December 5, 2020

UK Ignores US, Won’t Fully Ban Huawei Gear From Its Networks

We’ve repeatedly noted that while Huawei certainly engages in some clearly sketchy shit (like any good unaccountable telecom giant), the evidence supporting the global blacklist of the company has been lacking. The Trump administration still hasn’t provided any public evidence supporting the central justification for the global blackballing effort (that Huawei works for China to spy wholesale on Americans), and at least some of the effort is little more than gamesmanship by companies like Cisco, which don’t want to compete with cheaper Chinese gear as they hunt down network and 5G contracts.

Not everybody has been responsive to the US blackballing campaign. Germany has generally taken the stance that it’s easier to just ban gear with clear security problems instead of stumbling down the messy blackballing rabbit hole, which requires immensely complicated enforcement action and ripping gear out of existing networks. And the UK this week announced that it would be bucking US demands and only ban Huawei gear from the most sensitive network areas. There are also a few other restrictions that fall well short of a full ban:

“There is also a limit in place on how much equipment networks can buy from one “high risk vendor” for a particular part of the infrastructure known as the Radio Access Network (RAN). This is essentially the part of the network that hooks up your devices with the actual 5G signal. So Huawei can participate in the RAN, but no more than 35% of a single vendor’s equipment in this part of the network can come from Huawei.”

The US obsession with Huawei as a security threat certainly isn’t baseless, but at the same time the Trump administration has rattled the saber on Huawei, it has done virtually nothing for other major aspects of cybersecurity, be it the abysmal lack of security in the internet of things (much of which originates in… gasp… China), or the terrifying lack of adequate election security to protect us from Chinese hackers. Either you’re concerned about cybersecurity or you aren’t, and our asymmetrical policies on this subject are usually fairly telling.

Again, companies like Cisco have spent years successfully scaring lawmakers into cracking down on Chinese network gearmakers whose cheaper (and admittedly often shitty) gear they simply don’t want to compete with. Yet it’s pretty rare to see that ever reflected in print. This week the Telegraph was one of a tiny number of outlets which quoted experts suggesting the Huawei threat might just be over-hyped:

“Dr Greg Austin, a cybersecurity expert at the International Institute for Strategic Studies, said that “the US case against Huawei always had more to do with exaggeration of the espionage gains to China from it than with any sober assessment…Other experts said there has still been no public evidence of Huawei using its technology for espionage and hoped that the Government decision will avoid any impact on the economy from network operators having to rip out large amounts of Huawei technology.

Though even here, you should note nobody wants to say why the threat is being over-hyped, or why, after a decade (and even one 18 month investigation) nobody has been able to prove Huawei spies on Americans. In general, skepticism on this subject has all been drowned out by a chorus that seems oblivious to the idea that this blackballing effort may not entirely be grounded in factual reality. None of this is to say Huawei (or China) are saints, just to say that patriotism tends to make a certain segment blind to the lobbying gamesmanship that’s underpinning many of these “very sober national security determinations.”

There’s also the hypocrisy. The NSA literally broke into Huawei to implant backdoors in the company’s gear, and routinely engages in the kind of behavior we lambaste China for. It’s now impossible to determine where AT&T physically ends and the NSA begins, yet if foreign countries were to suddenly ban AT&T from doing business overseas, the immense hyperventilation and face-fanning from all of the exact same folks who support a blackballing of Huawei would register on the Richter scale. There’s rarely room for nuance in the conversations about Huawei, which gives US lobbyists ample legroom to play.
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