UK Buckles, Joins The Evidence-Optional Huawei Blacklist Party

from the do-as-we-say,-not-as-we-do dept

While there’s really no denying that Chinese smartphone and network gear maker Huawei engages in some clearly sketchy behavior, it’s generally not anything that can’t be matched by our own, home-grown sketchy telecom companies. And while the Trump administration has been engaged in a widespread effort to blackball Huawei gear from the global marketplace based predominantly on allegations of spying on Americans (mostly to gain leverage in what’s largely seen as a counterproductive tariff and trade war), nobody’s been able to provide a shred of public evidence that this actually occurs despite 20 years of pearl clutching.

That’s not to say that Huawei doesn’t pose national security risks. But for an argument that’s been making the rounds for the better part of the last decade (including one 18 month White House investigation that found nothing), there’s a surprising lack of hard evidence of actual spying on Americans when you actually go looking for it. And there are surprisingly few people that actually seem to care.

With that in mind, Germany and the UK (including UK intelligence services) initially balked at the Trump administration push, noting that if there were security issues with Huawei gear, they’d be caught by existing hardware security review processes. The concern is that a global blackballing — including pulling Huawei gear out of existing networks — would be cumbersome, costly, ineffective, and create potential new problems. And given that Chinese hardware is literally in everything from your home router to the litany of feebly secured “IOT” devices attached to your home and business networks — potentially futile.

This week however the UK finally buckled to U.S. requests, and announced that it would be (slowly) implementing a ban on Huawei gear in both 5G and fixed fiber networks:

“The British government said it would bar telecom companies from purchasing new equipment made by China?s Huawei Technologies Co. and gave them until 2027 to remove its technology from their 5G networks, a sharp about-face that marks a significant victory for the U.S….The U.K is also launching a consultation on when to ban the purchase of Huawei equipment for the country?s fiber-optic network. This will be followed by a transition period that isn?t expected to exceed two years.”

The ban is expected to delay development of 5G by roughly two to three years and cost up to ?2 billion ($2.5 billion) to complete. The move leaves Canada as the last country in the so-called “Five Eyes” intelligence alliance ? which includes the U.S., UK, Australia and New Zealand ? that has yet to decide whether Huawei equipment can be used in their domestic 5G networks.

Huawei, not surprisingly, wasn’t particularly happy about the news:

“It threatens to move Britain into the digital slow lane, push up bills and deepen the digital divide,” said Ed Brewster, a spokesperson for Huawei UK. “Regrettably our future in the UK has become politicized, this is about US trade policy and not security.”

Smaller telecom operators in the US and abroad also haven’t been particularly happy about the entire effort, repeatedly noting that they’re being asked to foot much of the bill for Huawei gear removal and replacement with what’s usually more expensive hardware. While the UK has now folded to the Trump administration’s efforts, Germany and much of the EU remain resistant to the idea of a wholesale ban, would rather exclude Huawei gear based on existing security review standards, and are likely waiting out the next US election to avoid policies that could turn on a dime, which to me, seems more sensible.

Again, there’s ample evidence that Huawei and the Chinese government engage in sketchy behavior. That’s not really debatable. The problem with a telecom-network specific ban for alleged spying is it doesn’t actually solve the problem and imposes all manner of new additional hurdles and costs. Yes, Huawei won’t be in the UK’s telecom networks, but Chinese gear is literally everywhere, from the hardware being used to build power plants, to the millions Chinese routers, internet of things and other “smart” fridges, TVs, door locks, and Barbie dolls (usually with paper mache grade security) we attach to our home and business networks with reckless abandon:

Then there’s the whole hypocrisy thing. The “five eyes” gang has been engaging in often illegal global surveillance of foreign countries (including satellite signal interception and undersea cable wiretapping) for the better part of several generations, starting with programs like Echelon. The US, with the aid of telecom giants like AT&T and Verizon, has been spying on every shred of data that touches their networks for almost as long. That’s before you even get to the fact that the US hacked into Huawei to implant backdoors, and the NSA has been caught intercepting network hardware to install tracking technology.

Is illegal spying bad or not? If it is, surely we’d be OK with other countries banning AT&T, given it’s been made repeatedly clear the company is effectively bone-grafted to the NSA? And if we are going to be doling out lectures on what does or doesn’t qualify as illegal surveillance, shouldn’t we at least make a fleeting attempt to lead by example?

Again, none of this is to defend China’s abhorrent behavior or the genuine risks Chinese telecom companies might actually pose. But you’re not going to fix the problem with completely non-transparent allegations, myopic solutions that don’t tackle broader security issues (like the IOT), nonsensical trade wars (the cost of which are usually borne by American consumers), lobbyists eager to bury anti-competitive business interests under the guise of natsec, and bigoted and patriotic bluster.

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Comments on “UK Buckles, Joins The Evidence-Optional Huawei Blacklist Party”

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Scary Devil Monastery (profile) says:

Re: Re: Nope

"This is all about the USA being unable to compete with much better Chinese technology."

Not really. It’s the US being unable to compete with the far worse equivalent yet cheaper technology. To say nothing of the billions of dollars moving overseas and adding significantly to the already very heavy US trade deficit.

What the US should have done, way back when, was to put a stopper on outsourcing all of their manufacturing back in the 70’s. As they didn’t China was basically given a whole generation’s worth of time to build up an industry of engineering and manufacturing competence which the US gradually allowed to wither on their own soil.

Now all they’ve got left is to try to defend a US company like Cisco whose hardware still uses made-in-china components over a chinese company whose hardware is almost identical save for the logo on the front.

The most pathetic part of the 5G conflict between the US and China is that no matter what the US does there just is no "winning" option on the table, because even if Cisco wins the whole 5G bid they’ll still have to buy all the components from chinese factories.

Scary Devil Monastery (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:

"Huawei successfully competes with american companies and therefore they are evil and must be crushed."

Fixed That For You.

The US doesn’t mind competition as long as it’s actually harmless. In fact they’d stand on the sidelines cheering if the chinese had just had the good taste to remain the exporter of cheap and shoddy goods they were back in the 70’s.

The real joke here is that the US has gone through this exact same process twice before that I’m aware of – when japanese home electronics manufacturers undercut the entire US television market, for instance, and when cheap economy cars from toyota gutted the US car industry.

At which point a bunch of desperate statesmen, caught with their pants down, have to inherit the folly of their predecessors and start screaming "Buy American!" at the top of their lungs, making saving their own industries from the consequences of gross ineptitude an item on the patriotic agenda.

It’s pretty clear that in the long term the US sucks at actual business, requiring no end of unilateral protectionism by legislation, international treaties, and force of arms to keep it’s persistently ailing industries afloat.

Scary Devil Monastery (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:2 Re:

Yep. The irony is that once the US wins, shutting out all the chinese companies from the US and UK 5G deal those two countries will still exclusively be using hardware which is to 100% Made In China…with the logo of a US company on the front.

I’m not sure how we’ll convince the Chinese that their old suspicion that westerners are all inept clowns is incorrect – but this isn’t it.

Anonymous Coward says:

As I commented elsewhere, the UK really didn’t have much of a choice regarding a forward-looking security stance. It’s not that they don’t trust Huawei, but that some of the components in Huawei gear are only made by the US, or by companies already flagged as a security risk. So they’re not telling people to stop using Huawei in general, they’re just no longer using Huawei 5G gear that has either US or Chinese military components in it as either way erodes UK’s sovereignty over their 5G network.

This is a case where they don’t have much of a choice, PLUS it is politically expedient.

Valis (profile) says:


The US/UK has really shot itself in the foot with this racist, xenophobic decision. The already stagnating economies of the US/UK will be hard hit by their inability to roll out 5G. They just keep going backwards, hahaha! Meanwhile, we in the BRICS countries will become the powerhouse of the global economy in the next ten years. I know I shouldn’t gloat but I can’t help it, I’m thoroughly sick and tired of these racist Westerners.

Scary Devil Monastery (profile) says:

Re: Whahahahahaha!

"The US/UK has really shot itself in the foot with this racist, xenophobic decision."

It’s neither racist or xenophobia. This is just the US electronic industry sending the US body politic an S.O.S. message in the form of sad bubbles rising to the surface of the waters where US manufacturing sank over the 80’s and 90’s.

5G is, in itself, a completely overhyped study of utter irrelevance, and most participants would be way better off simply expanding their 4G networks to nominal capacity for now.

What is really important is the US wants the massive chunk of money the 5G Barnum show will rake in to go to threatened US industries rather than stable chinese ones.

In this, no matter what happens, they’ll fail. Even if Cisco and Qualcomm manage to land the lion’s share of the tender it’ll still be chinese-built components in every switch and router.

Ed (profile) says:

No good side

While everything from the Trump administration should be met with disdain and suspicion, likewise anything out of China should be suspect, as well. Just look at the malware-laden accounting software China requires all foreign companies who do business there to install and use. It’s a spyware orgy! And you’d trust Huawei to run your cellphone networks?

That One Guy (profile) says:

Re: No good side

No-one is saying that they should be trusted(as pointed out multiple times in the article), rather the point is that for all the ‘Huawei is horrible and a dire security threat!’ teeth-gnashing the amount of actual evidence has so far been in the sparse to non-existent range, leaving the entire thing looking much more like pure protectionism, not about protecting the public but about protecting the profits of competitors.

Scary Devil Monastery (profile) says:

Re: Re: No good side

"…for all the ‘Huawei is horrible and a dire security threat!’ teeth-gnashing the amount of actual evidence has so far been in the sparse to non-existent range…"

Well, no. There is evidence that Huawei routers are about as dire a security threat as Cisco and Qualcomm tech. With an 18-month security audit showing no actual hardware backdoors what remains is to simply buy the router with the best specs, flash it with open source firmware, and secure it from remote firmware updates from the OEM.

Scary Devil Monastery (profile) says:

Re: Re: No good side

…that said I still don’t like Huaweis offers any more than I do the contemporary HTC or Samsung ones. Xiaomi at least has an Android One version which doesn’t come bundled with a crapton of apps the OEM felt compelled to include in the core OS.

When every smartphone has components and hardware design almost identical to the other what you really get to choose between is the OS version, after all.

Anonymous Coward says:

all the UK has done is given in to pressure from Trump! considering what an egotistical liar and bullshitter he is, i have to wonder exactly what the UK was threatened with by trump to make it cave? there isn’t an iota of proof, not a miniscule of evidence of Huawei hjaving done, doing or about to do the slightest thing to put any country at risk through security flaws in the equipment of the ability of the Chinese government to infiltrate any industry or individual files, giving it some sort of advantage in a technological or financial way over any other country! there have been multiple, microscopic examinations of Huawei equipment by people from outside the various governments, including the US and UK and not a shred of anything untoward has been discovered. the so-called ‘definitive proof’ that Trump spouted about has never been shown, only the words of someone who wants to stop a company that makes better equipment, at a cheaper price, with frequent updates and longer lasting components from doing so. he wants the same equipment to be made and supplied by USA companies but everyone knows that there is no one that can do so, not for the quality and price etc to match Huawei. the decision in the UK to go along with this crap means, from the governments own admission, that it will add £2billion to the 5G bill and extend the roll out by 3 years! how the hell can that be justified simply on the word of 1 man? and let’s face it, if the siuation was reversed, the first thing the UK would demand is proof of wrong doing! why is it not at least demanding proof be shown against Huawei? and as usual, the public will be the ones that suffer and USA businesses, not UK businesses, will benefit the most!! fucking ridiculous!!

Scary Devil Monastery (profile) says:

Re: Re:

"…there isn’t an iota of proof, not a miniscule of evidence of Huawei hjaving done, doing or about to do the slightest thing to put any country at risk through security flaws in the equipment…"

Not strictly speaking true. Huawei’s routers share the same threat vector as any other router, including those from Cisco. The OEM can issue a firmware update at any time to install a backdoor.
When Trumps propaganda ministerium is talking about security concerns visavi Huawei that’s what they’re talking about, and the fact that Huawei might install such a backdoor on behest of the Chinese government.

They conveniently forget to address the US could demand cisco do the same for them, of course.

That One Guy (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:

They conveniently forget to address the US could demand cisco do the same for them, of course.

Of course not, the USG spying on the public is simply them bravely defending the rights and security of the country, it’s only a problem when a foreign country that’s not nice enough to share what they find does the same.

This comment has been deemed insightful by the community.
Anonymous Coward says:

If they really, really were spying via network gear, would there not have been announcements, evidence, and wholesale removal of said gear ages ago? No one would want these things, orders or no. Orders that, in emergency-level concern about security, allow 2-7 years to remove the dangerous, dangerous spy equipment…

I guess they have been hoping this whole time that the evidence-free announcements would galvanize in fear all the companies and people affected. Just like all the other bullshit claims which get the States et al into endless military adventurism and other good times.

ECA (profile) says:

Re: Re:

HOw about a reverse of this.
That the USA gov. has no control over them, and they wish to install Said tech in Cisco servers? Which would cover phone, systems Cell systems, Internet servers in the USA..
And that is may have started already. But its on the edges of the Country, the section between the USA and other countries.

Terrorism..and its built into the system.

ECA (profile) says:

Iv wondered.

How would the USA corps, deal with a True, open capitalist world.
Where a Corp is Where it is built, and taxed.
If you build something in that country its Taxed there as in Individual company. NOT as a part of this one in the USA.
Drop/Crop all the Copyrights to the minimum.
Any corp from other countries Can create an Individual company here. And its taxed HERE for those parts.
No sharing between corps, they have to build Their OWN to sell it.
They have to Compete with all the other Companies that wish to sell materials and Goods in the USA.

There is something hard to Understand in the USA. Who and how much are taxes. If you look at them everything gets taxes more then 1 time. The workers, and the goods, and the materials and the shipping and handling, gets taxed, up and down the line. Every time something changes hands.
The republicans seem to be of the idea, that the Major corps should not be paying the taxes, its the consumer that gets hit. Either as a consumer or a worker. And CEO wages are consider a write off, as an expense to the company.
Taxation seems to be 1 of the biggest problems in the USA, all told. Its WHO gets to pay what and how much.
We used to have Slaughter houses in this state, but the Meat prices dropped at the Stores, Allot. and they couldnt compete after a time. All gone, and now we have to deal with the Major Companies, and our meat runs down the road 2 states, to be processed, spread around and mixed with al the other states, then Shipped back, and we dont even know where it came from.(Biggest Meat corp gets most its most meat from Brazil). As individual Companies they had more workers, and paid more taxes then the Current corps, but the Meat prices are going up??
How much of our food prices are Gouging, and how much is taxes? Go look at commodities and find the prices for Grains, fruit, veggies, and understand that a Bushel is an OLD strange word that has many weights. And the Avg. prices tend to be Pennies per pound. And you are paying Dollars per pound.
Would rather a Brazil copr come up here and sell Their goods, rather then a USA corp gouge us for the shipping costs.

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