The federal government now says it is not ruling out barring Huawei from supplying equipment for Canada’s next generation 5G mobile networks, backing away from previous assurances that Canadian security agencies were capable of containing any cyberespionage threat from the Chinese telecommunications giant.
Public Safety Minister Ralph Goodale told The Globe and Mail on Thursday that a cybersecurity review is under way to determine whether Canada should join the United States and Australia in banning Huawei.
“We are considering every possible dimension of this situation,” Mr. Goodale said. “We haven’t ruled anything in or anything out. But we are examining every dimension of this issue to make sure that when we make our final decision, we do so in the most appropriate way.”
In late September, Canada’s top cybersecurity official, Scott Jones, rejected the idea of blocking Huawei, saying this country’s safeguards are adequate to mitigate any risk. The new head of the Canadian Centre for Cyber Security, which is part of the Communications Security Establishment [CSE] spy agency, told MPs that Canada has a robust system of testing facilities for Huawei equipment and software to prevent security breaches – one he suggested was superior to those of some of Canada’s allies.
CSE has set up a system that allows independent labs to test Huawei equipment for back doors and capabilities that can be built in that could allow Chinese hackers to covertly intercept data or disable communications networks. The testing is paid for by Huawei.
Mr. Jones’s comments prompted two member of the U.S. Senate Intelligence Committee – Republican Marco Rubio and Democrat Mark Warner – to write to Prime Minister Justin Trudeau in October, urging him to block Huawei.
The senators said they were troubled by Mr. Jones’s statements and raised the prospect that a Canadian embrace of Huawei technology could affect the flow of confidential information between members of the Five Eyes intelligence-sharing alliance: Australia, Britain, Canada, New Zealand and the United States.
Mr. Rubio and Mr. Warner warned that Canada’s safeguards are not enough.
Mr. Jones, who is travelling in the United States, was not available for comment Thursday.
However, in remarks to ITWorldCanada.com, a tech industry publication, last month, Mr. Jones said his remarks to MPs in September were intended to focus on scrutiny of existing mobile technologies, such as 4G and LTE. But the transcript of this committee meeting shows that MPs were asking specifically about action taken by Canadian allies to block Huawei from participation in 5G networks.
Mr. Jones told ITWorldCanada.com the advent of 5G technology could in fact alter Ottawa’s security strategy.
“5G is a fundamental technology shift. But we don’t want to presuppose what the outcome [of the review] is going to be. We want to look through and make security decisions based on the broader understanding as standards are being set [of] how to we put security into that,” Mr. Jones said.
Huawei vice-president Scott Bradley said the company had no comment on the security review that is taking place or the possibility that the Shenzhen-based conglomerate could be banned from Canada’s 5G networks.
Mr. Goodale said the federal review is examining the potential economic benefits of Huawei’s 5G technology and the potential threat that the Chinese company could place spying devices in the core of networks.
The review is in the early stages but Ottawa wants it be concluded without much delay, given that Washington has been increasing pressure on Canada, Britain and New Zealand to join the United States and Australia in banning Huawei.
“Technology doesn’t wait for anybody and this is a communications revolution that is taking place around the world quite literally as we speak so we understand the urgency of settling it,” Mr. Goodale said.
New Zealand recently announced it is also studying whether to also ban Huawei from supplying equipment for 5G network infrastructure.
Last week, one of Australia’s spy agencies, in rare public comments, revealed it had strongly recommended to the Australian government to restrict foreign firms with government ties from that country’s 5G networks.
Mike Burgess, director-general of the Australian Signals Directorate, which is akin to Canada’s CSE, said 5G will require new security rules.
“5G technology will underpin the communications that Australians rely on every day, from our health systems and the potential applications of remote surgery, to self-driving cars and through to the operation of our power and water supply,” Mr. Burgess said Monday.
“Historically, we have protected the sensitive information and functions at the core of our telecommunications networks by confining our high-risk vendors to the edge of our networks. But the distinction between core and edge collapses in 5G networks,” he said.
Britain, which has a testing arrangement similar to Canada’s for Huawei equipment, said it is working with Huawei “to benefit from new technology while managing cybersecurity risks,” according to a statement to The Globe from the U.K. National Cyber Security Centre.
Under Chinese law, companies must “support, co-operate with and collaborate in national intelligence work” as requested by Beijing, and security experts in the United States and Canada warn that equipment produced by firms such as Huawei could be compromised on behalf of China’s ruling Communist Party.
With a report from Reuters