Nokia backs away from executive’s scathing comments on Huawei security fears

Finnish Firm's chief technology officer accuses Chinese rival of 'sloppiness' and 'obfuscation' on backdoors in its kit

Ben Chapman
Friday 28 June 2019 13:24
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“Nokia is focused on the integrity of its own products and services and does not have its own assessment of any potential vulnerabilities associated with its competitors,” the company said.
“Nokia is focused on the integrity of its own products and services and does not have its own assessment of any potential vulnerabilities associated with its competitors,” the company said.

Nokia has distanced itself from the comments of one of its most senior executives about alleged security risks posed by Chinese firm Huawei.

Chief technology officer Marcus Weldon took aim at Huawei in an interview with the BBC, claiming that Nokia was a “safer bet” than its Chinese rival as a supplier for new 5G mobile networks.

The Finnish multinational is in competition with Huawei and Ericsson to provide 5G equipment globally, but the US government has effectively banned the Chinese firm from involvement in America’s new mobile infrastructure. Donald Trump’s administration has also attempted to get other countries to follow its lead in freezing out Huawei.

Referring to security vulnerabilities in Huawei’s equipment, Mr Weldon told the BBC: “Some of it seems to be just sloppiness, honestly, that they haven't patched things, they haven't upgraded.

He added: ”But some of it is real obfuscation, where they make it look like they have the secure version when they don't.“

Huawei has been accused of leaving “backdoors” in its equipment that could allow spying on communications by Chinese intelligence agencies. A report by security firm Finite State this week found that more than half of Huawei’s kit has backdoors and vulnerabilities that could allow someone to remotely access it.

The company denies that it has any links to security services and says it equipment is safe.

But Mr Weldon said the UK government needs to take the issue of security very seriously. “That means being wary of adding Chinese vendors into network infrastructure, as long as these security vulnerabilities are either probably there or likely to be there based on past practices,” he said.

He also claimed that restrictions placed on Huawei acted to balance out unfair advantages that the company had enjoyed.

“It's fairness returning to the market,” he said. “We were disadvantaged in the past relative to the practices that the Chinese were allowed to have in terms of funding mechanisms.”

In April, Huawei fought back against claims that it was funded in part by the People’s Liberation Army and China’s national Security Commission.

Following the interview, Nokia released a statement saying that Mr Weldon's words do not reflect its official position.

“Nokia is focused on the integrity of its own products and services and does not have its own assessment of any potential vulnerabilities associated with its competitors,” the company said.

Huawei described Mr Weldon’s comments as “misleading”.

In a statement, a spokesperson said: “We believe secure, resilient networks can only be delivered by collaboration across the whole industry, working to common standards on privacy protection and cyber-security, so that all participants can be judged equally.

”We have a proven track record of delivering secure, trustworthy and high-quality products to every major telecoms operator in Europe. Cyber-security remains Huawei's top priority and here, in the UK, we are subject to the most rigorous oversight compared to any competitors in our sector.“

It has been widely reported that the UK government is considering allowing Huawei to form ”non-core“ parts of Britain’s 5G network despite US concerns.

The company’s equipment has been closely scrutinised by a body that includes staff from GCHQ. The oversight body has criticised the security “shortcomings” in Huawei’s equipment but has not found backdoors.

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