Australian government bans Chinese vendors for 5G

Huawei and ZTE have effectively been banned from taking place in 5G network rollouts in Australia, including 4G evolutionary networks, under a national security decision.
Written by Corinne Reichert, Contributor

The Australian government has announced a national security-based decision to prevent foreign vendors from taking part in the rollout of 5G mobile networks across the nation, effectively banning Chinese networking giants Huawei and ZTE from involvement.

"Government has expectations of the application of the TSSR obligations with respect to the involvement of third-party vendors in 5G networks, including evolution of networks leading to mature 5G networks," a joint statement by Communications Minister Mitch Fifield and acting Home Affairs Minister Scott Morrison said.

"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."

According to Morrison, 5G network security will have "fundamental implications" for all citizens for the next 10 years.

The joint statement cites the Telecommunications Sector Security Reforms (TSSR) introduced last year, saying the government must "take necessary steps to safeguard the security of Australians' information and communications at all times".

"The Government's Telecommunications Sector Security Reforms, which commence on September 18, place obligations on telecommunications companies to protect Australian networks from unauthorised interference or access that might prejudice our national security," Morrison said.

The ministers then pointed to the architecture of 5G networks, saying that as all functions are moving closer to the edge and away from the core, there will be "new challenges" for security.

"This new architecture provides a way to circumvent traditional security controls by exploiting equipment in the edge of the network -- exploitation which may affect overall network integrity and availability, as well as the confidentiality of customer data. A long history of cyber incidents shows cyber actors target Australia and Australians," the statement says.

"Government has found no combination of technical security controls that sufficiently mitigate the risks. While we are protected as far as possible by current security controls, the new network, with its increased complexity, would render these current protections ineffective in 5G."

While the statement pointed towards the involvement of such vendors in the evolution of mobile networks towards 5G, Huawei has already assisted Optus and Vodafone in their 4G-Advanced networks.

Later on Thursday morning, however, Fifield resigned from his position following Tuesday's leadership spill alongside Finance Minister Mathias Cormann and Minister for Jobs and Innovation Michaelia Cash, saying they have "withdrawn support for the prime minister and have offered to resign from the frontbench as a result".

The TSSR laws, introduced by former Attorney-General George Brandis to Parliament in November 2016, force carriers to "do their best" to protect their networks from unauthorised access or interference for the purpose of security, with carriers to notify the Attorney-General's Department (AGD) of any changes to their services, systems, or equipment that could have a "material adverse effect" on their ability to comply with this duty.

The Communications Access Coordinator has the power to assess whether those changes bring a risk of exposing the network to unauthorised access or interference, and may suggest changes to a carrier's security capability plan.

Nokia responded to the news of the ban by saying it is a "global 5G engine" from innovation through to portfolio and presence in Australia.

"Security is paramount, and everything we do is managed under a transparent global system of integrity," Nokia Oceania head of Corporate Affairs Tim Marshall said.

"We have strong relationships with all Australian carriers, and will obviously be working closely with them to help understand how these new laws will be implemented."

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