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UK body finds security flaws in Huawei networks

March 29, 2019

The Chinese telecom giant Huawei has been criticized for software security failures by a British oversight board. However, the report stopped short of blaming Chinese state interference for the engineering defects.

5G und Huawei Logo
Image: Reuters/D. Ruvic

A British board vetting the security of Chinese telecom company Huawei's software found "significant technical issues" that could pose a risk to UK telecom operators.

The oversight board's report on Thursday comes as the United States pressures allies not to use the world's largest telecom supplier in their rollout of 5G mobile networks over concerns of exposure to Chinese spying or sabotage. China and Huawei dismiss there is a security threat. 

Read more: Why is 5G mobile broadband technology such a mystery? 

What did the report find?

The report, published by the Huawei Cyber Security Evaluation Center oversight board, which includes the Britain's GCHQ communications intelligence agency, identified several new technical issues that were greater than previously recognized.

The report found:

  • Huawei has made "no material progress" on addressing security and engineering flaws identified in last year's report.
  • Major security and engineering defects create vulnerabilities for UK telecom systems that are "capable of being exploited by a range of  actors."
  • Britain's National Cyber Security Centre does not believe that the defects identified are a result of Chinese state interference.
  • Only "limited assurance" could be provided that security and technical risks posed by Huawei products to critical networks could be mitigated in the long-term.

Huawei pledges to address problems

In response, Huawei said it took the issues brought up in the report "very seriously" and the findings would enable to the company to use the input to improve software security and capabilities.

Huawei last year committed to spend $2 billion (€1.8 billion) to address problems previously identified by the board, but has also cautioned that could take up to five years to implement.

Building a European 5G network

Huawei has been under intense scrutiny as European countries prepare to roll out next-generation mobile networks over the next several years.

The US government wants its allies to ban the company from building their 5G networks and has threatened to restrict intelligence cooperation with those using Chinese-made systems.  So far, Australia and Japan have heeded the call.

Britain has so far left the door open to Huawei and previously said it can manage risks posed by the Chinese state.

Thursday's report comes as earlier this week the European Commission released security recommendations that stopped short of urging EU member states to ban or restrict Huawei from building 5G networks. The EU is expected to make a final decision on 5G network security by the end of the year.

What is the oversight board?

Huawei Cyber Security Evaluation Center consists of British government officials, the GCHQ communications intelligence agency as well as senior representatives of British telcom operators and Huawei executives.

The oversight report is separate from a government review of security to the 5G network that is expected later in the spring. Government ministers will make a final decision on 5G telecom equipment supply chain security.

cw/aw (AFP, AP, Reuters)

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