Taiwan’s national security agency and its Industrial Development Bureau have issued security reminders to civil servants accessing classified or sensitive information on the government’s intranets or databases. The warnings advise them not to use devices made by Chinese companies, and in particular by Huawei and ZTE. 

This comes after Taiwan had already banned its military, government agencies, telecommunications operators and tertiary institutions from procuring Huawei or ZTE core telecom units and base station equipment,  reportedly to minimize the risk of malware and espionage.

More recently, the island has tightened its grip on data security and moved to ban employees at state agencies from using Huawei, ZTE, Xiaomi and Oppo smartphones, laptops and other personal electronic devices.

Some Taiwan lawmakers have also suggested that Lenovo and ThinkPad, bought by the Beijing-based PC company from IBM in 2005, should also be banned.

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Pedestrians walk past a Huawei store. Photo: Twitter via AP

The Central New Agency also reports that the Industrial Technology Research Institute and the Institute for Information Industry, both key national labs, have even denied Huawei users Wi-Fi access on their premises.

Both institutes noted that thorough internal examinations last week found no Huawei equipment being used.

But Taiwan’s national and cybersecurity specialists admit that it would be nearly impossible to ban all telecoms and electronic products from China, given the fact that even the bulk of Cisco, Ericsson and Apple products are assembled by contract manufacturing companies in China.

But they say the government should at least avoid using Chinese equipment for public utility systems, such as those for the state grid, fuel, railway and water supplies.

Meanwhile, the Hong Kong government has noted in its reply to lawmakers that it has no restrictions on the brands of equipment  procured for the government.

Between the period from February 2016 to November 2018, the Hong Kong government procured around 190 sets of Huawei products including network switches, routers and accessories (fiber transceivers and cables for connecting fiber optics), at a cost of HK$$1.76 million (US$224,300).

The Hong Kong government insists that requirements are in place to safeguard information systems and data assets to ensure the security of government information systems, and that confidential and restricted data are encrypted both in storage and during transmission.

“[Huawei] is still widely used by other international cities and should not have a backdoor program or other inappropriate functions. Therefore, the prevailing procurement procedures do not include additional checking in this respect,” noted the Secretary for Innovation and Technology in a written reply to Hong Kong’s Legislative Council.

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A base station for 5G trail use is seen in Hong Kong’s Causeway Bay Area. Photo: Handout

It has also been reported that almost all telecoms operators and internet service providers, including Three and HKT, have long been reliant on Huawei base station devices since these companies rolled out 4G services in 2011.

On January 11, Huawei announced a US$27 million donation to the Hong Kong University of Science and Technology to fund its IT research projects and aid in the recruitment of top-tier scholars.

 Read more: Huawei remains a threat in Taiwan despite embargo, cyber experts warn