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India joins list of nations vetting Huawei, ZTE

Report says new lab will test all “foreign” telecom kit

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India has joined the list of countries concerned about allowing the installation of telecoms kit from Chinese companies Huawei and ZTE.

The USA has banned the pair from winning contracts connecting phones from sea to shining sea, citing security concerns (although many feel its real worry is protecting local companies).

Australia forbade Huawei from supplying the nation's nascent national broadband network, on security grounds. Australia's decision was made just a few weeks after a visit by Barack Obama, who's retinue is believed to have offered Australian authorities a briefing on the risks posed by Huawei.

The Hindustan Times now says India has expressed similar concerns. The Delhi-based paper reports India's Department of Telecommunications has responded to a request from the nation's Cabinet and will establish a lab to test for the presence of “Spyware, Malware and bugging software” in telecoms kit.

India's not a noted manufacturer of telecoms networking kit, so perhaps western suppliers like Cisco and Alcatel will also be forced to submit their products for a going-over.

Whoever ends up on the list of must-be-tested vendors, any hunt for spyware and malware may well be futile as the torrent of accusations against Huawei and ZTE have never suggested their kit phones home, leaks packets or does anything so crude that it could be easily detected in a lab or escape the attention of a network operator.

Security specialists of Vulture South's acquaintance have suggested the threat the Chinese vendors pose may be far more subtle, with some circumstances perhaps requiring the companies' staff to perform certain types of maintenance. At those moments, maybe when USB drives containing “firmware updates” are inserted, interesting things might just happen. Staff bearing those drives may or may not know about their true payload or have loyalties that go beyond the provider of their paycheck.

Whatever the exact nature of the threat Huawei and ZTE are supposed to pose, the former clearly knows it has a lot to do to regain trust. That ongoing effort this week saw Huawei founder and CEO Ren Zhengfei visit New Zealand, declare it “a wonderful, progressive country” and talking up the company's plan to spend lots of money and hire lots of people in the land of the long white cloud.

Ren also offered the following comment on the USA's opinion of his company:

“Huawei equipment is almost non-existent in networks currently running in the U.S. We have never sold any key equipment to major US carriers, nor have we sold any equipment to any U.S. government agency. Huawei has no connection to the cyber security issues the U.S. has encountered in the past, current and future.”

One suspects a similar visit to India might not be far off. ®

Internet Security Threat Report 2014

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