Huawei Security Risks For 5G "Manageable", Cyber Director Says

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The UK is moving forward with Huawei after debating a national ban. Despite national fear over Huawei participation in 5G, its security risks are "manageable," a security expert says.

Huawei security risks for 5G network "manageable"

"There is risk in using Huawei — the point is managing it," said Cyber Advisory Director and former GCHQ Intelligence Officer Malcolm Taylor said in a GlobalData interview.

Taylor recognizes that Huawei is a security risk because of the report from the National Cyber Security Centre (NCSC). The NCSC says the company is a serious security risk. The report from the UK debate regarding Huawei is that the country can keep Huawei out of the core components of its 5G network. Huawei can still participate, though it will have greater scrutiny in this new 5G era.

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Taylor states three reasons why Huawei's security risks are manageable. First, the UK's security apparatus says that Huawei's security risks aren't uncontrollable. Next, Huawei has large international scrutiny already. Last but not least, there is no proof that Huawei has ever committed global espionage.

These reasons seal the deal for Taylor. Apparently, he's not alone. A recent GlobalData reader poll shows that 53% of respondents agree with him.

How manageable are security risks?

Taylor is correct. There is no direct evidence that Huawei has committed digital espionage on behalf of China. There is no evidence that Huawei is behind Chinese hackings in the past. And yet, Huawei isn't without suspicion.

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First, the company is quite active in cyber imperial expansion, planting surveillance cities in the African governments of Uganda and Zaire. If Huawei can spy on political opponents on behalf of African governments, why not commit British espionage? It's not so much that Huawei would get away with it but that Huawei wouldn't hesitate to please its "sponsor."

Next, there are the security loopholes in Huawei software and hardware. The Huawei Cyber Security Evaluation Centre (HCSEC) says that Huawei is not fixing its security vulnerabilities despite the knowledge that there are problems.

With all this evidence of security risks and Huawei's infamous potential, how does one manage them? The UK, like Taylor, says it can keep Huawei out of core components of its 5G network. However, doesn't it seem a bit strange to allow a risky company to still have a hand in building a "strong" 5G network? If a state builds a prison to guard criminals, does it make sense to then build a weak fence whereby criminals can easily escape?

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To let Huawei participate while keeping them out of the core components of the UK's 5G network is akin to building a strong fortified prison with a weak fence. Why does the criminal care about the conditions of the prison if he can go out for some fresh air and escape without trouble?

Huawei in 5G network despite security risks: the real reason

The British Government wants to manage the Huawei risks on its 5G network, but there's one reason behind it: technological. As of May 2019, Huawei owns 15% of all standards-essential global 5G patents. The company is at the forefront of 5G networks. Global 5G wouldn't be possible without Huawei, seeing that no other company matches its technological muscle in that area. Huawei owns more 5G patents than the US and even Android OEMs such as LG and Samsung. Of all Huawei's 5G clients, half are European. So European countries, including Britain, feel the sting of preventing Huawei from a field over which it has great dominance.

Huawei not only holds a large number of global 5G patents but also undercuts its competition in hardware pricing. It's no secret that Huawei has such a hold on the US market that the Federal Government is finding it difficult to replace Huawei in the US. Last Fall, President Donald Trump requested that Cisco and Oracle join the networking gear race to alleviate American dependence on Huawei. The Federal Government is also considering subsidies for small wireless providers to upgrade their Huawei equipment. Abandoning Huawei in the 5G race isn't as easy as it sounds.

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And, as the old adage says, "money talks." Britain doesn't want to be out of step with the rest of Europe. Its desire to see financial profit from 5G networks is what motivates the country to play nice with Huawei despite the risks.