28 Mar 2012

Huawei defends reputation amid security concerns

1:46 pm on 28 March 2012

A Chinese technology company helping upgrade New Zealand's broadband network has responded to accusations it could compromise security, saying it is reputable and has nothing to hide.

Huawei has been blocked from winning contracts to upgrade Australia's broadband network and from doing some business deals in the United States due to security concerns.

The company, headed by a former People's Liberation Army engineer, has been in New Zealand since 2005.

It is supplying equipment to Chorus and 2Degrees, and working with Christchurch's Enable Services and the central North Island's Wel Networks as part of the Government's ultra-fast broadband initiative.

Huawei's global head of cyber-security John Suffolk says it has experience working with 140 countries and is a world leader in terms of broadband technology.

Mr Suffolk told Radio New Zealand's Nine to Noon programme on Wednesday the company has nothing to hide and if anyone wants to audit it, they are more than welcome.

He says the suggestion it may install tracking devices or employ hackers is unrealistic.

"To say that you can snoop, to say that you can put equipment in being hidden, I think that's a hell of a lot more difficult than people think it is ... that's a little bit James Bondy, to be honest."

However, American cyber-security specialist Adam Segal says many of the attacks on computer networks in the United States come from China.

Mr Segal told Nine to Noon although there is no hard evidence that Huawei has been involved in any spying, the concerns people have are legitimate.

"It is clear that there is a widespread suspicion in the US intelligence community of these companies and a concern that any access to US networks provides a vulnerability that the US can't live with."

Govt defends involvement

The New Zealand Government says it is not concerned about contracting Huawei to help in the rollout of ultra-fast broadband.

Communications and IT Minister Amy Adams says the company is so big it would be unusual not to involve it in broadband contracts.

Ms Adams told Radio New Zealand's Morning Report programme on Wednesday that she can't comment on matters of national security, but is defending Huawei's involvement.

"This company's involved in a lot more rollouts around the world than it's been excluded from. Certainly in Singapore and Britain and a number of other countries, this is very common.

"They're one of the largest telecommunications companies in the world, so it would be unusual for them not to have some sort of involvement."

Amy Adams says the public can have confidence that the Government has excellent sources of intelligence and will act appropriately to put checks in place that are needed.

Greens concerned about spying

The Green Party is insisting an investigation is needed to ensure New Zealand isn't vulnerable to spying through Huawei's involvement in broadband contracts.

Information and communication technology spokesperson Gareth Hughes says Parliament's Intelligence and Security Committee needs to ensure there are sufficient protections in place - regardless of Amy Adams's assertions that security checks are adequate.

Mr Hughes told Morning Report on Wednesday the Phillippines has banned Huawei, while India had banned then subsequently put testing regimes in place to test the company's equipment.

He says an investigation is needed, because it is highly unlikely that New Zealand's security services know something about Huawei that its US and Australian counterparts don't know.

Mr Hughes says national security and considerable taxpayer expense on the rural broadband and ultra-fast broadband initiatives are at stake.

The MP also believes the involvement of Huawei in a trans-Tasman internet cable could cause problems between Australia and New Zealand. He says he understands that Huawei has proposed to fund entirely the cable between Auckland and Sydney.

China has track record - expert

Strategic analyst Paul Buchanan says Chinese companies supplying broadband equipment around the world are suspected of surreptitiously installing listening devices and warns New Zealand could be opening itself up to spying.

Mr Buchanan says it has long been known that China is interested in gaining access to Echelon, the eavesdropping system shared by western powers including New Zealand, and in creating its own listening devices.

In granting access to Huawei, there is a danger New Zealand could be seen as compromised and left out in the cold by its allies when it comes to the sharing of intelligence, he says.