We are open for verification by an independent agency, says Global Cyber Security Officer

John Suffolk was roped in by Chinese telecom equipment maker Huawei in August last year in a bid to change perceptions about the company being a security threat.

Since then a number of Governments, including the US, have raised serious allegations against Chinese vendors. A US Congressional panel has warned American companies against buying equipment from Chinese vendors.

Indian security agencies have also been repeatedly raising concerns against Huawei and the other Chinese vendor ZTE. Business Line met Suffolk, Global Cyber Security Officer, recently to know the truth behind these allegations and how Huawei is dealing with it.

In your assessment why are various Governments raising security concerns against Chinese vendors, including Huawei?

We are new and relatively an unknown entity. When outsourcing started in India then countries in Europe looked at it with suspicion and raised quality issues but now Indian outsourcing industry is very well recognised and accepted.

Similarly in the US, when Japanese cars first started making inroads into the market the general perception was that they were not of good quality. Huawei is another such example. There’s always a fear of the unknown. But you don’t become a multi-billion dollar company without doing something right. There’s preconceived notion about China, and Huawei is from China, and therefore, the perception about China is rubbing off on Huawei.

But is it just a perception? We all know that the head of Huawei, Ren Zhengfei, was earlier in the Chinese army.

Ren Zhengfei was an engineer in the Chinese army. If we were in America then we would be saying that we support our army heroes. Former army people are employed heavily by other technology firms in other countries firms so why should it be a problem if Huawei does it? I don’t know any operator who would say give us rubbish products. Huawei produces great technology and that’s what customers want.

So is this smoke without fire?

Everyone else is saying so and I would agree .

Are there powerful lobbies at work here to discredit Huawei as it has been gaining market share in a difficult market?

One can never be sure of the motivation and say why the US Congress report said what it has. You must use your judgment why they have drafted the report in a certain way. This was election year so some statements for protectionism were perhaps needed.

The main concern is that the Chinese Government may be using Huawei to control networks.

We are a Chinese company and, therefore, we have to conform to Chinese laws. But the undertone is can the Chinese government come to us and whisper that we need you to do this? Would Indian Government be doing the same with Indian companies? So let’s not assume here. We have built processes that address network security issues around our products. We are open for verification by an independent agency.

But the threat to network security is real. How can this be addressed?

We are going to die of old age if we keep talking about it and do nothing. There are many hygiene things that we can do that raise the bar. Governments are the biggest buyers of technology and if the Governments set a high bar then vendors will have no option but to meet those norms to get the business.

What can you do to address specific concerns raised by India?

We are intimate with Indian Government. We can help India deliver its goals. How we do that is down to what’s best for India.

thomas.thomas@thehindu.co.in

(This article was published on November 19, 2012)
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