The National Cyber Security Centre (NCSC) has confirmed that it has blacklisted one of China’s largest telecommunications companies. Furthermore, it has warned that the use of ZTE’s equipment and services could pose a national security risk and render existing mitigations ineffective. This move follows the US’s Department of Commerce announcement, made earlier this week, of a seven-year ban prohibiting US companies from doing business with ZTE.
Dr Ian Levy, the NCSC’s Technical Director said: “It is entirely appropriate and part of NCSC’s duty to highlight potential risks to the UK’s national security and provide advice based on our technical expertise. NCSC assess that the national security risks arising from the use of ZTE equipment or services within the context of the existing UK telecommunications infrastructure cannot be mitigated.”
BT’s Partnership with ZTE
In 2011, BT formed a research and development partnership with ZTE, which saw the UK firm distributing ZTE manufactured modems to its customers.
In response to the warning, a spokeswoman for BT told the BBC: “ZTE is just one of many research partners with which BT is engaged. Such projects focus on the future uses of networks and technologies and do not necessarily result in the commercial deployment of the research partner’s kit in our network.”
She added that: “BT takes the security of the UK’s critical national infrastructure very seriously and has a robust testing regime in place to ensure that the equipment from all suppliers used in our network remains secure.”
ZTE Singled Out As National Security Risk Abroad
ZTE is a Chinese state-owned enterprise which in recent past has been accused of being a spying vehicle for the Chinese government. The UK is not alone in being wary of the Shenzhen based company, which can be seen from the actions taken by the US. The seven-year ban includes supplying the firm with parts and service contracts, which could potentially cripple the firm’s ability to manufacture its products.
In a leaked internal memo, reported by the South China Morning Post, it is evident that ZTE is taking the ban seriously and has already set up a crisis team to deal with the impact. The note from ZTE Chairman Yin Yimin appeals to its 80,000 employees to stay calm and to persevere. At the time of publishing this article, ZTE had yet to respond to the warning from the NCSC, however, it seems likely that this move by the NCSC will only add to the difficulties ZTE is already facing.