Wednesday, 03 April 2019 19:42

Huawei Australia chair calls for cyber diplomacy in 5G stoush Featured

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John Lord: "[Huawei] has become embroiled in national security debates through inference and accusation, rather than fact or proof." John Lord: "[Huawei] has become embroiled in national security debates through inference and accusation, rather than fact or proof." Supplied

Huawei Australia chairman John Lord has called on the Australian Government to adopt the path of cyber diplomacy in its dealings with the company he heads, rather than resorting to confrontation.

Delivering a keynote address at the International Conference on Theory & Practice of Electronic Governance at RMIT University on Wednesday, Lord warned that Australia's decision to ban Huawei from the rollout of its 5G networks would disadvantage the country both in terms of increased cost and would also erode global trade norms for overseas investment and trade.

He said Huawei had suddenly found itself in the midst of a global technology war, with Australia issuing the ban and the US trying to make the company's business collapse.

"It [Huawei] has become embroiled in national security debates through inference and accusation, rather than fact or proof," Lord told his audience. "From this singular perspective, the West must reject eastern technology and deny access by the East to western technology."

For nearly two years, the US has been pushing countries it considers allies to avoid using equipment from Chinese companies, Huawei foremost, in 5G networks. But the US has produced no proof to back up its claims that these products could be used to spy for China.

Only Australia and New Zealand have fallen in line with Washington's dictates, but Wellington has indicated that the initial refusal for telco Spark to use Huawei gear is not the end of the matter. That stance was reiterated by Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern during a one-day China visit on Monday. Huawei sued the US on 7 March, seeking to be reinstated as a telco supplier in the country.

Lord pointed to the approach adopted by the UK and Germany which were evaluating the company's products in Huawei-funded labs. "This is a risk mitigation strategy to any perceived cyber risk in the use equipment in national infrastructure," he said. "However, this does not mitigate the risk from all suppliers, so [it] is only a partial solution. All equipment going into the national infrastructure should be evaluated in a consistent manner, within a framework applicable to the whole of industry."

He said there was no one country that could provide all parts that went into equipment these days and Huawei was no exception. "A broad rule of thumb for Huawei’s supply chain is 30% from the US, 22% from Taiwan and Asia, 30% from China, [and] about 15% from Europe. But it is worth it, this diversification – the benefits of global sourcing enable us to produce better products, more economically."

Australia had set out a International Cyber Engagement Strategy last year, but was not using it. "At no point in the continuing attacks on Huawei have we seen cyber diplomacy come into play," said Lord, a former rear admiral in the Australian Navy. "Even today, with a panel on cyber diplomacy at this UN conference, Australia has no representation."

He pointed out that Australia had its own version of the Common Criteria evaluation scheme adopted by the Five Eyes nations in the 1990s - known as Australasian Information Security Evaluation Program.

"We, Huawei, have enthusiastically adopted the Common Criteria scheme for key products. However, even with recognised Common Criteria certification, we find ourselves unable to supply Australia’s telecommunications infrastructure. Clearly the Common Criteria scheme is not working to achieve its intended outcome," he said.

Lord outlined a three-step process for Australia to take a cyber diplomacy approach to technologies from China and other countries. "Firstly, Australia’s Cyber and International Cyber Engagement Strategies are fine pieces of work and reflect a positive contribution by Australia in helping address some of the global cyberspace issues through diplomacy. Let’s see them come to life in an Action Plan that drives towards enabling a technologically rich future, enabling all to have access to the latest advances in technology irrespective of country of origin."

Secondly, he suggested that both Australia and China build on the agreement they had signed to prevent cyber-enabled theft of intellectual property, trade secrets or confidential business information.

And, finally, Lord called for the Prime Minister’s Advisory Council on Cyber Security to be involved in decisions such as the one that affected Huawei. "...Real issues need to be discussed and advice given to government. This group was not consulted, not asked for any advice prior to the decision being made by the Australian Government to restrict access to build the Australian 5G infrastructure," Lord said.

"The decision was made without government, service provider, vendor and industry dialogue. It was an internal decision by government alone and its effectiveness in the long-term needs to be questioned."

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Sam Varghese

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Sam Varghese has been writing for iTWire since 2006, a year after the site came into existence. For nearly a decade thereafter, he wrote mostly about free and open source software, based on his own use of this genre of software. Since May 2016, he has been writing across many areas of technology. He has been a journalist for nearly 40 years in India (Indian Express and Deccan Herald), the UAE (Khaleej Times) and Australia (Daily Commercial News (now defunct) and The Age). His personal blog is titled Irregular Expression.

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