Canada’s top cybersecurity official says Ottawa is confident sufficient safeguards exist to deal with the risks of telecommunications hacking or spying by China, dismissing the need to follow the United States and Australia in barring Chinese telecom giant Huawei from next-generation 5G wireless networks.
Scott Jones, the new head of Ottawa’s Canadian Centre for Cyber Security, said the country has a robust system of testing facilities for Huawei equipment and software to prevent security breaches − one he suggests is superior to those of some of Canada’s allies.
“We have a very advanced relationship with our telecommunications providers, something that is different from most other countries to be honest from what I have seen,” Mr. Jones told the House of Commons committee on public safety and national security late last week. “We have a program that is very deep in terms of working on increasing that broader resilience piece especially as we are looking at the next-generation telecommunications networks.”
Washington has been cranking up the pressure on Canada, Britain and New Zealand – three of its partners in the Five Eyes security intelligence-sharing alliance – to join the United States and Australia in banning Huawei and fellow Chinese telecom equipment maker ZTE from participating in supplying equipment for the Canadian 5G network.
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 party.
The issue has unfolded at a time when security concerns remain high in the Canada-China relationship. Ottawa in May blocked a takeover of major Canadian construction firm Aecon Group Inc. by a Chinese state-owned company on grounds of national security. And during the summer, Beijing’s state-run Xinhua News Agency said Ottawa prevented nine of its journalists from entering Canada to cover the June Group of Seven summit in Quebec.
5G is the next generation of cellular technology that will require a vast increase in the number of cellular sites to provide a dense web of coverage to deliver faster downloads. U.S. national-security agencies, including three former directors of Canadian spy agencies, have said that Huawei can’t be trusted and that Canada should bar the Shenzhen-based conglomerate from being allowed to supply infrastructure for this country’s 5G network.
Conservative MPs as well as committee chair John McKay, a Liberal MP, raised concerns about the significant inroads Huawei has made in Canada and asked Mr. Jones why the Trudeau government won’t exclude the company from 5G as the United States and Australia have. Japan is also studying whether to impose regulations to reduce the security risks from using network equipment from Chinese manufacturers including Huawei.
Mr. Jones was asked whether Canada’s conduct in allowing Huawei into the hyperconnected 5G network wouldn’t amount to breaching this country’s security obligations with respect to the Five Eyes partners.
The cyberofficial said Canada is attempting to explain to the United States and Australia how the Canadian testing system works. The Communications Security Establishment, the spy agency responsible for protecting the country from cyberattacks and espionage, has set up what are called “White Labs” that are paid for by Huawei. Technicians test equipment at the labs for back doors and capabilities that can be built in that could allow Chinese hackers to covertly intercept data or disable communications networks.
“One of the things we are looking at with our Five Eyes is to make sure they are aware of our program, our approach which is very comprehensive in terms of dealing with the full risks across the telecommunications sector,” Mr. Jones said.
Public Safety Minister Ralph Goodale recently returned from a Five Eyes meeting in Australia where he was briefed on the decision of Canberra to reject the Huawei testing facility model used by Canada and Britain.
A senior government official, who spoke on background on the matter, said Ottawa has not completely ruled out a 5G ban on Huawei. But right now, the official said that Canadian cyberexperts are studying the best way to protect Canada’s communications networks when 5G arrives and they don’t want any future actions they take to be interpreted as a move against one particular company.
Canada is currently conducting a national-security analysis to minimize cyberthreats from equipment made by foreign telecommunications companies and find ways to secure 5G technology, a study that includes Huawei. The official said the government does not believe it’s pressed for time in this review, because 5G is not expected to be deployed in Canada until 2022.
Huawei is not allowed to bid on federal government contracts and is not permitted to provide equipment, such as routers and switches, for the core network of Canada’s telecoms – nor are Huawei technicians allowed to manage the servicing of its equipment from offshore.
Mr. Jones said the government is leery about excluding firms such as Huawei because it believes reducing the number of telecom equipment suppliers would mean Canada would be more vulnerable if one vendor’s equipment was infected.
Canadian providers BCE Inc., Telus Corp. and Rogers Communications Inc. all use Huawei equipment in their cellular networks. The Globe and Mail reported in May that Huawei has established a vast network of relationships with leading research-heavy universities in Canada to create a steady pipeline of intellectual property that the company is using to underpin its market position in 5G.
OTTAWA BUREAU CHIEF
The Globe and Mail, September 23, 2018