Thursday 18 July 2019

US warns Bruton Huawei is 5G risk to Ireland

US Homeland Security assistant director reveals critical telecoms security threats to Communications Minister

Communications Minister Richard Bruton. Photo: Tom Burke
Communications Minister Richard Bruton. Photo: Tom Burke
Adrian Weckler

Adrian Weckler

The controversy facing Huawei landed in Ireland this week when Communications Minister Richard Bruton was warned against using critical telecoms equipment made in China.

The assistant director for cybersecurity in the US Department of Homeland Security, Jeanette Manfra, also said that Ireland could be a target in any future cyberattacks because of the presence of high-tech firms and data centres here.

However, Ms Manfra said that Ireland is well-placed to address such issues through a combination of technical skills and attention from officials.

Speaking in Dublin to the Irish Independent, Ms Manfra said that she has not specifically advised the Government to take action against Huawei as it is not for the US to tell Ireland "who to choose or not to choose" in planning its network rollout.

"I wouldn't presume to tell another government how to do their business," said Ms Manfra. "But it's no secret that we have problems with Huawei."

Huawei has repeatedly insisted that it poses no security risk to Irish or European network integrity and that it would decline to co-operate with any future order from the Chinese government to compromise security.

One of the company's most senior executives, global chief technology officer Paul Scanlon, recently told the Irish Independent that Huawei has made its code available to governments that might be concerned about such issues.

Asked about what she told Mr Bruton about the security risks associated with rolling out 5G, Ms Manfra said that it was "background material that we've developed internally".

"It's to make sure that they [the Irish Government] have the benefit of our experience and our perspective on the risks associated with that. And it was also to tell them that we're there for their support, if they choose."

US security agencies have warned that some Chinese and Russian technology and telecoms firms represent a long term security risk to western countries because of interference laws they are subject to in their home countries.

They have suggested that in any future conflict, a 5G mobile network could be infiltrated by an enemy power to inflict damage by disrupting utilities that depend on 5G networks. Interference in automated vehicle networks and communications systems are some of the worst-case scenarios painted by American authorities.

In Ireland, Huawei is one of the main equipment vendors in the fibre broadband network being rolled out by Siro, the joint venture between Vodafone and the ESB. That network has now passed more than 300,000 homes.

It's a similar story for Ireland's biggest operator, Eir, which uses a combination of Ericsson and Huawei to support its telecoms networks here.

Imagine Communications, which is rolling out fixed wireless broadband to rural areas, is also basing much of its infrastructure on Huawei kit.

Three has not yet decided which company it will use to build out its upcoming 5G network.

Ms Manfra said that the US Department of Homeland Security is currently building closer ties with the Irish Defence Forces and the National Cyber Security Centre.

See full interview with Jeanette Manfra on p6

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