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How Real Is The Chinese Technology Spy Threat?

How Real Is The Chinese Technology Spy Threat?

Western concerns are growing that Chinese dominance of several new areas of technology, particularly in communications infrastructure, is a serious security concern. A U.S. congressional commission recently highlighted the risk posed by Chinese dominance of the latest technology in the world of superfast 5G mobile networks.

The commission’s report quoted security experts who believe it would be theoretically possible for China’s government to order the tech giants manufacturing 5G infrastructure components to build ‘back doors’ into products that would allow the state to spy or have them ‘fail on command’.

Four major Chinese manufacturers of telecoms technology were named by the US-China Economic and Security Review Commission (USCC) as representing cause for concern. Huawei was one. The USCC concerns over Huawei technology echo those previously voiced by UK security chiefs, where the company is actively involved in helping mobile network operators develop 5G infrastructure. That stands in contrast to the USA, Australia and New Zealand who have all banned the use of Chinese technology being used in their own 5G networks.

M16 head Alex Younger addressed the topic earlier this week in a rare public speech, commenting:

“We need to decide the extent to which we are going to be comfortable with Chinese ownership of these technologies and platforms in an environment where some of our allies have taken quite a definite position.”

The increase in connectivity of technology outside of traditional telecommunications through the evolution of ‘smart’ IoT devices in homes, offices and public spaces is significantly expanding theoretical points of vulnerability that many in the west fear could be exploited by China, through its technology companies, for intelligence collection, cyberattacks, industrial control, or censorship.

Huawei, whose founder Ren Zhengfei was an officer in the People’s Liberation Army, is of particular concern due to its increasing influence and market share in the West.

Richard McGregor, a specialist on China in the security context and part of the Sydney-based Lowy Institute think tank yesterday raised doubts around how effectively the UK is able to screen Huawei-manufactured technology:

“The US and Australia both maintain that the UK system of screening Huawei’s technology doesn’t work, and it is clear from recent statements by UK officials that their argument has started to make headway in Whitehall.”

Huawei in turn has responded with a strong denial of any government involvement, interference or requests related to its corporate activities. The company released the following statement:

“We have never received instructions or requests from any government or their agencies to change our positions, policies, procedures, hardware, software or employment practices or anything else, other than suggestions to improve our end-to-end cybersecurity capability. We have never been asked to provide access to our technology, or provide any data or information on any citizen or organisation to any government.

“We confirm our company’s commitment to continuing to enhance our capability in designing, developing and deploying secure technology. [We] will continue our transparent approach.”

With China increasingly central to the development of the latest technology in the world, and not only its manufacture as was the case in the past, security concerns is a debate likely to intensify internationally. From AI to telecoms, China is fast catching up with the most advanced technologies developed in the West. In some areas Chinese technology has already surpassed that coming from anywhere else in the world and over the next decade many analysts believe that will come to represent the new norm across different technology sectors and products.

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