Category Archives: Brexit

How Will Brexit Affect Cybersecurity for UK Organizations?

As a vendor, Tripwire gets asked a lot of questions from customers and potential clients about how developments in the wider world might affect digital security. One of those forces that’s on everyone’s mind is Brexit. Representatives from some of our potential customers as well as our existing clients are asking us what to focus […]… Read More

The post How Will Brexit Affect Cybersecurity for UK Organizations? appeared first on The State of Security.

The UK Government Huawei Dilemma and the Brexit Factor

In the last couple of days, Google announced it will be putting restrictions on Huawei’s access to its Android operating system, massively threatening Huawei's smartphone market. Meanwhile, UK based chip designer ARM has told its staff to suspend all business activities with Huawei, over fears it may impact ARM's trade within the United States.  Fuelling these company actions is the United States government's decision to ban US firms with working with Huawei over cybersecurity fears.

The headlines this week further ramps up the pressure on the UK government to follow suit, by implementing a similar ban on the use of Huawei smartphones and network devices within the UK, a step beyond their initial 5G critical infrastructure ban announced last month. But is this really about a foreign nation-state security threat? Or is it more about it geo-economics and international politicking?
Huawei: A Security Threat or an Economic Threat?

Huawei Backdoors
It’s no secret that Huawei was founded in 1987 by Ren Zhengfei, a former engineer in the People's Liberation Army, and the company was quickly built with the backing of major Chinese state and military contracts. But the US government, secret services and military are also known to invest heavily in Silicon Valley and US tech firms. In recent weeks there have been a number of accusations about deliberate backdoors placed within Huawei devices, implying the usage of Huawei devices could aid Chinese forces in conducting covert surveillance, and with potentially causing catastrophic impacting cyber attacks.
The reality is all software and IT hardware will have a history of exploitable vulnerabilities, and it is pretty much impossible to determine which could be intentionally placed covert backdoors, especially as an advanced and sophisticated nation-state actor would seek to obfuscate any deliberately placed backdoor as an unintentional vulnerability. 

For instance, the following are critical security vulnerabilities reported within tech made by US firms in just the last 9 days, no suggestion any of these are intentionally placed backdoors:
The more usual approach taken by nation-state intelligence and offensive cyber agencies is to invest in finding the unintentional backdoors already present in software and hardware. The discovery of new and completely unknown 'zero-day' security vulnerability is their primary aim. Non-published zero-days vulnerabilities are extremely valuable, clearly, a value lost if they were to inform the vendors about the vulnerability, as they would seek to quickly mitigate with a software patch.

For instance, the United States National Security Agency (NSA) found and exploited vulnerabilities in Windows without informing Microsoft for over five years, creating a specific hacking tool called EternalBlue, which is able to breach networks. The very same tool that was leaked and used within the devasting WannaCry ransomware attack last year. 

The WhatsApp vulnerability reported last week was another public example of this approach, where a private Israeli firm NSO Group found a serious vulnerability within WhatsAppBut instead of informing Facebook to fix it, NSO created a tool to exploit the vulnerability, which it sold to various governments. The ethics of that is a debate for another day.
The Laws which allows Nation-States to Conduct Cyber Surveillance
The United States has significant surveillance powers with the "Patriot Act", the Freedom Act and spying internationally with FISA. China has its equivalent surveillance powers publicly released called the "2017 National Intelligence Law". This law states Chinese organisations are "obliged to support, cooperate with, and collaborate with national intelligence work". But just like Apple, Microsoft and Google, Huawei has categorically said it would refuse to comply with any such government requests, in a letter in UK MPs in February 2019. Huawei also confirmed "no Chinese law obliges any company to install backdoors", a position they have backed up by an international law firm based in London. The letter went on to say that Huawei would refuse requests by the Chinese government to plant backdoors, eavesdropping or spyware on its telecommunications equipment.

The Brexit Factor
There is a lot of geo-politicking and international economics involved with Huawei situation, given the US government are aggressively acting to readdress their Chinese trade deficit. It appears to be more than just a coincidence, the United States government is choosing now to pile on the pressure on its allies to ban Huawei, the world's largest telecommunications equipment manufacturer. Country-wide Huawei bans are extremely good economic news for US tech giants and exporters like Cisco, Google, and Apple, who have been rapidly losing their global market share to cheaper Huawei products in recent years.

To counter the US economic threat to their business foothold within the UK, Huawei is offering a huge carrot in the form of investing billions into UK based research centres, and a big stick in threatening to walk away from the UK market altogether. The has led to the UK government leadership becoming at odds with the MOD, the latter desire to stand shoulder-to-shoulder with the US and other NATO allies, in banning Huawei devices. This tension exploded with a very public spat between Prime Minister Theresa May and the Secretary of Defence, Gavin Williamson last month. The PM continued to defy the MOD's security warnings and Gavin Williamson was fired for allegedly leaking classified documents about the Huawei UK national security threat, an accusation which he vehemently denies.

Why the UK Gov is stuck between a Rock and Hard Place
The UK government continue to be stuck between a rock and a hard place, playing a balancing act of trying to keep both the United States and China happy, in a bid to score lucrative post-Brexit multi-billion-pound trade deals. This status-quo leaves UK Huawei smartphone consumers and UK businesses using Huawei network devices, caught in the middle. However, due to the relentless US pressure causing regular negative mainstream media headlines about the security of Huawei products, the Chinese tech giant may well be driven out of UK markets without a UK government ban.


HUAWEI NEWS AND THREAT INTELLIGENCE IN MAY 2019

Is Huawei a Threat to UK National Security?

On 19th July 2018 the UK government, through the GCHQ backed Huawei Cyber Security Evaluation Centre, gave “limited assurance” that Huawei poses no threat to UK National Security. Since then the UK, EU, and NATO member government politicians and security services have all raised concerns about the nation-state cyber threat posed by the Chinese telecoms giant Huawei. 

There has been particular political unease around the Huawei provision of network infrastructure devices (i.e. switches and routers etc.) within the UK national infrastructure, devices which controls network traffic and capable of accessing the data that traverses them. Huawei has been operating in the UK market for 18 years, whether its their smart phones or a network devices, Huawei products are generally far cheaper than their competitors' equivalents. This has led to major telecoms providers such as BT, purchasing and implementing Huawei network devices within their telecommunications infrastructure and data centres, some of which are regarded as critical components within the UK national infrastructure. As such, Huawei has been subject to unfavourable security scrutiny, which has recently spilt out into political and media arenas. 


Huawei has always denied its products poses a threat, and there is no evidence of any malicious capability or activity publicly disclosure by any UK intelligence agencies or cyber security firms. But there is also the Chinese 2017 National Intelligence Law, which states that Chinese organisations are obliged to "support, cooperate with, and collaborate in, national intelligence work".

Three nations in the intelligence alliance ‘Five Eyes’, the United States, Australia, and New Zealand, have effectively prohibited the installation of Huawei equipment within their generation telecommunications equipment, namely 5G networks. The remaining two members of "Five Eyes", the United Kingdom and Canada, are expected to state their position within the coming months. The UK's National Cyber Security Centre has published warnings about the Chinese company's security standards. Elsewhere, nations including France, Germany and India have expressed their concerns about the use of Huawei equipment within their telecommunications 5G upgrades.


On 4th February, a leaked draft 'Huawei Cyber Security Evaluation Centre' 2019 report, said the issues and findings it had raised previously had not been fully addressed by Huawei, and was critical about the security of Huawei's technology.

Then on 6th February 2019,  a letter sent to MPs by Huawei was published. In it Huawei said it could take up to five years to address security issues raised by the Huawei Cyber Security Evaluation Centre, at a cost of $2bn (£1.5bn) of their own money. The president of Huawei's carrier business group also said the process of adapting its software and engineering processes to meet the UK's requirements was "like replacing components on a high-speed train in motion".

Huawei also made the following points in the letter to rebut the threat allegations,  "Huawei is a closely watched company.  Were Huawei ever to engage in malicious behaviour, it would not go unnoticed - and it would certainly destroy our business. For us, it is a matter of security or nothing; there is no third option. We choose to ensure security." The letter also addressed the Chinese 2017 National Intelligence Law, stating "no Chinese law obliges any company to install backdoors", a position they have backed up by an international law firm based in London. The letter went on to say that Huawei would refuse requests by the Chinese government to plant backdoors, eavesdropping or spyware on its telecommunications equipment.

The ball is now in the UK government's court, in the next couple of months we shall see if the UK Gov bans Huawei or continues to work with them to help assure the implied national security threat of their products. A ban could well result in Huawei pulling out of the UK market altogether, taking their billions of pounds of investment with them, and would likely negatively impact post Brexit trade deal negotiations between the UK and China, so we can expect the situation to become even more political in the short term.

Huawei Threat News Timeline
Who are Huawei?
  • Chinese multinational conglomerate which specialises in telecommunications equipment, consumer electronics and technology-based services and products.
  • HQ in Shenzhen, Guangdong
  • Founded in 1987 by Ren Zhengfei, a former engineer in the People's Liberation Army
  • Largest telecommunications-equipment manufacturer in the world
  • Overtook from Apple in 2018 as the second-largest manufacturer of smartphones in the world
  • 72nd on the Fortune Global 500 list
  • 180,000 employees
  • Chinese military remain an important customer for Huawei
  • Invests Billions into R&D around world
  • 3 Billions Customers Globally
  • Operating within the UK for 18 years
  • Made a five year commitment (2018 to 2023) to invest £3 billion in the UK.
  • Allegations its equipment may contain backdoors to allow unauthorised surveillance and/or data theft by the Chinese government and the People’s Liberation Army
The 5G Evolution
5G is expected emerge in the UK in late 2019 and early 2020, and will be much faster than 4G. The theoretical maximum speed for 4G is 1Gbps, while the theoretical maximum speed for 5G is 20Gbps, so 5G is potentially up to 20 times faster than 4G. Potentially faster than the UK average broadband speed, which stands at 18.57Gbps.

Mobile networks are changing with the arrival of 5G and the impact of this change will be felt across the industry. Adrian Taylor, regional VP of sales for A10 Networks, provides the follow insight about the impact of 5G on the market and how it will change the enterprise world.

5G and the Evolution of Mobile Networks
Fifth generation networks, just like the preceding 4G LTE and WiMAX networks, are expected to greatly increase available bandwidth, with improved end-to-end performance providing a better end-user experience. In the most basic of terms, 4G LTE was the long-term evolution of Radio Access Networks (RAN); 5G is the next iteration.

Wireless carriers have invested billions into their networks to support the ongoing demand for faster network speeds. They must look for ways to increase revenue while delivering more value to the end user. This continues to drive new devices into the hands of the consumer. The demand for increased efficiencies, bandwidth, and coverage has pushed carriers towards a decentralised deployment model.

Network Virtualisation Remains in The Early Stages
Service providers monitor and review technology for advancements that will help deliver faster and less expensive networks. Recently, they have looked into areas of Network Function Virtualisation (NFV) and automation to support their advancements. Mobile network operators are investing heavily in reducing delays and errors through repetitive processes as they build and add capacity to existing 4G networks.

Virtualisation and Software Defined Networks (SDN) improvements are driving a shift from hardware to software. SDN is promising, but it’s not an instant solution, as purpose-built hardware still remains the preferred choice. NFV and SDN have offered service providers an alternative to existing methods, including dedicated appliances sitting idle. However, it’s safe to say that the age of virtualisation remains in the early stages.


Hardware manufacturers and service providers are now betting on the acceptance and success of virtualised functions. Software development continues at breakneck speed to meet timelines and demands for more integrated solutions, which easily scale and reduce operational overheads at the same time.

The 5G Revenue Opportunity
5G’s impact is expected to extend beyond the typical mobile network carriers/operators such as Virgin Media, EE, O2, and Sky in the UK and overseas. It promises to enable increased connectivity and flexibility, that will drive additional functions throughout all supportive components of a mobile carrier’s network.

RAN access providers face the question of how to support the ever-increasing appetite for cutting the cord. How can we use our mobile devices in more ways than previously thought, as the end user goes about their daily tasks? This mobility, whether it’s tied to a carrier’s technology or even a simple Wi-Fi home network, reaches all corners of our day-to-day life.

This reach extends from the cloud to the data centre environments and continues to drive capacity needs, supported by both legacy appliances and the ever-increasing virtual environments. This continued appetite for consumption has opened up opportunities for all facets of technology and associated vendors.

5G Mobile Network Evolution
The continued expansion of 5G networks will have a revolutionary impact upon every mobile subscriber and business in the world.

The fundamental market forces of network evolution are not based on wired or wireless infrastructure. Companies are currently focused on upgrading existing mobile networks. Whereas at the exact same time, NFV, SDN and the global IoT industry are all preparing to utilise the next generation of mobile networks.

Software solutions are easier to move from concept to production and frequently offer a lower up-front investment cost. This all adds up to help drive increased functionality for all service providers, including the wired infrastructure.

5G and IoT will be demand-driven. As a result, the more the infrastructure expands to meet that demand, the more opportunities will be uncovered. It’s a positive feedback loop that will revolutionise how we think of the internet.

Get ready for a world that will be changed forever with the next generation mobile networks on the horizon.