UK Intelligence Committee Raises Internet Security Fears over BT and Chinese Kit

A report on foreign involvement in the UK’s Critical National Infrastructure (CNI) has been published by the government’s Intelligence and Security Committee (ISC), warning that there could be “implications for national security“ over BT’s deployment of broadband ISP and telecoms equipment supplied by Chinese firm Huawei.

Around the world, countries including the USA & Australia have controversially banned the use of Huawei’s telecoms equipment over concerns that it could be used to spy on domestic communications or for future cyber-attacks. Other countries, including Canada and a few European states, have also raised similar fears. The United Kingdom has embraced Huawei, the Chinese manufacturer of related equipment to BT, O2, TalkTalk, EE and Three UK among others. Huawei was founded in 1987 by Ren Zhengfei (former officer of the People’s Liberation Army), and other Chinese telecoms firms.

BT is responsible for large parts of the UK’s telecommunications infrastructure, following a major £10bn upgrade project (21st Century Network) back in 2003 which involved a considerable contract with Huawei to supply some of the needed transmission and access equipment. At the time BT saw “no need to change [it’s] position” following the forbidding of related equipment elsewhere. BT further commented that they work directly with each of their suppliers to “gain assurance through rigorous review that the security of the network is not compromised“.

The report warns of a possible “conflict between the commercial imperative and national security” and that the committee’s investigation had revealed a “disconnect between the UK’s inward investment policy and its national security policy“. It noted that the government failed to properly investigate and check BT’s contract with Huawei, which some say was partly born out of an understandable need to avoid damaging trade and diplomacy between the two countries.

If you have any concerns over security please feel free to contact a member of our Voice and Data team for more information.

Mark Gamlin
Head of Voice and Data