LONDON – British government oversight of Huawei has proven it can flag up security problems, the head of its cybersecurity agency said Wednesday, suggesting he doesn’t think the Chinese company needs to be banned from supplying mobile networks.
Ciaran Martin, the CEO of the National Cyber Security Centre, said one of the conditions for maintaining good cybersecurity is having “sustainable diversity” in the telecommunications equipment supplier market.
Huawei, the world’s biggest maker of switching gear for phone and internet companies, has faced rising scrutiny in Europe over cybersecurity concerns as countries roll out new high speed fifth generation, or 5G, mobile networks.
U.S. officials have been pressuring European allies to shun the company over worries that Huawei equipment could be used by Beijing for electronic espionage.
The British government is due to complete a review of its policies on the safety of 5G in March or April.
“Everything is on the table,” Martin said, adding that no decisions have yet been made.
Since 2010, the British government has operated a cybersecurity evaluation centre for Huawei equipment, which Martin said was part of “the toughest and most rigorous oversight regime in the world” for the company.
“And it is proving its worth,” he said.
The centre’s oversight board in July lowered the level of assurance it could give the British government because it identified technical issues in Huawei’s engineering processes. Huawei said in a letter to lawmakers last month that it would take three to five years to fix the problems.
British authorities want to see clear evidence the company is “on the path” to solving the problems, Martin said.
“We will not compromise on the improvements we need to see from Huawei,” Martin said, according to a transcript of a speech he gave at a cybersecurity conference in Brussels.
Huawei competes with a few big rivals, notably Finland’s Nokia and Sweden’s Ericsson, to supply equipment for 5G networks, which promise to deliver faster download speeds and less signal delay – advances that will help speed the development of self-driving cars, smart factories and remote surgery.
It’s important not to let the telecom equipment supplier market shrink too much, Martin said.
“Should the supplier market consolidate to such an extent that there are only a tiny number of viable options, that will not make for good cybersecurity, whether those options are Western, Chinese, or from anywhere else,” he said.
“Any company in an excessively dominant market position will not be incentivized to take cybersecurity seriously,” Martin said, adding that a company in such a position could also be a “prime target for attack for the globe’s most potent cyber attackers.