Huawei Australia’s cyber chief has blamed “unsubstantiated speculation” for why the company is staring down the barrel of being banned from participating in Australia’s 5G network.
Speaking at a breakfast conference event in Melbourne last week hosted by InnovationAus.com, Huawei bosses defended the company and hit back at public sector and political figures from both sides of the aisle that have said the China-based technology company should be banned from contributing equipment to the country’s next generation network.
It comes as the federal government seems poised to ban the company, with the Australian Financial Review reporting in June that it is “all but certain” to be excluded due to national security concerns.
Huawei Australia Cyber Security Officer Malcolm Shore said the arguments for banning the company aren’t based in fact or evidence.
“The reason for banning Chinese technology changes almost on a weekly basis. The reason for that is unsubstantiated speculation about what might happen if Chinese technology is used, Mr Shore said.
“We’ve seen over the last few months the defence sector seeking to have Huawei banned from selling 5G equipment and there have been suggestions that Huawei would plant backdoors in their system and would be willing to do the PLA’s bidding,” he said.
“But there’s been no specific allegations and much less any proof. Any rational assessment would conclude that a $100 billion private company would not want to be found compromising itself.”
The central issue is with new laws recently passed in China which compel “all organisations and citizens” to help the country’s intelligence work and alert the government of any vulnerabilities they identify.
There are fears, primarily among the defence and military sectors, that this law will force Chinese tech companies like Huawei to pass on data and potential vulnerabilities to the government.
But Mr Shore said a ban on Huawei could actually make Australia’s 5G network more vulnerable to a cyber attack.
“There’s a risk that Australia may be about to take a poll position in the war on Chinese technology, using 5G as the battle, Australia as the battleground and technology risk as the justification,” he said.
“As technology professionals, how should we view the technology risk?”
“The risk associated with 5G are for the next three to five years less than that for 4G. The biggest risk for 5G are the new core components, and they’ll be available around 2020.
“But Huawei doesn’t sell any core components in Australia, and the components Huawei does sell are more secure than their 4G counterparts. Why ban Huawei when it’s actually going to reduce the risks to our networks, not increase it?”
He also said that such a ban on Huawei could have a wide-ranging impact on the Australian economy.
“China exports three times as many technology goods as the US, and products assembled in other countries may well have components manufactured in China. If Australia truly considers this to be a risk, then all these products will need to be banned,” Mr Shore said.
Also speaking at the event, Huawei USA chief security officer Andy Purdy said 5G networks require full compliance and international standards, and that banning any one company won’t lessen the risks.
“While it might give some in government comfort to ban a company or two, cyber security experts recognise that it is not going to make us safer. We need a true risk-management approach, the old notions of trust aren’t good enough,” Mr Purdy said.
“We need to not trust, we need to verify. We need an international program stemmed in risk-management programs, similar to international diplomacy.”
He said leaders in the private and public sector need to show leadership in ensuring the security of the network.
“We need to have risk-informed procurement requirements. We have to hold people accountable and standards and best practices are how we demonstrate that we are serious about things,” he said.
“Part of what we do when developing the standards for 5G and the policies and conformance programs which will give us a basis for trust is so we as a global community can get the full benefits from these new technologies.”
Several Australian politicians from both major parties have called on Huawei to be blocked from providing any systems or equipment for the 5G network due to security concerns. Huawei was banned from participating in the build of the National Broadband Network by the then-Labor government in 2012.
This year, Queensland Nationals MP George Christensen has said in Parliament that Huawei has “close links” with the Chinese government, while Labor MP Michael Danby said the company is “effectively controlled by Beijing”.