Taiwan shut Chinese telecommunication companies out of its network equipment procurements as long ago as 2013, but cyber experts have warned that they still could pose a real danger to the island’s security.
Some warned public agencies have become complacent since the ban was imposed, opening the door to possible infiltration of government through consumer devices, which were not covered by the sanctions.
“I believe that government agencies and contractors should establish strict rules regarding the use of personal devices made in China, and that strict penalties should be in place for the unauthorized use of devices in handling government-related documents,” said one expert quoted by the National Interest magazine in a special report published Friday.
The warning follows the arrest of Huawei’s Chief Finance Officer Meng Wanzhou in Canada at the request of US authorities for allegedly hiding the firm’s links to a company that tried to break an embargo on the sale of equipment to Iran. Japan’s government has also said that it will soon block Huawei from bidding for any government or commercial orders.
Huawei is suspected of having built backdoor access into its network hardware that may enable both espionage and sabotage to be carried out. It reportedly has close links to some intelligence agencies in China.
The 2013 edict prohibited the government and military from using any core telecommunications equipment manufactured by Chinese firms, and the ban was extended to cover all fixed and mobile cellular and broadband operators. These included the state-owned Chunghwa Telecom and foreign competitors like Taiwan Mobile and Far EasTone.
No Chinese firm was allowed to bid for contracts for core network and base station equipment when 4G licenses were issued in the same year. The National Communications Commission said that the decision had been made after assessment of national and information security risks.
However, National Interest’s report — titled Huawei: A Trojan horse inside Taiwan? — noted that Huawei equipment was still being found in the island’s backbone telecoms networks two years after the ban took effect, while its consumer products were also in widespread use.
A 2015 investigation by the National Security Bureau revealed that officials in the Presidential Office and Ministry of Justice continued to use Huawei network cards in their cellphones, raising concerns about security breaches when the phones handle sensitive information.
Huawei, based in Shenzhen with another Chinese telecoms firm, ZTE, mostly pulled out of the business-to-business market following the ban, but was still allowed to sell its consumer goods. The firm opened a store in Taipei earlier this year and is running a massive Christmas promotion at the city’s subway stations that will ensure it maintains a high profile.