GCHQ chief says procurement ‘best practice’ is vital

13 August 2018

Procurement of vital communications infrastructure needs to “represent industry best practice” to protect the UK from cyber threats, the head of the UK’s intelligence agency has said.

Jeremy Fleming, head of Government Communications Headquarters (GCHQ), warned that as critical technology, in particular new fifth generation (5G) mobile internet technology, is likely to be sourced from China, the UK needs to ensure it has “robust and fair” procurement solutions.

Writing in the Sunday Times, Fleming said: “The globalisation of technology is here and we need to learn to deal with it. Critical technologies – for example, in 5G – are increasingly likely to come from China.

“We must ensure that processes represent industry best practice so as to avoid real risk to the UK's [critical national infrastructure]. We need to consider early, robust and fair solutions to the global challenge of balancing investment, trade and security.”

Fleming added the government had already produced a white consultation paper on foreign investment in the UK and that GCHQ was “looking at how we can better manage supply to our critical national infrastructure”.

The development of 5G technology is one of the main components of the government’s industrial strategy, and the high speed connection is expected to support many industry 4.0 technologies including driverless vehicles and the Internet of Things.

The US has already seen bans on procuring communications equipment from several Chinese companies.

In May the House of Representatives voted to ban Huawei and ZTE products – including phones, tablets, routers and servers – from government contracts. However, it will not come into effect until 2021 and is not retroactive, meaning all existing technology will remain in place until the end of its life cycle.

ZTE also faced unrelated sanctions after the US Department of Commerce accused it of breaking sanctions against Iran and North Korea, leading to ZTE paying a $1.4bn settlement.

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