UK GCHQ spy agency warns telcos of the risks of using ZTE equipment and services

Pierluigi Paganini April 17, 2018

The UK GCHQ intelligence agency warns UK telcos firms of the risks of using ZTE equipment and services for their infrastructure.

The alert was issued by the National Cyber Security Centre that said the Chinese firm “would present risk to UK national security that could not be mitigated effectively or practicably”.

Let’s remind that the ZTE is a state-owned enterprise and many experts highlighted the risks of using its products.

The Agency did not provide further details about the threat to UK telco infrastructure, it only explained that at the time it is not possible to mitigate the risks of adopting the Chinese equipment.

“NCSC assess[es] 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,” reads the statement issued by the GCHQ.

The problems for ZTE are not ended, the U.S. Department of Commerce’s Bureau of Industry and Security (BIS) announced that Chinese firm has been banned from purchasing goods from US companies. This root cause is that ZTE was discovered violating Iran and North Korean sanctions.

ZTE, such as Huawei, are considered as potential threats by the US Government too,  but differently from ZTE has worked with UK intelligence to demonstrate that its products don’t represent a threat. Huawei created a Cyber Security Evaluation Centre, also known as “the Cell,” in Banbury to allow intelligence the review of its products and software.

“HCSEC fulfilled its obligations in respect of the provision of assurance that any risks to UK national security from Huawei’s involvement in the UK’s critical networks have been sufficiently mitigated,” reads the Huawei Cyber Security Evaluation Centre (HCSEC) Oversight Board: annual report 2017.


In March, UK suspended ZTE from the immigration scheme used by foreign companies to allow foreign nationals to work locally.

The news was reported in exclusive by El Reg that wrote: “The Home Office has suspended the Tier 2 visa sponsor license for the Chinese state-owned telecomms giant, the fourth largest supplier of telecommunications equipment in the world.”

“The Register understands that ZTE had not fulfilled its duties under the Tier 2 scheme, which includes a “robust compliance system”.”

While experts have never discovered a backdoor in Huawei devices, in 2012 researchers spotted a critical security hole in ZTE phones.

“ZTE Corp, the world’s No.4 handset vendor and one of two Chinese companies under U.S. scrutiny over security concerns, said one of its mobile phone models sold in the United States contains a vulnerability that researchers say could allow others to control the device.” reported the Reuters at the time.

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Pierluigi Paganini

(Security Affairs – GCHQ, intelligence)

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