The National Cyber Security Centre has warned telecommunication companies in Britain that the deployment and utilisation of equipment and services from Chinese firm ZTE would pose risks to the UK's national security.
The NCSC's statement about the potential threat to Britain's national security from ZTE's equipment and services comes not long after the United States banned ZTE from selling equipment and services for seven years after the company was found guilty of not acting against employees who had transferred sensitive U.S. technologies to North Korea and Iran. ZTE was also forced to pay a combined civil and criminal penalty of $1.9 billion.
"ZTE made false statements to the U.S. Government when they were originally caught and put on the Entity List, made false statements during the reprieve it was given, and made false statements again during its probation.
"These false statements covered up the fact that ZTE paid full bonuses to employees that had engaged in illegal conduct, and failed to issue letters of reprimand. ZTE misled the Department of Commerce. Instead of reprimanding ZTE staff and senior management, ZTE rewarded them. This egregious behavior cannot be ignored," said Secretary of Commerce Wilbur L. Ross, Jr.
A potential threat to the UK's national security
Dr. Ian Levy, the technical director of the NCSC, has written a letter to telecommunications companies in the UK, asking them not to purchase or deploy equipment and services provided by ZTE as the same would pose a threat to the UK's national security.
"It is entirely appropriate and part of NCSC’s duty to highlight potential risks to the UK’s national security and provide advice based on our technical expertise.
"NCSC assess that the national security risks arising from the use of ZTE equipment or services within the context of the existing UK telecommunications infrastructure cannot be mitigated," Dr. Levy said.
In his letter, he added that since telecommunication networks in the UK utilise substantial quantities of equipment supplied by Chinese major Huawei, using another Chinese firm's equipment or services would render existing mitigations ineffective.
Huawei's safe for now
The U.S. has banned both Huawei and ZTE from participating in the development or testing of 5G networks and has also placed a ban on the use of Huawei devices by government employees citing the firm's deep links with the Chinese government and because of concerns that China is carrying out large-scale surveillance using equipment sold by the two firms in the U.S..
However, the National Cyber Security Centre has not let events across the pond to interfere in its robust partnership with Huawei to develop future technologies while managing cyber security risks at the same time. Huawei is also running a cyber security centre in the UK that analyses threats and backdoors in its own products.
"Huawei is a globally important company whose presence in the UK reflects our reputation as a global hub for technology, innovation and design. This government and British telecoms operators work with Huawei at home and abroad to ensure the UK can continue to benefit from new technology while managing cyber security risks," an NCSC spokesman told The Telegraph.
"Huawei is trusted by governments and customers in 170 countries worldwide and poses no greater cybersecurity risk than any ICT vendor, sharing as we do common global supply chains and production capabilities. We are committed to openness and transparency in everything we do," a Huawei spokesman said.