ZTE ‘will reveal source code’ as it opens Rome cyber centre

21 May 2019 | Alan Burkitt-Gray

Cover

Chinese vendor ZTE has taken one of its boldest steps yet to restore its reputation – by opening cyber security laboratories in Nanjing and Rome.

The opening of the Rome lab was attended by an Italian government minister and a senior executive from the digital city project in Rome.

Zhong Hong, ZTE’s chief security officer, said in Rome: “The security lab is an open and cooperative platform for the industry.” The company said it is “committed to the security demands of customers and regulators”.

Zhong said: “If anybody is concerned about the security of our products, we can open the source code for customers and governments. If they want, they can take a view of the source code and even scan the source code of our products for monitoring.”

ZTE nearly closed down last year after the US Department of Commerce (DoC) added it to the entity list, forbidding trade with US companies – including chip makers and software developers. The embargo was removed after ZTE paid a $1.4 billion fine and agreed to US legal oversight for 10 years.

In December 2018 the company appointed a former US senator, Joe Lieberman, to prepare a report on future options. The new cyber security centres – and a third is expected in Brussels – are among the first moves.

ZTE’s bigger rival, Huawei, has faced many of the same restrictions. Last week the DoC added it to the entity list, though last night this was relaxed for 90 days. Huawei is also facing legal action – as did ZTE – for smuggling US hardware and software to Iran in the face of US embargoes.

A UK government agency has criticised Huawei’s software engineering. The Huawei Cyber Security Evaluation Centre (HCSEC), run by a UK intelligence agency, analyses Huawei software. It has found no back doors but last year it identified “shortcomings in Huawei’s engineering processes [that] have exposed new risks” that provide “long-term challenges”.

ZTE’s move in Nanjing, Rome and eventually Brussels appear to be first moves to forestall that level of criticism – though no one has yet been appointed to oversee ZTE’s software code.

The Rome opening was in the presence of Angelo Tofalo, a member of Italy’s Five Star Movement political party who is undersecretary of defence in the coalition government, and Flavia Marzano, a computer scientist and professor who is director of Roma Semplice – “simple Rome” – the capital’s digital city project.