China's Huawei Technologies needs to raise its "shoddy" security standards which fall below rivals, a senior British cyber-security official said on Thursday, as the company comes under increasing pressure in the West.
The US has led allegations that Huawei's equipment can be used by Beijing for espionage operations, with Washington urging allies to bar the company from next-generation 5G networks.
British officials have also raised concerns about security issues but said they can manage the risks and have seen no evidence of spying. Huawei has repeatedly denied the allegations against it.
"Huawei as a company builds stuff very differently to their Western counterparts. Part of that is because of how quickly they've grown up, part of it could be cultural - who knows," said Ian Levy, Technical Director of Britain's National Cyber Security Centre, part of the GCHQ signals intelligence agency.
"What we have learnt as a result of that, the security is objectively worse, and we need to cope with that," he told a conference in London.
Asked about how Huawei compares with its competitors, Levy said: "Certainly nothing is perfect, certainly Huawei is shoddy, the others are less shoddy."
The United States has placed sanctions on Huawei, the world's biggest producer of mobile network equipment, and tried to block it from buying US goods. Washington has also said it will limit intelligence sharing with allies who continue to use the company's technology.
Britain's National Security Council decided in April to block Huawei from all core parts of its future 5G network but to give it restricted access to non-core parts.
That decision came after a British government report in March rebuked the company for failing to fix long-standing security flaws in its equipment and revealed new "significant technical issues."
Huawei has pledged to spend more than $2 billion as part of efforts to address the problems but also warned it could take up to five years to see results.
Levy said he had not yet seen any action by the company to reassure him Huawei was taking the necessary steps and "the start of a high-level plan that we can talk about in public would be a good thing."
"To be fair, they have a lot of work to do, and I think they know that," he said. "You wouldn't expect to have, in six months since we published that report, less than that, them coming out going 'we've fixed it.' That would be unachievable."
© Thomson Reuters 2019