China’s ZTE ‘poses risk to UK security’

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The warning is set to impact ZTE’s efforts to sell 5G infrastructure and devices

The UK’s cyber-defence watchdog has confirmed it has blacklisted one of China’s leading state-owned companies.

The National Cyber Security Centre (NCSC) has written to UK telecoms providers warning them that the use of ZTE’s equipment and services could pose a national security risk.

The move coincides with a US government ban preventing American businesses from selling components to the Shenzhen-based company.

ZTE has yet to respond to the moves.

“It is entirely appropriate and part of NCSC’s duty to highlight potential risks to the UK’s national security and provide advice based on our technical expertise,” said a statement from Dr Ian Levy, the organisation’s technical director.

“NCSC assess that the national security risks arising from the use of ZTE equipment or services within the context of the existing UK telecommunications infrastructure cannot be mitigated.”

BT formed a research and development partnership with ZTE in 2011, and has also distributed modems manufactured by the Chinese firm.

The following year, the US House Intelligence Committee warned that both ZTE and another Chinese firm, Huawei, posed a security threat.

Dr Levy also referenced ZTE’s rival in a letter sent to the UK telecoms sector, according to the Financial Times.

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ZTE also sells handsets and other computing equipment to consumers

“The UK telecommunications network already contains a significant amount of equipment supplied by Huawei, also a Chinese equipment manufacturer,” he wrote.

“Adding in new equipment and services from another Chinese supplier would render our existing mitigations ineffective.”

The NCSC’s parent organisation, GCHQ, already carries out its own checks on Huawei’s equipment.

A spokesman for Huawei declined to comment.

Sanctions buster

The US’s action against ZTE stems from the fact the firm sold on US hardware and software to an Iranian telecoms carrier, in breach of sanctions imposed by Washington.

ZTE pleaded guilty to the offence last year and paid a $890m (£621m) penalty.

At the time the firm also promised to dismiss four senior workers and discipline 35 others. But it acknowledged in March that while it had fired the four managers, it had failed to keep the second part of its promise.

“We can’t trust what they are telling us is truthful,” a unnamed US official told the Reuters news agency.

“And in international commerce, truth is pretty important.”

China’s ZTE ‘poses risk to UK security’

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