As if ZTE wasn't already having a bad week after the U.S. Department of Commerce imposed a seven-year ban on access to U.S. communications components (see "U.S. Commerce Dept. finds ZTE violated export disciplinary agreement, bans U.S. component supply”), the company's reputation has been called into question by a UK cyber-security agency. A statement posted April 16, 2018, on the website of the National Cyber Security Centre (NCSC) advised against the use of ZTE equipment in UK telecommunications networks. The post is being backed by a letter addressed to the UK telecommunications community.
The NCSC is part of the UK Government Communications Headquarters (GCHQ), a group that provides signal intelligence and related services to the UK government and military. NCSC aims to prevent cyber attacks, manage such incidents, and improve UK network security. And it doesn't like the looks of ZTE.
"It is entirely appropriate and part of NCSC's duty to highlight potential risks to the UK's national security and provide advice based on our technical expertise,"according to Dr. Ian Levy, technical director of the NCSC, via the website post. "NCSC assess that the national security risks arising from the use of ZTE equipment or services within the context of the existing UK telecommunications infrastructure cannot be mitigated."
The post does not detail what has led the NCSC to this conclusion, although it does describe ZTE as "a Chinese state-owned enterprise." The post also refers to a letter Dr. Levy has sent to UK telecommunications network operators providing more detail; a press report suggests the letter states that, with Huawei equipment already in use within UK telecommunications networks, adding equipment from a second Chinese hardware vendor would pose an untenable security risk.
The NSCS concerns mirror those expressed on multiple occasions within U.S. political circles regarding Chinese telecommunications suppliers such as ZTE and Huawei, most recently by FCC Chairman Ajit Pai (see "FCC's Pai proposes ban on USF use on 'national security threats'”). There is no indication of whether the NCSC plans to warn against Huawei as well. Huawei has a close relationship with BT (see, for example, "BT finalizes 21CN contracts with Ciena, Huawei, Lucent, and Siemens” and, more recently, "Openreach taps Huawei, Nokia for G.fast roll-out") and has established technical and research centers in the UK.
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