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Blunkett to press for cyberwar probe of BT's Chinese kit

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Exclusive David Blunkett is to press national security officials to impose a programme of ongoing testing on equipment BT bought from Huawei, the networking manufacturer with allegedly close links to the Chinese military.

The former Home Secretary plans to raise concerns at meetings "in the next two weeks" that the equipment could be remotely controlled or sabotaged in a future cyber attack, crippling critical UK communications.

He argued that though there might be little perceived threat at present, BT had "bought equipment from companies that may have an interest somewhere down the track". Although he didn't name BT during his speech at the Infosec conference in London this morning, he exclusively confirmed the reference in conversation with The Register afterwards.

Huawei is a major supplier to the 21CN national network backbone upgrade, which is scheduled for completion in 2013.

Blunkett argued today that cyber security must be improved ahead of the 2012 Olympics.

"You would have spot checks and auditing," he said, when asked directly about BT's Huawei deal. "I think it's something our big companies need to recognise."

BT declined to comment on Blunkett's call.

During his speech, Blunkett also criticised "colleagues" who had taken a role in approving such sensitive deals and then taken jobs with "communications" companies. The comment was an apparent oblique reference to Patricia Hewitt, who is now a non-executive director of BT and was in charge of the Department of Trade and Industry when it waved through Huawei's involvement in 21CN in 2005.

When asked about the reference, a smiling Blunkett described it as "very oblique".

Blunkett's plan to press for "proper monitoring and review procedures" to scrutinise the Huawei equipment follows soon after reports that the chairman of the Joint Intelligence Committee raised fears over potential hidden vulnerabilities at a Cabinet meeting in January. Alex Allen reportedly said intelligence chiefs believe measures taken by BT to secure 21CN "are not effective against deliberate attack by China".

Huawei denies ties to the Chinese military, although its chief executive is a former People's Liberation Army (PLA) telecoms research chief. Last year it was top of a Pentagon list of Chinese technology firms with close links to the PLA.

The phone was not being answered at Huawei UK prior to publication.

Last week the Cabinet Office told The Register it believed the UK was "well ahead of the game" in preparing for a cyber attack, compared to other EU member states. ®

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