Message to Australia: Banning Huawei solves nothing

Andy Purdy, Chief Security Officer Huawei USA Andy Purdy, Chief Security Officer Huawei USA

Chief Security Officer for Huawei Technologies USA and former White House Adviser.

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Message to Australia: Banning Huawei solves nothing

During the post-9/11 years I worked on Cyber Security for President George W. Bush and I saw how the United States government and the private sector worked together on addressing the emerging Cyber Security risk.

Now times have very much changed and the US government finds itself in a geopolitical struggle with China that could last for a generation or more.

This is the context in which the U.S. government is trying to hurt China by hurting Huawei – trying to block its sales of 5G equipment in the U.S. and around the world and blocking technology sales by American companies to Huawei.       

The irony is that – despite all the rhetoric – none of this makes the US or anyone else any safer in terms of Cyber Security.

If they want to properly address Cyber Security the US and other governments and corporations must move toward delivering more robust cyber preparedness and start to work co-operatively with their allies and all of the required stakeholders

Right now there is simply too little attention on what the U.S. can do in collaboration with the private sector – and allies like Australia – to solve the challenges it faces in Cyber Security in the telecom sector.

This failure in US leadership on Cyber Security provides an opportunity for other countries like Australia to step up.

Instead of showing real Cyber Security leadership the US government has been pressuring its closest allies and other governments to block Huawei and “rip and replace” its equipment rather than looking dispassionately at the very real Cyber Security risks and looking at what can be done to mitigate them and to promote greater resilience.

Once we get Cyber Security right then we can all benefit from the best technology no matter where it comes from and the enhanced competition that will bring.

Despite the US pressure the vast majority of countries are not banning Huawei; even strong US allies like the United Kingdom, South Korea and the Philippines are engaged in fact-based and risk-informed decision-making and are using Huawei technology for 5G.

Ironically, China allows the major European vendors to compete against Huawei in the Chinese market because they understand that competition brings lower prices, greater innovation, better security and greater resilience.

Nobody who really understands Cyber Security believes that banning Huawei solves any major Cyber Security issue, given the sophistication of the threat and the vulnerabilities of networks and systems, particularly to hostile nation states.

One of your own defence experts, Dr Hugh White, recently said: “It is naïve to assume that by knocking out Huawei we’ve closed one door, but the idea that it makes our communications safe from cyber-espionage – from China or any other state – is absurd.”

In the case of Australia, the ban of Huawei from 5G has not made you any safer.

Your 5G kit is still being made in China and deployed into your 5G networks without the kind of testing that is being done elsewhere in the world.

In sharp contrast, the European Union is pursuing an objective and risk-based approach to Cyber Security – they are making it quite clear that it is absolutely possible to address and mitigate the risks involved in dealing with a Chinese company.

The only way to have a secure Cyber-Security framework is to trust nobody and check absolutely everything, and to promote the greatest possible transparency.

The plain fact of the matter is that not only is Huawei not going away but China is not going away either, and there are plenty more powerhouse technology companies coming out of China in the coming years, you can count on that.

The Cyber Security problem needs to be addressed in a comprehensive and transparent manner and it would be great to see Australia play a leadership role in helping to bring people together to solve the problem because the current ‘technology wars’ are going to end up hurting everybody in the end.

Technology is an interconnected business and by trying to cut out the world’s leading telecoms technology company all you are going to do is cause an awful lot of completely unnecessary damage to our global economy and to ordinary people’s incomes.

For example, Australia is one of the most expensive and difficult countries in the world to build telecoms networks so you need access to the best technology and you need as much competition as possible to keep costs down.

When you have a global technology industry you need global rules-of-the-road, that’s just plain common sense, and we have seen the world come together to put those rules together in fields like aviation for example.

Global aviation is only possible because government’s around the world got together and established a common set of rules that every country has to abide by if it wants to be part of the system.

So, right now, even though the US and China are not on great terms you are seeing American airlines flying into China and Chinese airlines flying into America because both countries recognize this is in their mutual best interests.

We have to look at doing the same thing in the technology industry and that means getting countries like Australia to take a leadership role in helping to bring the world together in developing systems and procedures which mean we can all take advantage of the best technologies available – no matter where they come from.

Andy Purdy is Chief Security Officer at Huawei USA.

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