China spy fears over ocean ca­ble


Chi­nese com­pany Huawei’s in­volve­ment in a pro­posed un­der­sea in­ter­net ca­ble near Syd­ney has sparked fresh es­pi­onage con­cerns, as a US-led back­lash against the telco es­ca­lated yes­ter­day fol­low­ing the ar­rest of one of its top ex­ec­u­tives.

Huawei chief fi­nan­cial of­fi­cer Meng Wanzhou was ar­rested in Canada, at the re­quest of the US gov­ern­ment, al­legedly for sanc­tion-bust­ing be­hav­iour to­wards Iran.

News of the ar­rest emerged as Western gov­ern­ments are in­creas­ingly lock­ing Huawei out of crit­i­cal 5G tech­nol­ogy con­tracts and shun­ning its de­vices.

The De­part­ment of For­eign Af­fairs and Trade yes­ter­day re­vealed it did not al­low Huawei and ZTE-made de­vices to con­nect to its in­ter­nal net­works and Japan was re­ported to be pre­par­ing to ban the com­pa­nies’ phones from all of its gov­ern­ment de­part­ments. Huawei has now ef­fec­tively been banned from the 5G net­works of the Five Eyes coun­tries of Aus­tralia, the US, Bri­tain, Canada and New Zealand.

The Week­end Aus­tralian can re­veal that es­pi­onage fears have emerged over Huawei’s in­volve­ment in a plan to build a mas­sive un­der­sea in­ter­net ca­ble stretch­ing from South Amer­ica to China with a stop-off in Syd­ney.

The Chilean gov­ern­ment has ap­proached Can­berra for ad­vice on what it would need to do to pro­ceed with the project, given Aus­tralia’s lead­ing role in ky­bosh­ing a pro­posed ca­ble built by Huawei from the Solomon Is­lands and PNG to Aus­tralia.

Fer­gus Han­son, the head of the In­ter­na­tional Cy­ber Pol­icy Cen­tre at the Aus­tralian Strate­gic Pol- icy In­sti­tute, said Aus­tralian in­ter­net traf­fic could be surveilled through ca­bles.

The ar­rest of Ms Meng sparked protests from China.

“We have made solemn rep­re­sen­ta­tions to Canada and the US, de­mand­ing that both par­ties im­me­di­ately clar­ify the rea­sons for the de­ten­tion, and im­me­di­ately re­lease the de­tainee to pro­tect the per­son’s le­gal rights,’’ a Chi­nese gov­ern­ment spokesman said. Ms Meng is the daugh­ter of Huawei founder Ren Zhengfei, a for­mer se­nior of­fi­cer in the Peo­ple’s Lib­er­a­tion Army and a well-con­nected mem­ber of China’s po­lit­i­cal and busi­ness es­tab­lish­ment.

Her ar­rest sets the stage for a fresh out­break of trade hos­til­i­ties be­tween China and the US, and has stoked that fears Huawei may re­tal­i­ate by de­tain­ing US telco ex­ec­u­tives trav­el­ling in China. It also brings to a head long-run­ning dis­putes about Huawei’s role in Western telecom­mu­ni­ca­tions net­works as well as a larger com­mer­cial con­test be­tween Wash­ing­ton and Bei­jing for supremacy in the tech mar­ket.

Last month The Week­end Aus­tralian re­ported that in­telli-

gence re­ports showed Huawei ex­ec­u­tives had sup­plied net­work codes to Chi­nese es­pi­onage ser­vices in an at­tempt to hack into an over­seas net­work. It was the first con­firmed in­stance of the Chi­nese gov­ern­ment us­ing its lever­age over the com­pany to ob­tain in­for­ma­tion.

Huawei has con­sis­tently de­nied in­volve­ment in es­pi­onage and a spokesman for the com­pany said yes­ter­day its phones were “as safe and se­cure as any­one else’s’’.

“In fact, our phones’ op­er­at­ing sys­tem is Google An­droid,” the spokesman said.

“All ma­jor smart­phones are man­u­fac­tured in China and share the same global sup­ply chain.”

The spokesman said that in the com­pany’s 30-year his­tory, in­clud­ing 15 years in Aus­tralia, “there has never been one se­cu­rity is­sue with any of our prod­ucts’’.

British telco BT an­nounced this week it would strip Huawei equip­ment from the core of its 4G net­work and limit the com­pany’s ac­cess to 5G.

Cy­ber­se­cu­rity firm Crowd- strike said the in­creased scru­tiny on Huawei could eas­ily ex­tend to smart­phones. “Huawei’s lat­est phones are al­ready banned from sale in the US (through car­rier part­ners) and there’s no rea­son why other na­tions won’t look at that as well,” said Crowdstrike’s vice-pres­i­dent of tech­nol­ogy strat­egy, Mike Sen­tonas.

“The risk is, if the Chi­nese gov­ern­ment asks Huawei to put a back­door on their equip­ment, they will have to do so and if the gov­ern­ment thinks it can’t man­age the risk then you don’t use the equip­ment, and that ap­plies to smart­phones.”

A DFAT spokesman said the de­part­ment did not al­low Huawei or ZTE-made phones to con­nect to its in­ter­nal net­works.

“DFAT man­dates the use of Ap­ple iPhones for in­for­ma­tion up to the level of ‘pro­tected’,’’ the spokesman said. “The iPhones are pro­vi­sioned cen­trally and need to be con­fig­ured and se­cured in or­der to in­ter­act with DFAT ICT sys­tems. We have no Huawei and ZTE prod­ucts con­nected to DFAT net­works.’’

DFAT joins a list of gov­ern- ment agen­cies that have shunned Huawei and ZTE amid fears the Chi­nese-listed tel­cos could be­come con­duits for es­pi­onage or cy­ber at­tacks.

The De­fence De­part­ment no longer has any Huawei de­vices in ser­vice, although a spokesman added that a risk assess­ment had found Huawei or ZTE phones did not pose a threat when used to call or text, pro­vided the in­for­ma­tion was un­clas­si­fied.

The spokesman said the phase out of ZTE phones was still un­der way.

“As the ZTE phones be­come un­ser­vice­able or are no longer needed, they are re­turned to the De­fence telecom­mu­ni­ca­tions ser­vice provider for dis­posal,’’ the spokesman said.

Both Huawei and ZTE have been locked out of Aus­tralia’s 5G net­work, which will take shape next year. The 5G net­work is ex­pected to rev­o­lu­tionise in­ter­net con­nec­tiv­ity by gen­er­at­ing vastly greater speeds and in­creas­ing the num­ber and ca­pa­bil­ity of con­nected de­vices.


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