Specialists from the Five Eyes intelligence alliance are meeting to discuss cyber threats as it emerged that Chinese telecoms giant Huawei will reportedly help to build Britain’s new 5G network.
Representatives from the UK, US, Canada, Australia and New Zealand will meet at the National Cyber Security Centre (NCSC) annual two-day conference, CYBERUK, in Glasgow on Wednesday.
It comes as the Daily Telegraph reported that Huawei will have limited access to build “non-core” infrastructure like antennas despite warnings of potential national security threats.
Senior security figures including the head of MI6 and GCHQ have warned publicly of the risks entailed in allowing a Chinese firm access to the UK’s critical communications network.
The decision is likely to lead to fresh tension with the US, which has banned Huawei from its government networks and urged others in the Five Eyes alliance to do the same.
Tom Bossert, former homeland security adviser to President Donald Trump, told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme: “I’m not sure what the PM was thinking but it seems to be against the advice of some of her security officials.”
He expressed concerns about telecoms being sabotaged, information being stolen, and badly manufactured products rushed to market.
Foreign Affairs Committee chairman Tom Tugendhat tweeted that the decision would “cause allies to doubt our ability to keep data secure”.
He told Today: “I think we’re seeing in places like Xiangxiang that the Chinese government is experimenting in extremely – how can I put it politely? – adventurous ways of expanding an intelligence state into a domestic infrastructure.
“The roll-out of the security state in Xiangxiang is something based on technology that no country has ever tried before and to a degree and depth and totality that no nation has ever tried before.”
Mr Tugendhat described the Chinese state as “not always friendly” and said he was not questioning the integrity of Huawei’s officials.
But, he added, “they are bound by Chinese law and Chinese law does oblige them to co-operate with the security apparatus of the Chinese state”.
The decision to allow Huawei access to the 5G network was reportedly agreed at the National Security Council (NSC), chaired by Prime Minister Theresa May, on Tuesday.
Downing Street refused to comment on the report.
MI6 chief Alex Younger has said Britain needs to decide how “comfortable” it is in allowing Chinese firms to become involved in its infrastructure, while the head of GCHQ, Jeremy Fleming, has spoken of both the “opportunities and threats” it presents.
Some critics have expressed concerns that the Chinese government could require the firm to install technological “back doors” to enable it spy on or disable Britain’s communications network.
Last month, a government-led committee set up to vet Huawei’s products said it had found “significant technological issues” with its engineering processes leading to new risks to the UK network.
Huawei has denied having ties to the Chinese government, but critics question how independent any large Chinese company can be, with a legal obligation on firms to co-operate with the state’s intelligence agencies.
Some 2,500 security experts from government, industry and law enforcement are expected to attend the NCSC conference in Glasgow.
The theme of the conference is developing good cyber security for the public and helping make the technology they buy more secure.
A spokeswoman for the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport said the security and resilience of the UK’s telecoms networks was of “paramount importance”.