21 Feb 2019

UK says 'no problems' with Huawei technology found, Andrew Little responds

12:33 pm on 21 February 2019

Britain's top cyber security official says rigourous testing of Huawei equipment has so far revealed nothing of concern.

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British testing of Huawei technology is yet to find any reason to be concerned. Photo: AFP / NurPhoto

The head of the UK National Cyber Security Centre, Ciaran Martin, told a conference in Brussels overnight it had subjected Huawei to the toughest oversight in the world and no problems had emerged.

But the minister responsible for the Government Communications Security Bureau (GCSB), Andrew Little told Morning Report today the briefing he got from security agencies in January was different to what Mr Martin had said overnight.

"Our regime is arguably the toughest and most rigourous oversight regime in the world for Huawei," Mr Martin had said.

"I would be obliged to report if there was evidence of malevolence ... by Huawei. And we're yet to have to do that. So I hope that covers it."

Mr Little highlighted two statements from Mr Martin.

"I think two things he said was no evidence of malicious use and that they think they can manage Huawei technology in a network in a way that doesn't compromise security...

"When I was in the UK at the end of last month I met with the senior officials of some of their agencies, including the head of the GCHQ. It wasn't quite the briefing that I got about them (Huawei).

"Without disclosing the detail of that conversation what I say is that I came away from that conversation comfortable with the advice I had received from the GCSB here in New Zealand."

He wouldn't elaborate on what was said in the briefings but said: "I guess what I'm trying to do is not do a repeat of what we have seen in the last couple of weeks and that is over blow statements that are taken from media reports from overseas."

No evidence has been produced publicly about claims against Huawei and company has repeatedly denied the claims.

Like New Zealand, Britain has yet to make a final decision on whether Huawei can play a role in its telecommunications networks.

Spark is still deciding whether or not it will submit a revised proposal to the GCSB in the hope of partnering with Huawei here.

Mr Little said he currently had no role in the process. He would only be involved if Spark decided to continue with its proposal to use Huawei, with mitigations, and the GCSB was dissatisfied with that.

It would then go to the Commissioner of Warrants who would investigate and if a decision was needed, it would come to him.

'Not a five eyes issue'

International politics would not have any impact on the issue in New Zealand, Mr Little said.

Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern said essentially the same thing on Wednesday, saying the country had to make its own decisions about Huawei regardless of its intelligence relationships with Five Eyes members.

The UK's situation was no different in terms of New Zealand's in terms of assessing the safety of using Huawei technology, Mr Little said.

Minister of Justice Andrew Little talking to media.

The minister responsible for the GCSB, Andrew Little. Photo: RNZ / Rebekah Parsons-King

"I think a lot of countries are dealing with this issue ... it's not a five eyes issues, most countries in the world are dealing with 5G and the technology associated with it ... in an age when cyber security is probably the single biggest threat issues agencies around the world are having to deal with," Mr Little said.

"It comes down to a range of issues that forms part of a national security assessment. That's what we have the GCSB for in this particular instance ...

"There are a range of factors that go into assessing whether the technology used in one of the most vulnerable parts of our infrastructure - our telecommunications network - is the right technology to be deployed.

"It's not a question of trust China. As a country and a government we have a very strong and positive relationship with China.

"But when it comes to issues of vulnerability as every country has we have agencies dedicated to doing the work of assessing threats and risks."

He wouldn't be drawn when asked if the situation would be different were the technology provider owned by a country like the UK, US or Australia.

"The approach that the GCSB takes and what the legislation ... sets out is agnostic about country, agnostic about company and ownership. It is just about the national security factors that go into making sure we are keeping our country and our network safe."

Secret agreements and the relationship with China.

Meanwhile, Politik website has reported a "secret agreement" between the previous National government and the UK meant the British would test "all equipment and computer code that Huawei was planning to deploy in New Zealand".

Though the GCSB was supposed to ensure any new telecommunications technology was safe, the agreement essentially left that up to the UK, according to Politik.

The Prime Minister's office wouldn't comment on the agreement existing and said it didn't comment on national security operations, Politik reported.

Mr Little didn't think the problem had affected New Zealand's relationship with China.

"I think if you look at the rest of the relationship that New Zealand has with China in terms of trade and things getting across the border and tourists coming here and students coming here it hasn't made a blind bit of difference."

Huawei under fire in Europe

Britain is a key battleground for Huawei in its campaign to resist US pressure in Europe.

Huawei Founder and CEO Ren Zhengfei, at the World Economic Forum (WEF) annual meeting on January 22, 2015 in Davos.

Huawei Founder and CEO Ren Zhengfei. Photo: AFP

Any decision by London to allow the Chinese company to participate in building next-generation 5G networks would be watched closely by other nations because of Britain's membership of the Five Eyes intelligence-sharing group along with the US.

But the company has come under fire in Britain since a government report in July last year found that technical and supply-chain issues with its equipment had exposed national telecoms networks to new security risks.

Vodafone, the world's second-largest mobile operator, said last month it was "pausing" deployment of Huawei equipment in core networks until Western governments give full security clearance.

Other operators in Europe, including Britain's BT and France's Orange, have already removed Huawei's equipment or taken steps to limit its future use.

Commenting on the report, the NCSC chief Mr Martin said: "As we said then, and repeat today, these problems are about standards of cyber security; they are not indicators of hostile activity by China."

Mr Martin said Huawei had pledged to address the problems but acknowledged that doing so would take some years.

"We will monitor and report on progress and we will not declare the problems are on the path to being solved unless and until there is clear evidence that this is the case," he said.

"We will not compromise on the improvements we need to see from Huawei."

- RNZ / Reuters

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