LONDON (Reuters) - Britain will review security at a cyber centre in southern England run by China’s Huawei to ensure that the British telecommunications network is protected, the government said on Thursday.
Worries about state eavesdropping of phone data and emails shot up the political agenda last month when former U.S. security contractor Edward Snowden disclosed details of Washington’s U.S. PRISM surveillance system.
There are concerns on both sides of the Atlantic about a potential security threat stemming from the access to communication infrastructure given to Huawei, founded in 1987 by Ren Zhengfei, a former People’s Liberation Army officer.
The Chinese company, the world’s No. 2 telecoms equipment maker, denies being linked to the Chinese government or military or receiving financial support from either.
The British government, which sees cyber attacks as one of the biggest threats to its security, said checks on Huawei’s role in Britain had been “insufficiently robust” in the past.
Huawei signed a multi-billion pound deal in 2005 to supply BT Group Plc, Britain’s largest telecoms operator, as part of upgrades to a network owned by the state until 1984.
The Chinese company launched a security centre in 2010 to test its new hardware and software for security risks before being linked to Britain’s critical infrastructure.
But in a highly critical report last month, the British parliament’s security committee urged the government to review security at the site, known as the Cell.
“We have robust procedures in place to ensure confidence in the security of UK telecommunications networks,” the government said in a statement. “However, we are not complacent.”
Huawei said it supported the government review of its security centre. “Huawei shares the same goal as the UK government and the ISC (Intelligence and Security Committee of parliament) in raising the standards of cyber security in the UK,” it said in a statement. “Huawei is open to new ideas and ways of working to improve cyber security.”
In October last year, the U.S. House of Representatives’ Intelligence Committee urged American firms to stop doing business with Huawei and ZTE Corp., warning that China could use equipment made by the companies to spy on certain communications and threaten vital systems through computerised links.
The British review will also consider whether Britain’s spy agency GCHQ should play a bigger role in the centre’s management or even supply all of its employees.
It will be conducted by Prime Minister David Cameron’s national security adviser and will report back later this year.
The British government said it had to balance its important trading relationship with China with the need to protect its telecommunications. Using only British equipment manufacturers would not be safer because the parts used in telecoms machinery are components of a globalised supply chain, it added.
China denies being behind incidents of hacking into Western computer systems and insists it is a major victim of cyber attacks, including from the United States.
Editing by Andrew Osborn and Kevin Liffey