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Former UK.gov CIO takes top security job at Huawei

John Suffolk in surprise move to company whose alleged ties are feared by US

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Update Erstwhile government CIO John Suffolk has landed a high-ranking security role at Chinese-giant Huawei.

Suffolk, who resigned from the top UK.gov £207,000 Chief Information Officer role late last year, confirmed his new appointment this morning.

He will join Huawei as its new global head of cybersecurity on 1 October, having sought clearance from Prime Minster David Cameron first.

A Cabinet Office spokesman clarified to us this afternoon Suffolk's "unprecedented" number of conditions for taking on the job at Huawei:

  • No advice or dealings with any work relating to the UK government for two years – and no lobbying.
  • He cannot imply HM gov endorsement of any of his new employer's products or services in any dealings he has with other companies or organisations.
  • He would not draw on any privileged information that was available to him as a civil servant.
  • He would seek advice from security authorities about any risks to the confidentiality of communications which might be of concern to those authorities.

Suffolk wrote on his blog: "Under the Civil Service Business Appointments Rules, on the 22nd February I applied for permission to accept an appointment from Huawei to be their first Global Head of Cyber Security reporting [to] the Group CEO, and founder, Mr Ren.

"On the 12th July the Prime Minister, on the advice of the Advisory Committee on Business Appointments and following a thorough investigation of the case approved the application, subject to me waiting for a period of 6 months from when I left the Civil Service."

Suffolk will help the company shape its so-called "end-to-end cybersecurity assurance system" in a move clearly aimed at calming the nerves of would-be business customers in the US.

Security fears in that part of the world have led to slower-than-expected adoption of Huawei tech.

In February Huawei was forced to back out of a $2m bid to buy California-based cloud outfit 3Leaf Systems because of its supposed links to the People's Liberation Army and the Chinese government.

The company's deputy chairman Ken Hu attacked at the time what he described as "a number of misperceptions that some hold about Huawei" in the US, where the manufacturer has been trying to build its business over the past 10 years.

Here in the UK, Huawei – which is an important supplier to BT – is set to install a mobile phone network on the London Underground to coincide with the start of the 2012 Olympics.

But, despite the company's recent big contract win in the capital, the UK government has, like the US administration, expressed concerns about Huawei's alleged ties to the People's Liberation Army.

Presumably, Suffolk – whose office base is at the firm's headquarters in Shenzhen, China – will be trying to address some of these concerns.

"Having spent seven years in Government, with the last five as the UK government CIO and CISO, security was a core part of my thinking, planning and execution," said Suffolk.

"We all accept that as technology becomes more pervasive and we become more reliant on technology, we need to come together globally to address the challenges and threats posed by those who would wish to exploit any vulnerability in the technology."

Suffolk isn't the only British civil servant snatched up by Huawei. It hired former UK Trade and Investment mandarin Sir Andrew Cahn to its UK Advisory Board in May this year. ®

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