Prague, Czech Republic – Earlier this week, the Czech cyber-security agency warned the country’s state institutions and private companies operating in strategic sectors against using software and hardware made by Chinese telecom giants Huawei and ZTE, arguing they posed a clear security threat to the Czech critical networks.
“Adequate measures” needed to counter Huawei cyber-espionage threat
Dusan Navratil, director of the Czech National Cyber and Information Security Agency (NCISA), said in a statement that system administrators in strategic and critical information infrastructure, both state and private sector, should take “adequate measures” against the threat. “China’s laws require private companies residing in China to cooperate with intelligence services, therefore introducing them into the key state systems might present a threat”, he argued, adding that the agency based its warning on its own findings and those of allies.
Since then, a few institutions, including the Office of the Government, the Ministry of Industry and Trade and the Ministry of Foreign Affairs have announced they will cease to use Huawei devices.
NCISA spokesman Radek Holu explained that “this warning concerns primarily state institutions and ministries. The same counts for private companies that have a role in the functioning of the state, such as energy, telecoms, etc. They need to create a new risk analysis, which takes this warning into account and, based on the results, they can either use the devices or not”.
Despite accepting the conclusions of the NCISA, Prime Minister Andrej Babis expressed anger about the way the warning was issued and how it may impact current legal tenders: “I think that NCISA did not manage this situation well at all. We that that if it issues a warning of this kind, it should also supply a legal analysis. Now the word’s out there and those ministries who are currently running tenders have to react to it”.
Huawei issued a vivid response to the allegations made by the Czech agency: “We categorically deny any suggestion that we pose a threat to national security. We call for NCISA to provide evidence instead of tarnishing Huawei’s reputation without any proof”, a spokesman for the company said, claiming that Huawei has always been a trusted and reliable partner for all the main telecom carriers in the Czech Republic.
Chinese espionage activities under the spotlight
The warning follows the release, less than two weeks ago, of the Czech intelligence agency’s annual report, which pointed to an increase of Chinese spying and cyber-espionage activities in the country, sparking an open spat between Czech counter-intelligence spies and President Milos Zeman, known for pushing a pro-Chinese agenda, who discarded the accusations and called them baseless.
During one of his many trips to Beijing, Milos Zeman met last year with Huawei CEO, complimenting the company for its contribution and investments in the Czech Republic. Huawei CEO Guo Ping said that the company planned to spend approximately 360 million dollars over the next five years in the Central European country.
The Czech Republic is allegedly the first EU country to take such a step regarding Chinese technology. The watchdog in charge of the warning, the Czech National Cyber and Information Security Agency, was created less than two years ago over concerns about hybrid threats and with the goal of increasing the state’s readiness to counter cyber threats. At the time, the main concerns were directed toward Russian espionage activities.
Huawei in troubled waters
The world’s biggest producer of telecoms equipment, Huawei has come under intense scrutiny in Europe and the United States over its ties to the Chinese government and allegations that its equipment might be used for spying by Beijing using so-called “back doors” in their system. The company denied such allegations.
All over the world, Western countries are taking action to prevent and deter any risk linked to Huawei’s potential spying capabilities, especially since the U.S. started pressuring allies to limit the use of its technology. Japan plans to ban government purchase of Huawei and ZTE equipment, while Australia has banned Huawei from supplying 5G equipment and New Zealand’s intelligence agency rejected a telecom provider’s request to use Huawei equipment for its 5G network.
In the Czech Republic, investment group PPF – owned by the country’s secretive richest man Petr Kellner – signed a memorandum of understanding with the Chinese company for further cooperation in the field of 5G.