UK spooks reportedly think Huawei 5G risk can be managed

British intelligence agencies have concluded any potential risk to national security from using Huawei kit in the 5G network can be mitigated.

This somewhat hedged conclusion was first leaked to the FT by people with inside knowledge of the ongoing investigation at the National Cyber Security Centre. It seems that the NCSC reckons there are ways to limit any risks, which is nice. While reassuring it would be a much bigger story if the agency charged with protecting the UK from technological horridness said it was utterly powerless in this context.

The underlying story identified by the mainstream media is that this conclusion, if indeed that ends up being the NCSC’s final position, potentially undermines the US drive to persuade its allies to ostracise Huawei and Chinese companies in general from their networks. The FT quoted yet another anonymous source as saying this conclusion might give other European countries funny ideas.

But if the official position ends up being “we suppose we might be able to do something about the risk,” then it’s hard to see how that will be sufficiently reassuring to either the UK public or its allies. If we concede there is a threat then it’s reasonable to ask why we should risk it at all when there are alternative suppliers. If we insist there is no risk that will put us in a difficult position with our allies – essentially the US.

The UK government is in the process of developing an official position on the matter and the NCSC’s recommendations are likely to have a strong influence over its eventual conclusion. The review is expected to be completed in the next few months and its conclusions will be extremely important for UK-based operator groups. If the government effectively bans Huawei from UK 5G then operators will be obliged to comply, regardless of their own view of the vendor.

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