- Huawei and ZTE phones, which were used for unclassified purposes, are being strategically phased out by Australia’s defence department.
- The agency said the phones were not deemed a security risk, despite assertions from US intelligence officers who said that they don’t use the phones because they could be conduits for foreign surveillance.
- Huawei was previously banned from contributing to Australia’s national broadband network due to security concerns.
An Australian government agency is phasing out two Chinese phone brands as the US warns of possible security concerns.
The Department of Defence confirmed to Business Insider it no longer uses any Huawei phones and is retiring its ZTE mobiles.
“Defence has a quantity of ageing ZTE mobile phones in service that are used for unclassified voice and text purposes. Existing ZTE mobile phones, when they fail, are being replaced with an alternate unclassified voice and text mobile handset,” a Defence spokesperson told Business Insider.
A risk assessment was conducted on both phones for unclassified voice and text communications and the department “deemed that these mobile phones do not pose a security risk for Defence.”
But this seems at odds with recent warnings from US intelligence officials. Earlier this month six intelligence chiefs – including the heads of the CIA, FBI, and NSA – testified they do not use, and would not recommend private citizens use Huawei and ZTE products.
“We’re deeply concerned about the risks of allowing any company or entity that is beholden to foreign governments that don’t share our values to gain positions of power inside our telecommunications networks,” FBI Director Chris Wray said. “It provides the capacity to maliciously modify or steal information. And it provides the capacity to conduct undetected espionage.”
During his recent visit to the US, Australian Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull was reportedly briefed by the head of the National Security Agency and Department of Homeland Security regarding concerns over Huawei’s desire to supply equipment for a new phone network in Australia.
On Monday it was announced that the local Home Affairs Department would need to conduct a full national security assessment before Huawei could contribute to the project.
In 2012, Huawei was not allowed to tender for Australia’s National Broadband Network (NBN) due to cybersecurity concerns, a decision that was based on advice from the national security agency, the Australian Security Intelligence Organisation (ASIO).
During the Mobile World Congress this week, Huawei CEO Ken Hu called the concerns from Australia and the US “groundless suspicions.”
“Some people, some of our competitors, are using political ways to try and kick us out of the US market — they can’t compete with us on the technology and innovation so they compete with us on the politics,” Richard Yu, the head of Huawei’s consumer business, said in a briefing on Sunday. “We’re independent from any country, any government. We’re not involved in politics.”