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NCSC warning over ZTE networking hardware

The National Cyber Security Centre (NCSC) has warned telecoms companies and other network operators of its ‘security concerns’ with networking hardware made by Chinese vendor ZTE. 


In a letter seen by the Financial Times, NCSC technical director Ian Levy claims that “the use of ZTE equipment or services within existing telecommunications infrastructure would present risk to UK national security that could not be mitigated effectively or practicably.”

The letter was sent to UK telcos, the regulator Ofcom and ZTE themselves. 

Levy continued: “Mitigating the risk of external interference with equipment supplied by a particular vendor depends in significant part on telecommunications equipment being present from other vendors who are not subject to the same risk of external interference.

“The UK telecommunications network already contains a significant amount of equipment supplied by Huawei, also a Chinese equipment manufacturer. Adding in new equipment and services from another Chinese supplier would render our existing mitigations ineffective.”

The FT‘s report notes that Levy’s letter also cites a recent settlement between ZTE and US officials, in which the Chinese firm agreed to pay a $1.2bn fines for violating US sanctions on North Korea and Iran.

Levy noted it would be “impossible” to manage the risks posed if ZTE equipment was deployed at scale, adding: “The result would be an unacceptable national security risk to the UK telecoms infrastructure environment,” he said. 

In a statement issued later today, the NCSC admitted that it had sent the letter, and backed up its claims. He said: “It is entirely appropriate and part of NCSC’s duty to highlight potential risks to the UK’s national security and provide advice based on our technical expertise.

“NCSC assess that the national security risks arising from the use of ZTE equipment or services within the context of the existing UK telecommunications infrastructure cannot be mitigated.”

This warning follows similar action from the US government, which has long-prohibited American telecoms firms from buying network equip from Chinese firm Huawei, and last month went so far as to warn US citizens not to use smartphones from the Chinese companies Huawei and ZTE. 

What’s more, earlier this year, a senior official in President Trump’s administration confirmed earlier this year US government is considering developing its own 5G network, containing parts manufactured in China, to counter, er, security threats from China. 

However, in the UK, Huawei equipment forms a key part of BT Openreach’s 21st Century Network (21CN), as well as Openreach’s fibre network upgrade

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