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Australia blocks Huawei, ZTE from 5G rollout

Claims network protections are 'ineffective' in 5G. No, really

Five Eyes member Australia has banned Huawei and ZTE from participating in the coming rollout of 5G mobile networks – without naming the companies.

Huawei has long been blocked from supplying network hardware for the country's National Broadband Network (a fixed line network), but telecommunications carriers like Telstra, Optus, and Vodafone were free to use its equipment in their mobile networks.

Treasurer Scott Morrison and now-former communications minister Mitch Fifield (he resigned shortly after the announcement amid leadership turmoil in Australia) announced the ban this morning.

The pair cited concern that Huawei would be subject to Chinese government influence, which would put Australia's national security at risk.

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“The Government considers that the involvement of vendors who are likely to be subject to extrajudicial directions from a foreign government that conflict with Australian law, may risk failure by the carrier to adequately protect a 5G network from unauthorised access or interference”, the statement said.

“Carriers may still need to apply controls regardless of the vendor they choose. These controls would not displace existing cybersecurity practices or business risk mitigations”, the statement added.

Unsurprisingly, Huawei has expressed its disappointment with the decision:

While the statement didn't name individual vendors, ZTE (which has a much smaller presence in Australia) will also be hit by the ban.

Britain, which allowed Huawei into BT's network, has been growing wary about Huawei's security, and ZTE was the subject of a spooks' warning in April this year.

Showing their credentials as systems architects, the Fifield/Morrison statement said allowing Huawei into edge networks (radio kit and associated switches) isn't viable in 5G.

The statement said: “Where previous mobile networks featured clear functional divisions between the core and the edge, 5G is designed so that sensitive functions currently performed in the physically and logically separated core will gradually move closer to the edge of the network. In that way, the distinction between the core and the edge will disappear over time”.

“This new architecture provides a way to circumvent traditional security controls by exploiting equipment in the edge of the network”, it continued.

The Australian government's advice seems to suggest that an attacker could compromise the “integrity and availability” of the 5G network – in other words, the government believes hostile actors could crash the 5G network, and the carriers that own the equipment would be powerless to prevent them.

Current protections, the statement said, would be “ineffective” in 5G networks, even though the government last year gave itself the power to direct how carriers conduct their network security. ®


Whether the ban's still in place by the time the network rollouts begin is very much up in the air. The government is currently in turmoil: Fifield resigned shortly after issuing the statement, because he withdrew his support from prime minister Malcolm Turnbull in a leadership battle.

At the time of writing, the collapse of the government is feasible, and its chances of surviving the next election look slim.

However, by 2019, when the election is due, carriers will want to have their infrastructure arrangements well in hand.

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