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NCSC chief says the UK “will not compromise” on Huawei demands

One of Britain’s most senior security officials has warned that the UK will not compromise on the demands it has set out for the Chinese telecoms giant Huawei.

Speaking in Brussels yesterday, Ciaran Martin – the head of the National Cyber Security Centre – said that the risks posed by Huawei to the UK’s telecoms infrastructure can be mitigated, but that the company must satisfy the NCSC’s demands regarding the security of its code.

“They have written a letter to us outlining their intent to address our concerns and have put a sum of money behind that,” he told reporters on a call following his speech, adding that he would “not compromise on the improvements we’re demanding”.

Last year, the NCSC downgraded the level of confidence it said it had in Huawei’s telecoms components, after identifying vulnerabilities in the company’s code. It stressed, however, that it had not discovered back doors or any evidence of Chinese espionage.

The company responded by pledging to invest at least $2bn in refactoring its software to meet the NCSC’s standards, but admitted the work would take three to five years to complete. “As of today we’ve not seen a credible plan,” the NCSC’s technical director Ian Levy said on Wednesday (21 February). “That’s the reality of the situation, unfortunately.”

NS Tech understands that Eric Xu, one of Huawei’s three rotating chairmen, is currently working on a plan to overhaul the company’s software, which will be announced in the coming months. As NS Tech reported last week, the $2bn package would only cover initial work.

“The $2bn is just a starting fund and definitely will not be enough [in the long term],” Xu told reporters at the company’s Shenzhen headquarters. “I hope through our efforts in the next three to five years we can turn out products that can be fostered by governments and by customers so as to support and sustain Huawei’s development.”

The news comes as the Trump administration draws up plans to ban US mobile operators from deploying Huawei’s 5G equipment and is putting pressure on its Western allies, including the UK, to do the same.

Martin acknowledged that the government would weigh up a number of economic and political factors before deciding whether to allow Huawei to supply 5G components in the UK. While Britain enjoys a close security relationship with the US, it is also attempting to establish stronger economic ties to China after Brexit. The Cabinet is expected to make a decision on the matter in March.

A Huawei spokesperson told NS Tech: “We have undertaken to present a plan to the UK authorities for a $2 billion global software transformation programme. We remain committed to designing and producing technology to the highest standards of security and safety for customers in 170 countries around the world.”