese state at this stage, which means there’s a limited amount it can do to conclusively prove its innocence. Its fate in western markets probably hinges on a significant thawing of diplomatic relations between the US and China and there’s little sign of that happening anytime soon.

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  1. Avatar RaspyVoice 06/02/2019 @ 7:51 pm

    I would not have expected any other response from Huawei. Lest we not forget, China is a one party state, where alternative parties are not allowed. This is also one of the most regulated countries of the world in terms of how they control their people in terms of censorship and other means. If there was some form of conflict, Huawei or some other Chinese company would toe the party line. The impact on a nation if Huawei were to allow some form of retaliation could be immense – from either shutting down the network or eavesdropping on calls/data and gathering intelligence.

  2. Avatar Nobby 06/02/2019 @ 8:50 pm

    “[how do you respond to actions being taken over foreign involvement in communications networks by other nations, such as the UK’s Five Eyes allies?”

    Ignore Australia’s actions, they don’t count because Australia just does what Washington tells it to do.

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