Tech Talk: Bill Magee
I’d give my last fiver, or should that be yuan, to be a fly on the wall at the obsessively risk-averse Bank of England at the moment.
BoE must be far from happy the UK Government has included a certain telecoms company in Britain’s 5G and fibre rollout despite strong opposition. Especially from the Americans who lobbied fiercely against such a decision.
Bank executives are currently staging a “beauty parade” behind closed doors deep within the confines of that most venerable of institutions in London’s Threadneedle Street.
Applicants eager to land a multi-million pound IT cloud contract future-proofed for the 5G era will be expected to come up with a foolproof solution to the cyber elephant in the interview room.
Of course, we’re talking Huawei Technologies. As one senior financier put it to me: “It’s bad enough to constantly hear the internet is inherently unsafe.
“But for the Bank of England such a decision by the politicians is an anathema going against its very ethos, not to say existence.”
Repeated high-level assurances from Number 10, GCHQ and the Home and Foreign Offices have failed to quell anxieties that a limited role for the Chinese State-propelled high risk vendor (HRV) in developing fifth generation telecoms networks will not threaten national security.
Its been stated that Huawei’s involvement is strictly non-core, presents no threat to the well-being of the rollout, and so we’ve nothing to worry about. Indeed, the Chinese have been deeply involved in the UK’s 3G and 4G rollouts for years. So, surely, they’re already well into the core of this island’s telecoms infrastructure?
However, by publicly stating the government is “clear eyed” about the risks, UK culture secretary Nicky Morgan surely concedes there are, well, risks.
BoE, although independent since 1998, remains inextricably-linked to the UK’s monetary stability. Never more crucial than the post-Brexit period we find ourselves in when financial liquidity will be absolutely crucial in the months and years ahead.
Inevitably, this represents a highly complex online data mix and especially critical to get right are innumerable cross -border transactions involving multiple third parties.
It’s here that things can get a bit ropey, security wise. Of course, end-to-end encryption and other security moves should be the order of the day, as well as employing the latest security, including the ‘Breach and Attack Simulation’ (BAS) tool to identify flaws in an organisation’s cyber defences.
However, one slip, say by an errant employee, and no matter how unwitting, can prove catastrophic and can bring a financial organisation to its knees. Just ask TSB and, more recently, Travelex.
The latter, the world’s largest foreign exchange bureau with £730 million in revenues and over 7,000 staff, was reduced to a pen and paper outfit by a single trojan horse ransomware attack.
The BoE interview panel will undoubtedly quiz the eager IT candidates just how they intend to block the likes of the SODINOKIBI cyber gang who forced Travelex to take down its websites in 30 countries.
It’s believed the hackers were in the Travelex systems for six months before alarm bells started ringing. By then the cyber plug had been well and truly pulled and the damage done.
Let’s cut to the chase…
Edinburgh-based serial technology entrepreneur Ian Burgess explained to me at an IoD Scotland gathering, just why he feels “massively concerned” about Huawei’s 5G inclusion:
“There are far too many unclarified risks, too many things that have not been investigated properly and insufficient evidence that it is safe to include this organisation.”
He points out that in such a partnership the parties involved are quite open and give information about themselves. “This is not the case here.”
“He adds: “I know people who work in banking for example, people that I trust who would not use them.
“But Huawei are involved in the 5G process and it looks like they’ll become part of the infrastructure.
“There seems to be people who are comfortable with this but a growing number politically and at high levels of government I believe are uncomfortable with this decision.
“It remains of massive concern to me.”
Apparently it would have been off-the-scale expensive to ditch Huawei. And as for that “special relationship” with the US, does it really exist any more?
So, as always, it’s wise to have a back-up plan in case things start to go belly up and Cloud 5G is no exception. And that doesn’t mean a quick flight to Rio.