Senior British security officials say they can give only limited assurances that Chinese firm Huawei’s UK operations pose no threat to national security, downgrading their previous position.
The assessment, in a soon to be published annual report signed off by Britain’s GCHQ spy agency, will intensify the espionage debate around Huawei Technologies.
The firm has come under increasing fire in the United States and Australia over concerns it could facilitate Chinese government spying.
Huawei, the world’s biggest producer of telecoms equipment, said on Thursday that it welcomed the thrust of the report by the Huawei Cyber Security Evaluation Centre (HCSEC) oversight board, which it said showed supervision by British authorities was working well.
“The report concludes that HCSEC’s operational independence is both robust and effective. The Oversight Board has identified some areas for improvement in our engineering processes,” a Huawei spokesman said.
“We are grateful for this feedback and are committed to addressing these issues. Cyber security remains Huawei’s top priority, and we will continue to actively improve our engineering processes and risk management systems,” he said.
Huawei says no inspection has ever found any backdoor vulnerabilities in its equipment. It says it is a private company not under Chinese government control and not subject to Chinese security laws overseas.
The firm is a major supplier of broadband gear and mobile networks in Britain, meaning its products are used in critical national infrastructure which could be targeted by foreign adversaries.
Britain’s National Cyber Security Centre, which is part of Government Communications Headquarters (GCHQ) that provides the signals intelligence, had no immediate comment.
HCSEC was set up by Huawei in 2010 in response to British government concerns about possible security threats to national infrastructure. British security officials, including from GCHQ, sit on its oversight board.
London says it effectively addresses security issues by having all Huawei products reviewed by staff at a special company laboratory overseen by British government and intelligence officials.