British Columbia

'Open and transparent': Huawei Canada responds to security concerns about 5G network

Huawei Canada's chief security officer Olivera Zatezalo says the company has had a "big, very great and strong partnership" with Canada's big telco companies, and that everything Huawei deploys in the country must follow Canadian standards, laws and regulations.

Everything company deploys must be 'up to Canadian standards, laws and regulations:' chief security officer

Canada is considering whether to exclude Huawei from its 5G network. The company's equipment is already used in telecommunications infrastructure run by Canada's major cellphone carriers. (Fred Dufour/AFP/Getty Images)

As Canada looks to build its 5G wireless network, there are mounting concerns about involving Chinese telecommunications giant Huawei and what that would mean for Canada's cybersecurity. 

The concerns rest on the possibility of a Chinese company having access to the core of the country's telecommunications systems. 

But Huawei Canada's chief security officer Olivera Zatezalo disagrees that there is a security risk and denies any relationship with the Chinese government.

She spoke to Stephen Quinn, host of CBC's The Early Edition, on Monday.


Quinn: Huawei CFO Meng Wanzhou is facing extradition to the U.S. for allegations of sanction violations in Iran. What is Huawei's response to these allegations?  

Zatezalo: I get that question a lot these days from family, from friends, at parties and at the dinner table. Unfortunately, I'm just a cybersecurity expert. I cannot talk about this. This matter is in front of the courts.

When you say it's in front of the courts, it's in fact in front of an immigration adjudicator. It's not in front of the courts at this moment.

You're right but, as I said, I'm trained as an engineer. I'm a cybersecurity expert. I can only talk to you about technology, 5G and cybersecurity.

Tell me about the level of involvement you have with the major telecom carriers in this country — with Telus, Bell and Rogers, for instance.

There's a big, very great and strong partnership going back to 2008.

With Canadian major carriers and the Canadian government, we brought this technology to Canada [10 years ago].

In 2013, they started the security review program to make sure whatever we deploy in Canada is up to Canadian standards, laws and regulations.

Over the last 10 years, there's been an open and transparent relationship and we've never, ever we had any issue or security breach — not once.

5G stands for the fifth generation of wireless technology. There are concerns about what it would mean for Canada's cybersecurity if Huawei provides the equipment for the network. (Francisco Seco/Associated Press)

Huawei wants to be a part of Canada's 5G network but we have been hearing much about security concerns over the past few months. What is your response to concerns that Huawei can't be trusted because it might enable China to spy on other countries?

We've been in Canada for 10 years. It's my role and responsibility to work with Canadian governments in an open and transparent fashion.

The Communications Security Establishment is in charge of setting Canadian cybersecurity guidelines laws and regulations and I've been working with them on a daily basis.

To be in Canada, we have the best cybersecurity talents. Not just are they very educated and responsible but they are true Canadian patriots. They would never do anything to cause damage or compromise us.

There's a law that was passed in 2017 that requires all Chinese companies, whatever their ownership, to co-operate with Chinese intelligence services on occasion. What is Huawei's relationship with the Chinese government?

I work for Huawei Canada, I have no relationship with the Chinese government. I am working for a Canadian company in Canada and this is all I can say.

But the parent company Huawei is a Chinese company and there is this law on the books that says Chinese companies have to co-operate with Chinese intelligence.

That is a fact that Huawei is a Chinese company but Huawei Canada is a Canadian company.

My role and responsibility is to work openly and transparently with the Canadian government and to make sure that we comply with all the rules and regulations in Canada.

When we deliver the equipment to Canadian carriers, they have the keys to their equipment. We actually don't have any control over that.

This interview aired on The Early Edition on April 29 and has been edited for length and clarity. To listen to the full interview, click on the audio below:

Huawei Canada's Chief Security Officer Olivera Zatezalo explains the company's history in Canada, relationship with China and why she believes the 5G network is not a threat. 14:45

With files from The Early Edition

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