The cyber security watchdog – National Cyber Security Centre (NCSC) – has written to UK telecommunication firms warning of a national security risk involving equipment from Chinese telecom equipment maker ZTE Corp.
In a letter seen by the Financial Times, Ian Levy, technical director at the NCSC, wrote to UK telcos, ZTE and Ofcom warning “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.”
“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.”
According to the letter ZTE is a Chinese state-owned business and that new Chinese laws have been introduced enabling the state to exert influence over companies and individuals with “wide ranging powers of compulsion”.
The move is the latest crackdown on telecom equipment suppliers by governments around the world who are showing increasing concern about using telecoms networks supplied by Chinese companies. The US had already barred its own telecoms companies from purchasing network equipment from Huawei.
The NCSC’s letter cited a settlement agreed between ZTE and US officials back in March, when the company was fined $1.2bn after pleading guilty to criminal charges of violating US sanctions on North Korea and Iran. The NCSC noted this was a “relevant factor” in its decision.
Huawei, Ericsson and Nokia, supplies mobile and broadband networks to the UK with Huawei equipment being monitored via a specialist cell, staffed by GCHQ.
The NCSC’s letter said it would be “impossible” to manage risks in view of the threat to the sector if ZTE equipment was deployed in the UK. “The result would be an unacceptable national security risk to the UK telecoms infrastructure environment.”
Last week UK intelligence agency GCHQ announced that it is set to open a new intelligence and security facility in Manchester in 2019, as part of the UK’s wider counter-terror strategy.
The facility will work alongside MI5 and MI6. At the time of the announcement the agency’s director, Jeremy Fleming, said that the new centre would create hundreds of “high calibre” new jobs, and have “a vital role in keeping this country safe”.