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BT links with Huawei raise national security concerns, say MPs

Parly committee staggered by Chinese firm's 'self-policing' arrangements

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Chinese telecoms giant Huawei has dismissed claims that its technology, which is used by BT, is a threat to the UK's national security.

The company was forced to defend itself today, after a parliamentary security and intelligence committee report attacked the civil service for failing to inform ministers of BT and Huawei's close relationship, which first started in 2005.

The panel found little evidence supporting the view that foreign investment in critical national infrastructure (CNI) had improved.

"The difficulty of balancing economic competitiveness and national security seems to have resulted in stalemate," the report said.

Huawei was founded by erstwhile People's Liberation Army officer Ren Zhengfei in 1987 and suspicions about the company's links to the Chinese government have repeatedly proven difficult to shake off.

The committee, chaired by Tory MP Malcolm Rifkind, questioned the feasibility of Huawei's "self-policing arrangement" with the company testing its own technology equipment at a cyber-security cell in Banbury.

It recommended that GCHQ and not Huawei should run the cell. At very least, the committee concluded, government spooks should have a much better oversight to provide assurance, validation and regular audits of the Chinese company's work.

The panel called on the National Security Adviser to conduct an urgent, substantive review of Huawei's cell.

The report cast doubt on the vendor's equipment, even though GCHQ told the committee it had confidence in BT, which conducts annual tests of the tech.

It said that concerns remained about the risk of unauthorised access that was impossible to entirely eliminate.

"Any weaknesses or vulnerability in equipment deployed on UK networks could - through no fault of the operator - have serious security implications," the committee concluded.

Huawei - which currently employs nearly 900 people in the UK - insisted today, however, that it had the "full support" of the British government and its customers. It said in a statement:

Prior to BT's selection of Huawei in 2005, Huawei was subject to a comprehensive audit across 11 different areas, including strategic development, management systems, corporate social responsibility and security management.

This detailed audit took two years and only when it had been completed did BT sign its first contract with Huawei. Since then, BT has continued to conduct a thorough annual evaluation of Huawei and after eight years of partnership, we have built a strong and mutually beneficial relationship with them.

As for the Banbury-based cell, Huawei said it had a "rigorous testing system" in place and noted that GCHQ had never flagged up any security risks about the technology deployed on BT's network.

It further claimed: "Governments and our customers trust and recognise Huawei because of our long-term track record in cyber security and because of our positive, open, discreet and cooperative attitude."

BT said of the report:

The experts at GCHQ say BT is an ‘exemplar’ and that the UK network has not been at risk due to the measures we have taken. Security is at the heart of BT and it will continue to be so in the future.

Our testing regime enables us to enjoy constructive relationships with many suppliers across the globe. One of these is Huawei with whom we have had a long and constructive relationship since 2005.

The full report is available here. ®

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