YouTube to limit exposure of 5G conspiracy theories but won’t remove content

YouTube has confirmed it will reduce the exposure videos which promote 5G as some sort of cause or accelerator of the coronavirus, though its actions are somewhat limited.

Officially, the video content which makes the link between 5G and COVID-19 does not actually break community guidelines, but it will be removed from recommendation engines as it has been deemed as borderline content.

Thanks to the incorrect conspiracy theories, telecommunications infrastructure was set on fire over the course of the weekend in multiple locations. Three has confirmed at least five sites were attacked, while Vodafone has said six sites were damaged, some of which were shared infrastructure and not all of which were housing 5G base stations. BT and O2 did not respond at the time of writing.

“Our thoughts are with everyone affected by the coronavirus around the world,” a YouTube spokesperson said. “We’re committed to providing timely and helpful information at this critical time, including raising authoritative content, reducing the spread of harmful misinformation and showing information panels, using NHS and WHO data, to help combat misinformation.

“We have also begun reducing recommendations of borderline content such as conspiracy theories related to 5G and coronavirus, that could misinform users in harmful ways. We’ll continue to evaluate the impact of these videos on the UK community and look forward to continuing our work with the UK Government and the NHS to keep the British public safe and informed during this difficult time.”

While YouTube will remove this content from the recommendation engine, it is stopping short of completely removing conspiracy theories from the platform. Although these statements are quite obviously false, creating content which states such beliefs or theories are not actually in violation of YouTube’s rules.

According to YouTube, the conspiracy theories would be labelled as borderline content. This is a category of content which could misinform users in harmful ways, such as promoting miracle cures, claiming the earth is flat or making blatantly false claims about historic events. Such content accounts for less than 1% of the videos available on YouTube, and while it will remain on the platform, removing it from the recommendation engine will make it much more difficult to find.

This is the position which YouTube is currently taking, but it might well be encouraged to a more firm stance over the coming days or weeks. Aside from Government pressure, the content is linked to violence, which will get YouTube’s PR team twitchy.

Following a weekend which saw ill-informed arsonists attack dozens of masts which host critically important communications infrastructure, it was suggested Secretary of State for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport Oliver Dowden would be speaking to social media representatives on ways in which misinformation can be combatted.

Although there is no official statement from DCMS on action moving forward, Chair of the DCMS Select Committee Julian Knight has called for more stringent action.

“To hear that crackpot theories are leading to people attacking phone masts or threatening telecom workers is sickening and it’s clearly time to act,” said Knight. “Government should work with social media companies to stamp out deliberate attempts to spread fear COVID-19.”

Considering the importance of communications infrastructure to aid society while COVID-19 is forcing a state of lockdown, but also its role in helping the economy bounce back in the future, something needs to be done. The infrastructure needs to be protected from the idiots who believe the pseudoscience and ignore statements made by who have the qualifications to make such assertions.

UK ISPs show a bit of blitz spirit

All the UK consumer ISPs have been asked by the government to agree to some measures to help vulnerable customers during the COVID-19 crisis.

BT, Openreach, Virgin Media, Sky, TalkTalk, O2, Vodafone, Three, Hyperoptic, Gigaclear, and KCOM have all signed up so the measures, which you can see below. We asked CityFibre why they weren’t on the list and they said it was because they understood the initiative was for consumer-facing companies only, but they they’re fully supportive of it. That impression seems to be supported by the measures, which begs the question of why Openreach is involved.

  • All providers have committed to working with customers who find it difficult to pay their bill as a result of Covid-19 to ensure that they are treated fairly and appropriately supported.
  • All providers will remove all data allowance caps on all current fixed broadband services.
  • All providers have agreed to offer some new, generous mobile and landline packages to ensure people are connected and the most vulnerable continue to be supported. For example, some of these packages include data boosts at low prices and free calls from their landline or mobile.
  • All providers will ensure that vulnerable customers or those self-isolating receive alternative methods of communication wherever possible if priority repairs to fixed broadband and landlines cannot be carried out.

It’s great that everyone’s showing the old blitz spirit during this difficult time, but those commitments seems a tad vague. ‘Appropriately supported’? ‘Generous packages’? Let’s see how that plays out. Having said that, removing caps is a positive move, as is the commitment to prioritise the vulnerable for repairs, so it’s definitely better than nothing.

Everyone involved got a canned quote so you might as well see the lot of them.

Digital Secretary Oliver Dowden said:

“It’s fantastic to see mobile and broadband providers pulling together to do their bit for the national effort by helping customers, particularly the most vulnerable, who may be struggling with bills at this difficult time.

“It is essential that people stay at home to protect the NHS and save lives. This package helps people to stay connected whilst they stay home.”

Melanie Dawes, CEO of Ofcom said: 

“We recognise providers are dealing with unprecedented challenges at the moment. So we welcome them stepping up to protect vulnerable customers, at a time when keeping in touch with our friends and families has never been more important. We’ll continue to work with Government and industry to help make sure people stay connected.”

Marc Allera, CEO of BT’s Consumer division said:

“The service and connectivity that BT provides are more critical today than they ever have been in our lifetime. During this national and global crisis, our priorities are the safety of our colleagues and ensuring that our customers, particularly those that are vulnerable, stay connected. Within the last week or so we focused on implementing a range of initiatives and additional services for our most vulnerable customers and we are pleased to support these sector-wide commitments.

“None of this happens without the dedication of our brilliant teams. I’m particularly grateful to our committed contact centre colleagues who are fielding unprecedented call volumes and helping our customers stay connected.”

Clive Selley, CEO of Openreach said: 

“With connections to more than 24 million customer premises across the UK, we know our network is critical.We’ll do everything we can to keep people connected while prioritising our support for critical public services, vulnerable customers and those without a working line.

“Thankfully a large amount of the work we do – including fixing faults, adding capacity and building faster, more reliable full fibre networks – can be completed outside, so you’ll still see Openreach engineers working to maintain service across the UK.”

Lutz Schüler, CEO of Virgin Media said:

“In these unprecedented times we know how important connectivity is to people’s lives. Alongside the many other steps we’re already taking, we’re committed to helping our most vulnerable customers and ensuring they are supported as much as possible as we work tirelessly to keep the country connected.”

Stephen van Rooyen, EVP & CEO, U.K. & Europe, Sky, said: 

“There has never been a more important time for people to stay connected. We will play our part to help everyone stay in contact with their loved ones and to ensure vulnerable people can access the help and information they need.”

Tristia Harrison, CEO of TalkTalk, said:

“At this time of uncertainty across the country, nobody should have to worry about connection to friends and loved ones. That’s why TalkTalk is dedicated to treating customers – whether consumers or businesses – with fairness and compassion, so they don’t fear losing service if current circumstances mean they’re struggling financially. We have also established a priority contact line for vulnerable customers, so they can reach us when they need.

“At a time where other bills may be going up, TalkTalk will not be adding inflation to standard bills from 1st April. And while people may need to use more landline calls, they will never pay over our low and fixed price package so that there are no nasty surprises.”

“It’s more important than ever that we all work together to keep Britain connected, and TalkTalk is proud to play our part as a provider of this critical national service.”

Mark Evans, CEO of Telefonica UK (O2), said:

“I’m delighted to see the industry and government  working together to help the UK at this critical time. At O2 we have long-established policies in place to support our customers, and right now, digital connectivity is more important than ever as we connect our customers to vital services and their loved ones.”

Nick Jeffery, CEO of Vodafone UK said:

“Whether you are at home, working from home or a key worker, Vodafone is committed to keeping the UK connected. We know that our technology is making a real difference in helping people through this health crisis.  We are committed to supporting those customers vulnerable to COVID-19, enabling them to keep in contact with friends and family and live their lives as best as possible. We are here for them.”

Robert Finnegan, CEO of Three said: 

“We take our responsibility to keep our customers connected during this time very seriously and are providing the government with our full support where possible. I am committed to ensuring that all of our customers are treated fairly and that they are supported by Three.”

Dana Tobak CBE, CEO of Hyperoptic said:

“Staying connected in these unprecedented times is of crucial importance to society. Our engineers are showing great commitment to provide an essential service to society and value the support and understanding they are receiving from members of the public. We are pleased to commit to these measures to help support the most vulnerable members of society, who must of course take priority in these circumstances.”

Gareth Williams, CEO of Gigaclear said:

“Gigaclear are proud to be playing a vital role in building and maintaining the UK’s digital infrastructure. We are working with our industry partners to support both our residential and business customers who are relying on our service now more than ever. In addition to the measures set out here, we are increasing the speeds of our customers currently on 30mbps products, as well as prioritising vulnerable customers who make themselves known to us.”

Dale Raneberg, CEO of KCOM said:

“As a provider of services people are relying on now more than ever, we are committed to keeping our customers connected throughout Covid-19 and determined in particular to support and protect vulnerable consumers and those who may become vulnerable as a result of it.

“We acted quickly to lift data caps and to provide reassurance that we will assist customers facing financial pressure over the period ahead to ensure they continue to have access to essential communications services.

“We are pleased to join with industry colleagues in putting in place the additional measures announced today and to back the Government’s wider efforts to address this issue we now all face.”

Huawei position in UK called into question by rowdy politicians

A small group of UK politicians are gathering steam in opposition of the Telecoms Supply Chain Review, calling for zero involvement from high-risk vendors, and the Government did not directly disagree.

Led by Sir Iain Duncan Smith, a debate in Westminster Hall of the Houses of Parliament took place this morning with several politicians calling for a complete ban for Huawei, aligning the UK to the approach taken in the US and Australia. While the debate itself was full of wild claims and inaccuracies, the message from this small group of opponents was clear; Huawei should be banned from the shores.

There will of course always be opposition to every decision made by the Government, but this is an evolving conversation people should certainly pay attention to.

Smith and other politicians questioned the logic of a 35% limit for companies designated ‘high-risk vendors’, instead asking whether this should be formally reduced to 0% over a definite period of time. Warman, representing the interests of the Government, seemingly agreed with this position. The following exchange should be noted:

Warman: We want to get to a position where we do not have to use a high-risk vendor in our telecoms network.

Smith: I think this is a very important point. I want to know, and I think the rest of the House would like to know, is it now Government policy to drive to 0% involvement by Huawei and other non-secure vendors? Is that now the policy not just 35%?

Warman: Our aim is to not be reliant on high-risk vendors at all and I appreciate he would like me to set out a timetable for that, and I can’t do that today.

What Warman appeared to state is that the Government intends to reduce the involvement of high-risk vendors to 0% at some point in the currently undefined future.

Without an official statement from the Department of Digital, Culture, Media and Sport, it is difficult to understand the consequences of these comments. However, Warman agreed with the opponents that high-risk vendors should be gradually removed from communications infrastructure. For the moment, the approach of mitigated risk will be maintained, though the Government does seem to back tracking on statements that it can manage high-risk vendors in the network.

This is a statement of some intent from the Government. There is clear and very vocal opposition to the Telecoms Supply Chain Review conclusion, and it does appear the fate of those companies deemed high-risk vendors is once again unknown.

While Huawei might be sitting comfortably today, these comments paint a slightly different picture. What should be worth noting is the language which is currently being employed, as should Huawei be able to prove it is not a high-risk vendor, this developing conversation would be redundant, but even the bravest optimist would admit it is going to be very difficult, if not impossible, to remove this tag.

Once question which will sit rather uncomfortably with those in the telecoms industry is where were these opinions during the Supply Chain Review? Sir Iain Duncan Smith, Chi Onwurah and Stewart McDonald are just some of the opponents to the Telecoms Supply Chain Review, but surely it would have been more useful to speak to the experts, understand industry nuances and competition to raise concerns during the summer of 2019 whilst the Review was taking place?

John Nicolson, the Scottish National Party MP for Ochil and South Perthshire, even suggested the UK should hit the brakes on the deployment of 5G. This motion seemed to attract some interest from other members of the debate.

Over the course of the session, which lasted for roughly 90 minutes, some very bold and strange statements were made. Smith suggested Samsung had stated in a letter that Huawei could not be trusted, Fujitsu is apparently a credible alternative, and one backbencher even suggested Huawei was involved in illegal organ harvesting. Some of the claims are of course very questionable, but the opposition to Huawei is gathering steam.

One point which was touted, and there is some credibility, is whether the Huawei restrictions are somewhat of a homage towards the Chinese Government as the UK pursues a valuable trade deal with the nation. In the Brexit-driven world of today, this is not entirely unbelievable, though it does beg the question as to whether the Government is prioritising the right objectives.

What this does seem evident of is a change in policy for the UK Government. Suggestions high-risk vendors should be reduced to 0% in the future have not been made by the Government to date, and this does appear to be the first signs of a new approach.

For the industry, this is a worrying sign of inconsistency so soon after a collective sigh of relief was made following the conclusion of the Supply Chain Review. It might be costing the telcos a substantial amount to adjust deployment plans to meet the new restrictions, but these comments will need to be clarified and validated by the Government very quickly to avoid any more confusion.

At the time of writing, no clarity has been offered by the Department of Digital, Culture, Media and Sport.

This is an interesting position for Huawei. The Government has seemingly set its sights on irradiating high-risk vendors from communications infrastructure, perhaps thanks to pressure from certain allied nations. If it can remove the ‘high-risk vendor’ tag from its biography, all these problems would disappear for Huawei, though this might well be an impossible ambition considering the global political climate.

Openreach cuts costs by 75% to attract builders to fibre diet

Openreach will be slashing the cost of installing fibre wires in new residential developments of less than 30 plots, as it looks to tempt housing developers onto a fibre diet.

Although it might seem remarkable, house builders are not currently mandated by law to install fibre broadband infrastructure on new premises. Considering the aggressive rhetoric being spouted by the UK Government when it comes to laying future-proofed foundations for the digital economy, it does beggar belief the opportunity to cut corners and ignore fibre is still available to these developers.

The ‘Housing Crisis’ in the UK is one which does attract headlines. The severity of this ‘crisis’ does of course depend on who you are talking to, though in certain regions it is undeniable there is a shortage of properties. All you have to look at the price of a two-bedroom flat in London to understand the pickle some youngsters might be in.

This does present an opportunity for the housing developers to make a profit. During the last quarter, the Office for National Statistics estimated 42,870 new homes were completed, though not all took fibre as default. Around 88% of plots on new builds contracting with Openreach elect fibre, though this number increases to almost 100% for plots of over 30 premises.

However, there are still numerous developers which are not taking fibre as a default position. Openreach suggests 124,000 of the new homes constructed in the UK in 2018 still lack access to ‘superfast’ broadband speeds of 30 Mbps or more. The situation is gradually improving, though there still much work to do.

With this in mind, Openreach is looking to increase the attractiveness of installing fibre connectivity through cutting costs by up-to 75% for multi-dwelling housing developments up to 29 properties.

“Our existing offer already provides huge benefits to both buyers and builders alike, but we wanted to go further and make sure everybody moving into a new build property can enjoy the advantages of Fibre-to-the-Premises broadband,” said Kim Mears, MD of Strategic Infrastructure Development.

“Our new offer provides a low-cost option to housebuilders and we hope it will help encourage the adoption of this future-proof technology across smaller developments so that no-one’s left behind.”

Although internet speeds might seem like an after-thought to some, research from LSE and Imperial College Business School suggests home-owners in London are willing to pay up to 8% above the market value properties in areas offering very fast internet speeds. The benefits of fibre connectivity for housing developers is key, though there are still some who are demonstrating a preference for copper, presenting a problem to the likes of Openreach and Virgin Media; it would be far simpler to connect properties while they are in the construction stages.

The Future Telecoms Infrastructure Review (FTIR) concluded connectivity in new builds was not anywhere near the standard it should be, while the FTTH Council Europe estimates also paint a dreary picture. Fibre penetration is as low as 1.5% across the UK, woefully short of other nations such as Latvia (46.9% penetration), Sweden (43.6%) or Spain (43.6%). Even the lethargic Germany manages to beat the UK with 2.3%.

Moving forward, the Department of Digital, Culture, Media and Sport is set to publish its opinion from a recent consultation into the matter, with the intention of making it mandatory for developers to install gigabit-capable connections to all new build developments in the future. This is a step in the right direction, though it does surprise us it has taken until 2019 for such rules to be considered.

The consultation should result in a change to the rules, though whether this goes as far as some would want remains to be seen. It would also be a fair assumption that these new rules would not be implemented immediately.

Openreach might have to use the financial carrot for a bit longer while the slow-moving cogs of government click into place.

The fourth-round bell has rung and Huawei is still standing in the UK, just

In the UK Supply Chain Review, Huawei is battered and bruised entering the fifth round, but the UK Government still isn’t telling us whether Huawei is going down in the fifth or not.

Speaking to BBC Radio Four this morning, Secretary of State for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport Nicky Morgan said a decision could be made in the autumn, painting a picture with about as much colour as a 1930s TV set.

“I would hope that we could do something by the autumn, but we want to make the right decision and we’ve got to make sure that this is going to be a decision for the long term, making sure we keep all our networks secure,” Morgan said.

In short, Morgan is pretty much in the same position as her predecessor Jeremy Wright; the only thing to report is a further stall to a decision.

It is becoming a bit tedious to constantly be discussing delaying tactics and indecision from the UK Government, but you also have to feel for the telcos. These are companies which are being asked to spend billions on network infrastructure to lead the UK into the digital economy and a secure future, but they are not being helped by the Government.

It is of course important to get this decision right, but sooner or later someone will have to make one. Like everyone else involved with the Huawei saga, Morgan is kicking the can down the road, seemingly hoping someone else will step in and decide, shielding the politician from the court of public opinion. That said, Huawei still remains chipper.

“We welcome the Secretary of State Nicky Morgan’s commitment to the development of world-class digital infrastructure that will help the UK continue to ‘compete and grow in the global economy’,” a Huawei spokesperson said.

“Over the last 18 years, we have helped build the UK’s broadband, 3G and 4G networks and, as independent analysts agree, Huawei can help British operators develop 5G networks that are more secure, more affordable and completed more quickly – helping to keep bills down for consumers and connect rural areas.

“Huawei continues to work with network operators to rollout 5G across Britain and many other countries globally to help improve their economies and we look forward to the UK Government’s decision in the autumn on our future involvement here.”

There are of course numerous distractions for politicians. Brexit is still grabbing headlines, everyone wants to keep BoJo, the new boss, happy, Opposition Leader Jeremy Corbyn is causing chaos once again and egos need to be stroked on the other side of the Atlantic to ensure a profitable relationship can continue.

The status quo is one of indecision and it is not working. The UK has created a leadership position heading towards the glory lands of the 5G era, but this can only be maintained if work is allowed to progress. And for work to progress, the UK telcos need a firm and absolute decision.

Zed’s dead, but we still don’t know about Huawei.

DCMS calls out Facebook for stretching the truth

Facebook might have thought the worst of the Cambridge Analytica affair was behind it, but the UK Government is questioning whether it was entirely truthful with evidence presented to a parliamentary committee.

In a letter written to Sir Nick Clegg, Facebook’s VP of Global Affairs and Communications, Facebook is being asked to clarify discrepancies between testimonies it gave to the UK’s investigation into the scandal and evidence which was presented to the Security and Exchange Committee’s own investigation. The letter very politely and appropriately asks for clarification on statements made which seem to contradict.

“Further to our letter dated 17 July 2019, we would also like to raise several concerns considering recent charges made against Facebook by the US Securities and Exchange Commission on Wednesday 24 July,” the letter reads.

“The SEC Complaint seemingly directly contradicts written and oral evidence we received from Facebook representatives over the course of our enquiry into ‘Disinformation and fake news’ on several points raised below, and we request clarity on these issues.”

The letter itself was penned by Damien Collins, the Conservative MP for Folkestone and Hythe and Chair of the Digital, Culture, Media and Sport Committee. The evidence in question refers to testimonies given to the Committee by CTO Mike Schroepfer, Head of UK Public Policy Rebecca Stimson and VP of Privacy Solutions Lord Richard Allan, during DCMS investigations in 2018.

As Facebook is repairing its reputation across the world, attempting to regain trust and credibility in the eyes of the consumer, the last thing it needs is to be accused of lying to the UK Government.

The letter itself asks for clarity on three areas. Firstly, when Facebook executives were made aware of the abuse from Cambridge Analytica. Secondly, how the misuse of data was handled internally. And finally, communication between senior executives.

On the first point, Schroepfer and Lord Allan insisted the team was only made aware to the abuses through the article which exposed Cambridge Analytica published in the Guardian. That said, evidence presented to the SEC suggests internal concerns and complaints were raised in 2015, months before the article exposed the abuses.

On the continued abuse, Facebook executives suggested Cambridge Analytica had confirmed the deletion of the data in 2016, though it wasn’t until 2018 that executives were made aware the data was still be utilised. Evidence presented to the SEC contradicts these testimonies given to Collins and the other members of the DCMS Committee, as employees had on-going concerns through the intervening years thanks to Cambridge Analytica marketing materials.

Finally, evidence submitted to the Committee by Lord Allan and Stimson suggest CEO Mark Zuckerberg was not made aware of the continued abuse until 2018. However, Schroepfer has stated Zuckerberg was the primary decision maker for any privacy issues. If both statements are to be believed, there has been a systematic failure in dealing with privacy issues and policies. Collins questions why Zuckerberg and senior management were not made aware of these issues until the reports emerged in the press.

Although many assumed Facebook executives were not being entirely truthful when giving evidence, perhaps choosing to hold-back certain snippets of information, it might appear the social media giant has been caught trying to be too clever for its own good.

This is not a good headline for Facebook. It has shown little respect to the UK Government during the Cambridge Analytica saga, and these revelations just rub salt into the wounds. At a time where it is attempting to justify its existence and prove it can be a trustworthy guardian of user’s personal information, this letter shakes the foundations of credibility once again.

This announcement is about further delay – UK Gov on Huawei

The UK Government has made it clear the Supply Chain Review is about more than one company or one country, but the Huawei dilemma is the most important question; and there still is no answer.

Speaking in the House of Commons late Tuesday (22 July), Secretary of State for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport Jeremy Wright updated the world on the progress of the Supply Chain Review. This Review has seemingly faltered progress towards the digital euphoria, and it appears this statement is nothing more than a delay with some vague promises on security updates.

“This announcement is about further delay,” Wright stated to the House of Commons.

DCMS has not made a decision on Huawei. There is still potential the firm might be banned, Wright stated this during the grilling from MPs.

Huawei’s fate is still far from certain and now the can has been kicked down the road, where even more unknowns are going to be presented. Who will be the new Prime Minister? What will his attitude be towards China? How cosy will he be with President Trump and the US? Who will be the senior politicians running each of the Departments next week?

Unfortunately for DCMS, this Review might well be bigger than one company or country, but it is unavoidable to think about anything else at the moment. Wright has made several other minor announcements on new security frameworks and requirements, policy and legislation updates and efforts to diversify the supply chain. These were all supposed to offer the telcos confidence, but realistically, nothing has changed.

Wright has announced the conclusions which have been drawn from the Supply Chain Review. Firstly, existing networks have been built with commercial attractiveness in mind not cybersecurity. Secondly, policies and legislation are woefully out-of-date. And finally, supply chains are too focused on single suppliers.

To right these wrongs, new security requirements will be placed on any vendor who wishes to contribute to UK communications infrastructure. Ofcom will be granted new powers to enforce new frameworks. There will be more oversight on procurement and Government will be given more opportunity to intervene if necessary. These requirements will be voluntary to start with but will be legislated for as soon as possible.

The message from Wright is that telcos can carry on working with any company it wants to, but without a concrete decision on the fate of Huawei, does this actually mean anything? No, it doesn’t.

Telcos want certainty to invest the billions required to make the 5G era a reality and this is anything but certainty. Scaling up network deployment aggressively still might turn out to be an expensive mistake. There are so few vendors in this segment of the telco ecosystem, the importance of this decision cannot be under-played.

However, there certainly were some welcomed points made during the announcement.

“Risk can transfer from place to place,” Wright commented with regard to enhanced security requirements being applied universally.

The new security framework and on-going assurance testing for equipment, systems and software will be applied to every supplier that wants to be incorporated into the UKs communications infrastructure. This is a refreshing approach, understanding the global nature of supply chains. There is a risk when working with any supplier as their own complex supply chains are vulnerable for intrusion.

Additional requirements will be placed on ‘high risk vendors’, though in escalating the security requirements across the entire ecosystem, the task of managing risk is much more comprehensive. This should, in theory, create a landscape which is much more resilient and secure.

However, you cannot escape the fact this announcement was little more than politely informing the community of another delay. The sense of purgatory will continue for months and the void of investment will be maintained. There have been some minor steps forward, but without a decision on Huawei, uncertainty remains. And uncertainty is one of the biggest enemies of the telco industry.

The UK created a fast-follower position in the 5G era but the inability of politicians to make a decision is simply dragging the UK bag to the chasing peloton of mediocrity.

‘No technical grounds’ to ban Huawei says UK Parliament committee

Chair of the Science and Technology Committee in the UK, Norman Lamb, has stated there is not enough technical evidence to ban Huawei and is demanding a final decision by the end of August.

In a letter written to Jeremy Hunt, Secretary of State for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS), Lamb has demanded a conclusion to the Supply Chain Review which has staggered the progress of 5G networks in the UK. Many in the industry have become increasingly frustrated with the state of purgatory which has loomed over the UK telecoms industry, and now the influential Science and Technology Committee has had enough.

“Following my Committee’s recent evidence session, we have concluded that there are no technical grounds for excluding Huawei entirely from the UK’s 5G or other telecommunications networks,” said Lamb.

“The benefits of 5G are clear and the removal of Huawei from the current or future networks could cause significant delays. However, as outlined in the letter to the Secretary of State for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport, we feel there may well be geopolitical or ethical considerations that the Government need to take into account when deciding whether they should use Huawei’s equipment.”

This is the interesting aspect of the letter to Wright. Lamb is effectively telling DCMS and the National Cyber Security Centre (NCSC) to hurry up and make a decision, but not to come to a conclusion too quickly as there are ethical and political considerations to account for. It’s a bit of a mixed message, but a deadline is perhaps overdue for this saga.

The message from Lamb is relatively simple; there are no technical grounds to ban Huawei. Quoting the NSCS’ assumption that 100% secure is impossible, suggesting a lack of concrete evidence against Huawei espionage, reasserting legal obligations placed on telcos to maintain security and pointing towards the international nature of supply chains nowadays are all points made by Lamb to suggest Huawei should be allowed to contribute to network infrastructure.

There are of course concessions make in the letter. Lamb is suggesting Huawei should be excluded from contributing to the network core, while there should also be a mechanism introduced to limit Huawei should it fail on-going competency tests and security assessments, but the message seems to be focused on the idea that Huawei is no more of a security threat than any other organization.

“Supply chains for telecommunications networks have been global and complex,” the letter states. “Many vendors use equipment that has been manufactured in China, so a ban on Huawei equipment would not remove potential Chinese influence from the supply chain.”

Another interesting point raised by Lamb is the legal obligation which has been placed on the telcos to ensure security. Communications infrastructure is a key component to today’s society, but the telcos are the ones who will suffer some of the greatest consequences for poor risk mitigation and due diligence. None of the telcos have raised concerns of an increased security risk from Huawei, and this should be taken as some of the most important evidence when considering the fate of the Chinese vendor.

Ultimately, this is action from the Government. It might kick-off some bickering between the parties (Lamb is a Liberal Democrat) and between departments, but finally someone is forcing DCMS and NSCS into a decision. It seems Lamb is not concerned about the distraction of a party leadership contest or Brexit, he simply wants an answer by the end of August.

Interestingly enough, this letter also forces DCMS into basing the outcome of the Supply Chain Review on politics. By stating there are no technical grounds for a ban, should Wright and his team want to exclude Huawei it will have to be done for another reason. Lamb has asked DCMS to consider the ethical and political weight of a decision, as well as the impact it might have on relationships with allies.

This is now a very difficult decision for DCMS. Lamb has seemingly taken technical considerations off the table; any ban would have to be political.

DCMS launches new initiative to bring elderly into digital

The Department of Digital, Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS) has announced the launch of a new initiative to help older and disabled people get digital skills and reap the benefits of the digital era.

The scheme will see digitally savvy older people open their homes up to be kitted out in the latest technologies, before allowing others to visit and learn first-hand from their peers how to make the most of smart technology to control household appliances, book GP appointments online, contact friends and family by video, and shop online. In short, you can get some free kit, but you have to let Edna and Harold from down the road parade around your home.

“We are committed to improving the digital skills of people of all ages and abilities, so everyone can enjoy the benefits of modern technology,” said Minister for Digital, Margot James. “These innovative projects will not only help some of the hardest to reach people live healthier and happier lives but also boost our mission to make the UK the best place in the world to start and grow a digital business.”

Funded by the Digital Inclusion Innovation Fund, this scheme will initially receive £400,000 and will be championed in rural West Essex by a partnership led by Uttlesford Council for Voluntary Service.

“Organisations across Essex are backing the Digital Boomers which will see older people redesign their relationship using technology to become even more tech confident and retain their independence for longer,” said Clive Emmett, chief executive of Uttlesford Council for Voluntary Service.

“Thanks to the Digital Inclusion Fund, our exciting Living Smart Homes and Digital Buddies pilots will help us rethink how older people use digital to support their health, wellbeing and independence.”

While some might turn their nose up at this idea, it is very easy to forget the older generations need to be taken forward into the digital economy as well. These are people who in all likelihood weren’t forced into the digital mindset through work or society and therefore need all the assistance possible to make sure they feel the benefits.

The UK government has not necessarily shown itself to be the most forward-thinking in the world, but this is an initiative which we quite like the look of.

UK Gov makes bold steps to tackle long-ignored security problem

The Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS) and the National Cyber Security Centre (NCSC) have jointly released new guidelines for the manufacture of smart devices, intended to build security into the foundations.

The issue of digital security is one which has been long-running and frequently brushed aside. While it is now generally accepted 100% secure is an impossible ambition, embedding security into the building blocks of every product or service is a way to mitigate as much risk as possible. This idea has also been aired numerous times, with little apparent action, though new Code of Practice aims to correct this oversight.

“From smartwatches to children’s toys, internet-connected devices have positively impacted our lives but it is crucial they have the best possible security to keep us safe from invasions of privacy or cyber-attacks,” said Minister for Digital, Margot James. “The UK is taking the lead globally on product safety and shifting the burden away from consumers having to secure their devices.”

“With the amount of connected devices we all use expanding, this world-leading Code of Practice couldn’t come at a more important time,” said Ian Levy, the NCSC’s Technical Director. “The NCSC is committed to empowering consumers to make informed decisions about security whether they’re buying a smartwatch, kettle or doll. We want retailers to only stock internet-connected devices that meet these principles, so that UK consumers can trust that the technology they bring into their homes will be properly supported throughout its lifetime.”

As it stands, the digital world is not secure. Innovation is progressing at an exciting speed, though advancements in security or even investments in security departments and products, are not keeping pace. The world is currently sleep-walking into a digital environment tailor made for hackers and other nefarious actors to thrive in. These individuals might be in the vast minority, but that does not make the threat any less real.

The new guidelines are as follows:

  1. No default passwords
  2. Implement a vulnerability disclosure policy
  3. Keep software updated
  4. Securely store credentials and security-sensitive data
  5. Communicate securely
  6. Minimise exposed attack surfaces
  7. Ensure software integrity
  8. Ensure that personal data is protected
  9. Make systems resilient to outages
  10. Monitor system telemetry data
  11. Make it easy for users to delete personal data
  12. Make installation and maintenance of devices easy
  13. Validate input data

Should the UK Government and the NCSC be able to nudge manufacturers into maintaining these principles, protections will certainly increase. This is not to say everything will be rosy, but by ensuring security is more than an afterthought in the design and manufacturing process, the right foundations are set.

“This government initiative is exactly what many in the industry have been craving for years,” said John Smith of CA Veracode. “Manufacturers have not really felt any market pressure to improve the security of these devices because consumers still have a lack of understanding of the security implications of IoT devices. Providing concrete guidance to manufacturers while also raising public awareness of these issues can only help address the gap that currently exists. It’s not just about the hardware anymore, it’s about the software behind it, and it’s really encouraging to see that the UK government wake up to the potential vulnerabilities in consumer IoT devices.”

These ideas are not new, more it is promising to see proactive action from the Government. Security experts have long discussed the merit of building security into the foundations of products, for example, Rik Ferguson of Trend Micro has previously suggested an official badge or certification for products which have been designed with the right security protocols and concepts in mind, similar to batteries. People don’t need to know the process of achieving the validation, but a properly audited process can provide peace of mind for the consumer.

However, it is critical the process is embraced by the majority and soon becomes an industry standard. Energy company Centrica has become one of the first to embrace the guidelines with its Hive smart energy devices, while HPE has also committed. This is a good start, and potentially sets the ball rolling for a process which is more official. Right now, the Code of Practice is voluntary.

Security has long been an ignored issue in the industry, mainly because it is incredibly difficult to deal with. If companies were honest with consumers about the threats of the digital economy, many would be turned off from taking more of their lives online. At least there is some positive action to addressing the significant problem of cybersecurity.