By Denise A. Valdez, Reporter
AS several countries start cutting ties with Chinese technology companies particularly Huawei Technologies Co., Ltd. due to security concerns, cybersecurity experts in the Philippines urge the government to start improving the country’s defenses to avoid a bigger problem in the future.
Cybersecurity expert Angel “Lito” S. Averia, Jr. said recent reports about Chinese-made network products should raise red flags on local telcos’ existing partnerships with Chinese companies such as Huawei.
“Rather than simply stating that Huawei has supplied equipment to the duopoly for a number of years, the Department of Information and Communications Technology together with the National Security Council and perhaps the Armed Forces of the Philippines (must) investigate and assess the risks and impact of foreign technologies on our national security and identify vulnerabilities that may weaken the countries national security posture and implement the appropriate security measures,” Mr. Averia said in an e-mail interview.
In the past weeks, United States, United Kingdom and New Zealand have barred the use of products from Huawei Technologies for the fifth generation (5G) network rollout of its telco firms, citing security concerns.
A report from the US-China Economic and Security Review Commission published last month raised possibilities that tech partnerships with Chinese companies could result in compromised state and corporate information.
“China’s central role in manufacturing global information technology, IoT (Internet of Things) devices, and network equipment may allow the Chinese government — which exerts strong influence over its firms — opportunities to force Chinese suppliers or manufacturers to modify products to perform below expectations or fail, facilitate state or corporate espionage, or otherwise compromise the confidentiality, integrity, or availability of IoT devices or 5G network equipment,” the report said.
Both PLDT, Inc. and Globe Telecom, Inc. have partnered with Huawei for their 5G networks.
PLDT inked an agreement with Huawei in February last year for the development of its 5G network, which involves the establishment of an innovation laboratory and showcase network. The two also signed in January a $28.5-million deal to overhaul PLDT’s wireless service delivery platforms.
On the other hand, Globe forged a deal with Huawei in 2011, which was renewed in 2015, for the upgrade and expansion of its networks and the formation of a mobile innovation center.
Chinese firm China Telecommunications Corp. is part of the Mislatel Consortium, which was named as the new telco player last month.
“What makes Huawei challenging is that it is privately held and isn’t subject to the typical corporate governance other companies are subject to. (But) I do agree that the state should have a hand in increasing our information security posture. At least, it should serve as an example of good infosec (information security) practices,” William Emmanuel S. Yu, cybersecurity expert and founder of the Philippine chapter of Internet Society, said in an e-mail interview.
Last week, outgoing DICT Chief Eliseo M. Rio, Jr. told BusinessWorld he does not see issues surrounding Chinese tech firms as a cause of concern.
“(The) countries you mentioned that are prohibiting Chinese products in their telecommunication networks, have more cybersecurity issues threatening their national security than our country,” Mr. Rio said in a text message, referring to US, UK and New Zealand.
Mr. Rio said the government has a “simple solution” to such threats — employing a third party cybersecurity auditor that will monitor existing telecommunications networks.
“Our telcos, including the third telco, are required by our government to get an independent cybersecurity audit team to monitor their network, because any breach in their network that would threaten our national security could lead to their franchise being recalled by the government, not to mention possible payment of huge fines and even imprisonment of concerned personnel,” he said.
“So far we have not experienced any major threat to our national security. But even now we are strengthening our cybersecurity measures to further protect our cyberspace,” Mr. Rio added.
Mr. Averia said the government must facilitate research and development activities that would improve products and devices used in government networks and encourage the private sector to be involved in such activities.
National Privacy Commission Chairman Raymund E. Liboro said in a text message the government is already doing its part to increase cybersecurity awareness.
“Everywhere, stricter laws are being introduced to protect citizens… Also, counter technologies are being developed for threat detection, prevention and response, giving us data users a better chance against external actors with malicious intent,” he said.
Sought for comment, PLDT and Globe did not reply.
Hastings Holdings, Inc., a unit of PLDT Beneficial Trust Fund subsidiary MediaQuest Holdings, Inc., has a stake in BusinessWorld through the Philippine Star Group, which it controls.