U.K. will allow Huawei limited role in 5G network

Breaking with the U.S. stance on Huawei, the U.K. will let the company participate in building its 5G network but said it would put a secure framework in place to protect the network from high-risk vendors. 

”We want world-class connectivity as soon as possible but this must not be at the expense of our national security,” Digital Secretary Baroness Morgan said in a release, in response to findings of a Telecoms Supply Chain Review by the National Cyber Security Centre (NCSC) released last summer.

As a result of the review, the U.K. government has determined it must place tight restrictions on high risk vendors.  “High risk vendors never have been and never will be in our most sensitive networks,” said Morgan. 

Restrictions include excluding vendors like Huawei from “sensitive core” parts of the network and putting a 35 percent cap on their share of the U.K. 5G market. The NSCS will provide “guidance to operators on implementing decision” via upcoming legislation.

“This package will ensure that the U.K. has a very strong, practical and technically sound framework for digital security in the years ahead,” NCSC Chief Executive Ciaran Martin said in the release.

Those measures are not likely to assuage the security concerns of the U.S., which has imposed bans on Huawei amid allegations that China might force the company to spy on others.

Registering disappointment with the U.K.’s decision today and noting that “the security risks are so well understood,” Sen. Mark Warner, D-Va., said in a statement, that he remained “committed to working with the U.K. and other key allies to build more diverse and secure telecommunication options that provide competitive alternatives to Huawei.”

Warner recently introduced legislation to that effect and beseeched the U.K. to “commit to partnering” on that effort, which includes a Multilateral Telecommunications Security Fund. “It is critical that countries committed to building and maintaining secure networks come together,” the senator said. “Current financial support by China for Huawei puts any Western alternative at a serious disadvantage.”

Calling the "potential for spying via backdoors in 5G networks...a major security concern regardless of who is supplying the infrastructure and hackers will be the first to take advantage of these anyway they can,” Sivan Rauscher, CEO at SAM, said, “The next generation of mobile networks remains highly vulnerable due to the amount of critical services and devices that will depend on it, the sheer volumes of data it will hold and because 5G is new technology, so it is less regulated and tested.”

Smart products have proliferated in homes and businesses and already frequent attacks on those products, “will majorly accelerate with 5G,” Rauscher said.

“The industry is really scared about large scale hacks because enterprise networks can be accessed via customers’ homes,” she said, calling on “all key players, including telecom operators and device manufacturers, must take responsibility to best protect their networks, their devices and their customers.” 

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