China banned from Australian 5G network
CHINESE-OWNED telecommunications giant Huawei has been blocked from rolling out Australia's 5G network due to security concerns.
The federal government says the involvement of any companies "likely to be subject to extrajudicial directions from a foreign government that conflict with Australian law" presented too much of a risk.
Huawei is the world's third-largest smartphone maker, behind only Apple and Samsung and is also the world's largest supplier of wireless networking equipment.
While the tech giant was once a copycat company mimicking technology available in the West, it has poured huge sums of money into research and development in recent years and has built itself into a leading provider of telecommunications infrastructure.
But as a Chinese company, Huawei (which was founded by former People's Liberation Army engineer Ren Zhengfei) is obliged to comply with government demands and could be compelled to gather intelligence on its behalf. That is the concern that lies at the heart of the decision to block the company from Australia's 5G rollout.
Reports this morning suggest Scott Morrison, as acting Home Affairs Minister during a cabinet reshuffle amid ongoing leadership uncertainty in the party, pulled the trigger on the decision to ban Huawei in a bid to bolster his own credentials for the top job.
The possibility of blocking Huawei from building out Australia's 5G network was first publicly flagged in June.
"It's hard to see how compromising your telecommunications network is in the national interest," a Liberal party member told the Australian Financial Review at the time.
Huawei has publicly argued it would never hand over Australian customer data to Chinese spy agencies but this morning the government announced no combination of technical security controls sufficiently mitigated the risk.
"While we are protected as far as possible by current security controls, the new network, with its increased complexity, would render these current protections ineffective in 5G," the government said in a statement.
The decision also affects ZTE Corp, a Chinese telecommunications equipment company that makes mobile devices sold in Australia through Telstra, Optus and others.
Huawei Australia has continued to highlight its credentials, saying it has "safely & securely delivered wireless technology" in the country for almost 15 years.
"This is a [sic] extremely disappointing result for consumers," it tweeted. "Huawei is a world leader in 5G."
Acting Home Affairs Minister Scott Morrison said the government was committed to protecting vital 5G networks.
"The security of 5G networks will have fundamental implications for all Australians, as well as the security of critical infrastructure, over the next decade," he said in a statement.
According to Australian Strategic Policy Institute cybersecurity expert Tom Uren, it would be impossible to employ Huawei without some degree of risk.
"The main concern is that they could covertly intercept our communications, and get access to our devices - computers, phones, anything with a signal," Mr Uren told news.com.au in June.
He said being on the network would give them the opportunity to hack our private data, and feed this back to the Chinese government.
"There's been a number of US reports documenting how the People's Liberation Army has collaborated with companies to get valuable negotiation information or get the intellectual property."
Nigel Phair, the director of the Canberra-based Centre for Internet Safety echoed those concerns. Speaking to news.com.au back in January, he said: "The reality is in the modern day of cybersecurity and espionage, you can never be too careful. Governments need to approach such issues from a risk management perspective … I don't think you can be too cautious."
- With AAP