Huawei is intensifying its campaign against the Federal Government’s ban on its participation in building Australia’s 5G mobile network, with fresh research arguing the decision was based on weak data.
- A report by tech consultants Ovum, paid for by Huawei, disputes the basis on which the Chinese company was excluded from providing equipment for Australia’s 5G network
- Huawei’s chief security officer is visiting Australia and says he would like to meet with the Federal Government to discuss its concerns
- Independent experts say that the Government would have had access to information from intelligence services in making its decision to ban Huawei from 5G
A report by tech consulting firm Ovum — commissioned by Huawei — argued the ban imposed by former prime minister Malcolm Turnbull, on the advice of the Australian Signals Directorate, was wrong to cite concerns that sensitive information could be passed on to Chinese intelligence.
Huawei’s chief security officer, Andy Purdy, is the latest executive to visit Australia in an effort to reassure the Government that 5G networks can be split between “core and non-core” to ensure data critical to national security can be quarantined and protected.
“We think the information is even stronger now and the facts demonstrate what it takes to address real risk, and banning Huawei is not one of them,” Mr Purdy told the ABC’s AM program.
“We want to tone down the rhetoric. We’ve been caught in the middle with some of the US China [trade] talks.
“We want to participate in conversations with those individuals who are willing to talk with us within the Government.”
The ABC approached Communications Minister Paul Fletcher to respond to Huawei’s latest assurances, but a spokesman would only say “the Government stands by its decision”.
A former official at the White House and US Department of Homeland Security, Mr Purdy helped draft the US National Strategy to Secure Cyberspace and led the National Cyber Security Division.
Mr Purdy dismissed national security concerns that led to Huawei’s 5G ban in Australia saying there is “no chance” that sensitive information would be passed on to Chinese intelligence.
“There need to be measures in place and Huawei has those measures and is willing to strengthen them based on conversations with the Australian Government about how to guarantee that we will not provide any sensitive data to the Chinese Government,” Mr Purdy said.
“We can put concrete, objective measures, demonstrable proof in place in Australia to make those guarantees.”
Technology consultant Tony Kirkham agrees the Ovum report is factually correct, but said governments were right to remain cautious despite Huawei’s repeated assurances.
“What it all boils down to is trust, which is paramount in telecommunications infrastructure due to the huge potential for interception and a variety of other attacks including espionage,” Mr Kirkham said.
“Much of the background of the decision to ban Huawei participating 5G infrastructure would be based on classified information from intelligence circles. There are likely factors in the decision which will not be publicly available.”
Huawei used in other 5G networks
The Ovum report found that of 26 5G networks around the world 17 were using Huawei equipment, including Britain, Spain, Switzerland, the Philippines and South Korea.
The report debunks the premise for Huawei’s banning, which is that 5G networks are unable to separate architecture, causing national security concerns that the telco’s equipment could be used to monitor sensitive traffic.
“I do think that the developments, particularly in the UK recently, with comments from the parliamentary committee and testimony by the various carriers and operators there, demonstrate the reality about 5G and the risks,” Mr Purdy said.
“We meet the requirements of our customers. We meet the requirements of the laws in which we operate, and we add additional security enhancements to provide assurance and transparency.”
Independent telecommunications analyst Paul Budde told the ABC the Ovum research was accurate but that Huawei was entangled in current diplomatic tensions between Australia and China.
“It’s very true that what we’re seeing is an entanglement of technology and politics,” Mr Budde said.
“From a technology point of view, what the Ovum report is saying is correct. But anybody with any technology can hack into a system. It doesn’t matter if it’s equipment from Ericsson, Cisco, Nokia or Huawei.
“The real issue is the political one — that Chinese companies are very closely linked to the Chinese Government. It’s the political system in China that can force Huawei to do certain things that they would not necessarily like to do.”
Huawei said it has been unable to meet with Government officials since last year’s banning, which was based on concerns that all Chinese companies were required by law to work with Chinese intelligence agencies when requested.
But Mr Purdy said Huawei would not reveal customer data to Chinese intelligence even if it could.
“Telecom operators control access to the sensitive data. Huawei doesn’t control that, so we have to get permission from those operators before we touch anything,” Mr Purdy said.
Mr Purdy was cautious when asked if he was optimistic that Prime Minister Scott Morrison would review Huawei’s banning.
“I can’t predict what the current Prime Minister will do. I’d welcome the opportunity to meet with representatives of the Australian Government,” he said.