Huawei cyber security officer John Suffolk on latest global initiatives

Huawei’s global cyber security officer John Suffolk was in India recently to attend a conference on cyber security aspects.

The Chinese telecom equipment vendor is in the process of recovering from a negative image following apprehensions expressed by some of the U.S. administrators. Despite all major initiatives, it is still facing trouble in the U.S. That’s why Huawei chief recently said it would like to exit from the American mobile market to safeguard the interest of China in the U.S. The main irony is that the American administration is itself facing criticism for its role in spying of global leaders. This (Snowden impact) has already impacted business of IT vendors such as Cisco and IBM in China.

During SoftBank’s negotiations to invest in the U.S. telecom market, Huawei’s name propped up because it supplies telecom equipments to SoftBank and its subsidiaries.

In the last 9 months, Huawei’s image among Indian security circles has improved. Recently, secretary of the Department of Telecommunications (DoT) told that it does not suspect any telecom equipment makers on security issues and the government has taken enough measures to protect the country’s interest.

Huawei cyber security officer John Suffolk has played a major role in creating support to the company’s efforts.

Excerpts of the interview:

On the latest update on security issues and Huawei’s perspective?

We don’t have a change in our perspective. We set our course few years ago which was end to end security, be transparent and open to the world. One can go to Shenzhen and check our manufacturing facility. This model is still valid. We probably would argue with the recent revelations. As a telecom equipment vendor, we should be able to convince government and customers and we take a very serious and comprehensive approach for that. We don’t see that changing. What really has changed in the industry is that people have started thinking about complex nature of security, global supply chain challenge and balance between natural security and personal private protection. As of now, there is no international law or legal frame work. Knowledge of people has moved on. However, our approach is still a valid approach.

Your response on the U.S. administration and Snowden issue

I think it has come back to where does national security start and stop and where does privacy of individual start and stop. In some countries due to culture and history, there is a very hard line. The protection of citizen data is sacrosanct and national security can only go to a certain mile. While in some countries it is more intertwined. The IT industry in America is intertwined with the national security. It is how certain governments are. There is no right or wrong.

Europe says we are going to strengthen data protection. Even if you are a foreign player in Europe, you will have to conform to European laws. You cannot send the data back unless you are not registered in Europe

It is nothing related to technology but more related to government and policies. What Snowden has done, has really harmed IT industry. Since then people ask me all the time how do you know what to trust and what not to trust. Even in our whitepapers released this year in October, we have made it very clear that confirm that we have never received any instructions or requests from any Government or their agencies to change our positions, policies, procedures, hardware, software or employment practices or anything else, other than suggestions to improve our end-to-end cyber security capability. We have never been asked to provide access to our technology, or provide any data or information on any citizen or organization to any Government, or their agencies. It is a very clear statement

Often you have a legal duty to protect data. Who you buy equipment from is your decision. If you buy someone’s equipment and it turns out to be doing something illegal. There are different countries taking different approaches about what and who are they going for. But in over view, innovation in competition is best way. If you are not innovating, you don’t have competition. If you don’t have competition, prices will go up. If price go up, people will stop using technology. And this way, education, health and infrastructure will stop availing benefits of technologies. So we are against any country picking up on any other country and company. Everything is intertwined in technology. About 70 percent is sourced from suppliers around the world, including the US. Also, about 70 percent of our business actually comes from outside of China. People understand that now.  Personally I believe that government should work rationally and individually and decide and how we handle this balance between national security and individual privacy.

Nothing moves quickly when government comes together. There is no universal law. The issues are complex. The focus of developing countries is on infrastructure, education and health while developed countries have a focus on export, import. Norms differ from country to country.

Despite global allegations, there is nothing negative happening. We are a global player and China’s most successful company. We know we have to be different. So we have to be open and transparent. We give access to people. We allow everyone to check our products. So when someone says, will you do this? We say “Yes”. We have done this for media, trade associations, and customers. When people come from Shenzhen, they have a different outlook. We are open, transparent and candid. In our whitepaper, I talked about government spying. If we don’t face realities of the world we are living in, how will we face issues? Six months later, Snowden also published what we are openly and candidly talking. We want industry to cooperate with on these issues. All of us have worked hard showing everyone everything. Everyone is talking about problems and no one is looking at solutions.

There are issues in America, Australia and Japan. Are these political issues?

We know there is nothing related to security here. We always tell people to check us, monitor our products and tell us if there is a problem with anything and we will improve it. Chinese companies are coming in a big way. So many Chinese companies are a part of Fortune 500 companies.

Huawei is working on 5G technology. We are likely to develop the same by 2020. The speed of 5G will peak above 100Gbps, over 100 times faster than the speeds offered by 4G. The technology is evolving at a great pace.

There are some media reports that Huawei is getting out of equipment business in America?

We are not going out. We are just refocusing. We are huge in enterprise and consumer business in America. We are investing in Tier 2-3 operators.

Was it the right decision?

Every country goes through a series of waves. Every country has a different objective. So in order to be in a country for 100 years, we have to be a part of community. We have to engage with people, employ people.

We want to operate in U.S. We will try that our U.S friends understand what Huawei is.

What are your thoughts on Indian government?

The Indian government is more rational, realistic, open and logical in working with private companies. It’s about creating a level-playing field. The Indian government is also setting up a testing lab in private-public-partnership. The standard India follows is pretty good and in sync with the global practice.

What are your plans for 2014?

We are science engineering innovation company. We will continue to focus on innovation. Our customers don’t come to us for outdated technology. We will stride further through innovation

Baburajan K