Huawei executive says unified, objective security standard needed to take politics out of 5G roll-out

Huawei has been rocked by bans from Western countries’ 5G plans over national security concerns - now it’s backing a unified standard that would see less politicisation

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 22 September, 2018, 6:03am
UPDATED : Saturday, 22 September, 2018, 11:36am

Huawei Technologies, facing recent setbacks from security concerns, is backing a unified security standard that would help lessen politicisation of the roll-out of 5G mobile networks.

All countries need to recognise the importance of setting better common standards, adopting ­industry best practice and implementing risk-mitigation procedures to ensure that there is an objective basis for choosing technology vendors, said Andy Purdy, chief security officer of Huawei USA, in a video interview from this week’s Singapore International Cyber event.

Taking politics out of the decision-making process is vital “so there’s an open, objective, and transparent basis for trust, so that the users can trust it, the government can trust it, and the vendors can know what the requirements are”, he said.

Recently, Huawei and ZTE Corp, Chinese providers that have both invested heavily in research and development of next-generation networks, were excluded from building Australia’s 5G infrastructure after Canberra laid out new rules in August, citing national security concerns.

China expressed “serious concern” about Australia’s action, according to a statement from Chinese foreign ministry spokesman Lu Kang.

Meanwhile, amid an escalating trade war between the United States and China, the US government has identified Huawei and ZTE as security threats because of alleged ties to the Chinese government.

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Shenzhen-based Huawei, the world’s largest telecom equipment vendor, has worked with all of Australia’s major telecoms network operators, and more than 50 per cent of Australians use a device from the Chinese company for their daily communications needs, according to a description on its Twitter account.

Purdy said that unified, objective security standards that are applicable to all markets and spread around the world could be “a very good thing”. Purdy served as the director of the National Cyber Security Division of the US Government’s Department of Homeland Security from 2004 to 2006.

Following Canberra’s new guidelines, which bar the involvement of vendors “who are likely to be subject to extrajudicial directions from a foreign government that conflict with Australian law”, Huawei said in a subsequent statement that the decision was made on “political grounds that undermine fair trade and hurt the interests of local consumers”.

Purdy said it’s important to sort out how to assess and address risk in relation to 5G in order to ensure that all vendors can meet objective functional, quality and security requirements.

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“The more clarity we get, the more likely we’ll be able to say at some point that – these things are necessary and that we can do them, and that we can show that we can do them,” said Purdy, adding that all vendors need to be able to demonstrate they can meet the requirements objectively.

Frank Mademann, a Huawei employee who is also the Elected Chairman of Architecture Workgroup at 3GPP – the organisation that sets standards for the world’s telecommunications industry – took part in the video interview. He said that 5G could provide the world’s first global standard.

Mademann said 5G standards “are designed to make 5G safer than 4G”, and added that the next generation network offers more protections around subscriber identity, safeguards the interconnections between different carrier networks and will become even more difficult to crack as it adopts better encryption methods.