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There’s more to the Western restrictions on Huawei than meets the eye.

Behind the headline news story there’s another story. It’s one you don’t hear or see in the mainstream media.

There has been plenty about Australian and US claims the company spies.

You may also have heard something about a possible hidden kill switch that could allow Huawei or the Chinese government to disrupt or even halt communications.

This week US prosecutors filed criminal charges against the firm.

These actions, and others, may or may not be justified. It’s hard to know for sure.

Protectionism

At least some of the ill-will towards Huawei comes down to trade protectionism. US prosecutors launched their latest action days before the trade negotiations. That timing is no accident.

The scare stories will frighten off some customers even if, in the long term, we find out it was all a false alarm.

Huawei’s reputation is already damaged. Mission accomplished. It’s the ultimate non-tariff trade barrier.

Let’s put all these matters aside for the moment and look at something else.

Huawei too good for its own good

Many in the West fear Huawei because the company is too good at its core business.

By the way, Huawei’s core business is not making mobile phones. The big money comes from designing and building communications networks. This includes old school telephone, fibre broadband and cellular networks.

Huawei has a clear technology lead over its main rivals in this sector. Off the top of my head, I’d say from what I’ve seen and heard from Huawei, the company is anything up to 18 months ahead of rivals.

The company also has a cost advantage over its competitors. Whether you think this is a fair cost advantage or not is neither here nor there. When has business success even been about fairness?

China’s tech success story

This adds up to Huawei having better technology, better products and services at a lower cost. That’s a hard trifecta to beat. It sums up the problem.

A decade ago almost no-one in the West had heard of Huawei. Companies like Nokia, Cisco, Ericsson and Alcatel-Lucent dominated network equipment.

Since then Ericsson dropped out of sight. Nokia merged with Alcatel-Lucent. Cisco is not the force it once was.

In round numbers, Huawei accounts for a third of the global telecommunication network equipment market. It is the biggest IT network equipment company with about a quarter of the market.

Big in 5G

Before these recent actions, Huawei looked set to win the lion’s share of contracts to build next generation 5G mobile networks.

Huawei’s total market share continues to grow at the expense of its rivals. It is already the dominant telecommunications network hardware player. If things were to continue as they have in the past, in a few years Huawei would be unassailable. It is not unreasonable to talk about a potential monopoly.

That’s what scares Western governments. Telecommunications networks are strategic infrastructure. They are as important, some say more important, than roads, railways or shipping lanes.

Forget kill switches

Forget kill switches. Allowing one company to dominate strategic infrastructure is bad full stop. It’s like the plot of a James Bond movie.

Older readers might remember the computer business when IBM was the only game in town. Less ancient readers might remember when Microsoft and Intel called the shots in PCs. This could be worse.

Then you get to the part where we mention that Huawei is a Chinese company. China’s emergence as a global power has taken longer than Huawei’s rise to the top of network hardware. It threatens many people and governments on various levels.

Huawei is a threat even if China doesn’t pull its strings. Add this to fears about China’s ambitions and you have a potent mix.

Geopolitics

In that case, dominating critical infrastructure isn’t about business, laws or trade disputes. It becomes a geopolitical challenge.

There’s another aspect to this. Huawei is a Chinese national champion. The company reflects China’s prestige. It’s not a direct comparison, but is some ways Huawei is the Apple of China’s eye.

Diminishing Huawei’s prestige has to be part of what’s going on.

This whole episode is far from over. It may take us into places no-one expected.

Disclosure: Bill Bennett has travelled to China and elsewhere as Huawei’s guest on three occasions.

New Zealanders are happy using digital identities to deal with government agencies.

Yet, according to the 2018 Unisys Security Index survey, we’re less happy using similar digital identities for financial transactions, paying for things and other commercial applications.

Take the idea of having an emergency button a phone so you can send your location to the police if you’re in trouble. Unisys found 84 percent of New Zealanders like the idea. Only eight percent do not.

Would you support the following

Medical devices reporting to doctors

How about having medical devices send alerts to doctors if there’s a significant change in readings? This could be a pacemaker noticing something happening with a heart or a blood sugar monitor seeing a spike.

The survey found eight times as many New Zealanders like the idea as those who don’t. It appears that we trust the police and health professionals.

A different picture emerges when there’s money involved. Unisys found that almost two-thirds of New Zealanders do not like the idea of personal health trackers reporting information to insurance companies, even if it might mean lower premiums. A quarter are in favour of the idea while the rest are undecided.

Likewise only half the population likes the idea of being able to make bank or credit card payments from a watch. When Unisys asked the same people why they didn’t support sharing personal data, there was a consistent pattern in their responses.

No compelling reason to share

In most cases the answer is “there is not a compelling enough reason for them to have this data.”

When money is involved respondents expressed misgivings about data security. This seems a reasonable response given the number of high-profile news stories about data security breaches. It means that organisations hoping to do business this way have their work cut out convincing customers their services are safe and that their requests for data are always benign.

Andrew Whelan, Unisys vice-president Commercial industries for Asia-Pacific says the last year has been relatively calm in terms of New Zealand politics and natural disasters. So our security focus has been elsewhere. He says: “…Local and global data breaches dominated media headlines and impacted many of us personally – so data security is top of mind.

Government yes, commerce not so much

“The results indicate that New Zealanders are more likely to embrace digital identities to engage with government organisations, especially where there are clear benefits of increased convenience or security.

“But in the banking sector, concerns about data security are hindering the take up of new services such as digital wallets and the integrated financial products that are evolving in the growing open banking environment.

“To overcome this discomfort, service providers must be able to show New Zealand consumers the measures they’ve taken to protect customer data across the entire supply chain.”

This is the second of a series of sponsored posts about the 2018 Unisys Security Index. Click the link for more information about the survey.

Identity theft, bank card fraud and hacking top New Zealanders’ security concerns according to the 2018 Unisys Security Index.

On the whole, we’re more relaxed than people in most other countries. Unisys publishes its security index year. The index is a snapshot of how people feel about security issues.

This year Unisys surveyed 13,000 people worldwide, 1000 in each of 13 countries including New Zealand. The result is a comprehensive picture of how ordinary people around the world feel about security.

Concern high, not rising

The top line figure, a single index number, is a score out of 300 which shows the overall level of concern. This year’s worldwide index sits at 173 points. It’s the same as last year’s number, but a long way up from a decade ago when it stood at 130 points.

When it comes to major security worries, New Zealanders are not remarkably different from the rest of the world. But our overall level of concern is far lower than elsewhere.

With a security index of 138, New Zealand is third from the bottom of the 13 nations surveyed. Only Germany and the Netherlands are less concerned than us. People in the UK, Australia and the US are more concerned than those in New Zealand.

Philippines people are the most concerned. The index in that country sits at 232.

Unisys Security Index 2018 by country

This year, last year

New Zealand recorded the largest security index drop. Last year the New Zealand security index stood at 154. During the year it fell To 138, a fall of 16 points. Only the Netherland’s number fell by the same amount. Most other countries, including top-of-the-table The Philipines, saw their index fall.

Columbia saw a huge rise. It was up 47 points year-on-year. Things also took a turn for the worse in Argentina which is up 23 points. The UK was a touch more fearful with its index climbing 5 points, albeit off a low base, to reach 149. Last year it was comfortably below New Zealand.

Unisys Security Index 2018 over time- New Zealand

We’re more comfortable, but our fears are in line with everyone else

While there are nuances, it turns out our main concerns are the same as everyone else’s.

As Unisys puts it:

“The highest personal concerns are where people feel they have least personal control: identity theft and bankcard fraud
Globally, people surveyed were more concerned about losing their identity or financial information than they are about war, terrorism or natural disasters.”

The survey data shows around eight in ten New Zealanders are extremely or very concerned about at least one aspect of online security. The worldwide figure is nine in ten, so we’re a little more relaxed but not out of line with international opinion.

Identity theft tops Unisys Security Index

Identity theft tops the list with 53 percent saying they are extremely or very concerned. This compares with 68 percent of respondents worldwide.

Bank card fraud worries half the New Zealand sample while 47 percent say they are extremely or very concerned about hacking and viruses.

In general women are more concerned about security issues than men and younger people are more concerned than older folk.

This is one of a series of sponsored posts about the 2018 Unisys Security Index. Over the next few days we’ll explore the index in more depth..

Communications Minister Kris Faafoi says New Zealand could ban Huawei from building 5G mobile networks. In New Zealand could bar Huawei Newsroom reports:

Faafoi said that companies had approached him saying they would like to use Huawei’s technology, but he said New Zealand could ultimately follow Australia in barring the company from contracts relating to crucial infrastructure.

“We’re obviously cognisant of the concerns the Australian authorities have had. It’s a pretty crucial piece of infrastructure for the future of the mobile network,” Faafoi said.

Australia and the US already ban Huawei from building communications networks.

Huawei is best known in New Zealand for its mobile phones. The new Huawei Mate 20 Pro is arguably the best Android phone on the market today.

Network hardware

The company’s main business is making the behind-the-scenes hardware that runs telecommunications networks.

A little Huawei equipment is in the UFB broadband network. But that’s small compared to Huawei’s role providing hardware for the 2degrees and Spark 4G mobile networks.

Huawei is a private company. It is Chinese. Some critics say it has links with the Chinese military. Huawei denies those links are active.

What it can’t deny is that it operates from a base in a totalitarian country where pressure can be applied to even the largest independent business.

That said, by law large US companies like Amazon and Microsoft must hand information stored on cloud servers over to US government agencies on demand.

GridAKL Huawei
Huawei’s GridAKL shows the company is keen to be a good corporate citizen

Spooks

Our partners in the Five Eyes intelligence alliance are uneasy about Huawei playing an important role in New Zealand’s key communications infrastructure.

There’s no evidence that Huawei uses its telecommunications equipment to spy on voice or data traffic. There is evidence of Chinese state-sponsored online intelligence gathering elsewhere.

China’s government doesn’t need to use Huawei to snoop, it has other options as Juha Saarinen points out in his NZ Herald story.

If anything, China’s government is likely to want to protect Huawei’s brand. After all, Huawei is a potent demonstration of China’s technical and economic prowess. It is a global giant with the potential to be as influential in technology as Apple, Google, Microsoft or, in its day, IBM.

Huawei New Zealand

Huawei has a close relationship with both Spark and 2degrees. Earlier this year, Huawei and Spark held an impressive demonstration of next generation 5G mobile network technology in Wellington.

Spark expects to build a new 5G network in time for the America’s Cup. It is negotiating with potential hardware partners. Huawei will be on the short list.

There is also trade protectionism behind the pressure for a ban. It suits US economic interests to spread doubt about Chinese equipment makers.

Nokia is not an US company, but somewhere in the conglomerate is the remains of Lucent, which was Bell Labs. At one time that was another American prestige brand. There are US jobs at stake.

Huawei ban problems

Banning Huawei is harder than it seems. The company dominates communications network hardware. Its products and services are often cheaper and better than those from its rivals.

Huawei has been so successful and risen so fast that today its only serious competitor for network hardware is Nokia. That company was Finnish and still has headquarters there. Nowadays Nokia is a multinational. It is made up of businesses that struggled to compete with Huawei on their own.

There’s also Sweden’s Ericsson, but that had faded from the scene before the Huawei spying fuss blew up. It has revived a little since with carriers unable to buy from Huawei looking afresh at its wares.

Meanwhile, Samsung has entered the network equipment market, in part to capitalise on the anti-Huawei sentiment.

Push up prices

Huawei is competitive on price. Ban Huawei and there’s less pressure for Nokia to sharpen its pencil.

A ban will increase the price of building next generation networks. It gives carriers fewer options and less opportunity to differentiate their networks from rivals.

Over the next decade or so New Zealand’s three main carriers will spend the thick end of a billion dollars upgrading phone networks. Equipment makers like Huawei only get a small slice of the pie. Even so we are talking in tens of millions. Keeping Huawei out of the picture will add millions to the cost.

Technology

You can also argue that Huawei has a technical edge over its rivals. Without Huawei we won’t be getting the best possible networks. Our carriers certainly won’t have as much choice when it comes to planning network infrastructure.

There is another practical argument against Huawei, although it is not a justification for banning the company. An unshackled Huawei is so strong that it could soon become a dominant near monopoly in network hardware in much the same way that IBM once dominated computer hardware. That’s not desirable.

Spyware?

Despite all this, the big question remains: Is Huawei spying?

We don’t know.

We do know the Chinese spy on communications networks. So do other powerful governments. Hell, our intelligence service does it too.

Whether a private company is helping the spooks is almost neither here nor there.

Even if it is not spying today, Huawei could be pressured by a future Chinese regime to hand over its keys to spooks. As mentioned earlier, US law requires the likes of Amazon, Microsoft and IBM to let American security agencies look at data stored in the cloud.

Huawei not alone

That said, there are no guarantees the other hardware companies are not also spying. We know Facebook, Google, Amazon and others collect vast amounts of information on us without much fuss. Perhaps this is how the world operates in 2018, that all information is, in effect, considered fair game.

There is one way we can guard against this and that would be to use strong encryption.

Weirdly under the circumstances, Western governments are moving to ban us from encrypting our data. They want to be able to spy on us. At the same time they warn us that other nations are spying.

If Huawei and China are such a threat isn’t that an argument for upping our encryption game?

Huawei phones

What message does a ban, even a potential ban, of Huawei network equipment send us about Huawei mobile phones?

Part of the deal with any Android handset is that you have to give over a lot of information to get the benefits of an operating system that knows your preferences.

Could some of that data passing through a Huawei handset end up with Chinese state security organisations? If anything, this could be a bigger worry.

Huawei is the third largest phone brand in New Zealand. It struggles to sell phones in countries where there is a network hardware ban. A government imposed ban will have a knock-on effect there too.

Acronis says True Image 2019 provides set and forget protection. Going by my experience with the 2018 version, I can verify this. The last time I checked the older edition of the software was in May. I know this date is correct because that’s when I swapped to a new iMac.

It has backed up my iMac to the cloud for four months without any attention.

Now I’m using the 2019 version. It’s installed and it’s working. Every evening it updates some 200 GB plus sending it to Acronis’ cloud for safe keeping.

The process is so unobtrusive and the upgrade from True Image 2018 was so seamless that it’s hard to see any difference between the two versions.

Acronis True Image 2019

True Image 2019 differences

That doesn’t mean there isn’t a difference. The main new feature in the Mac version is Active disc cloning. You can use it to move data from one computer to another, or to make a bootable image on an external hard drive.

The external drive needs to connect directly to the computer being cloned. I couldn’t clone my Mac drive to the home network drive. You can only copy the entire drive. There’s no way to select directories for cloning.

Acronis’ other new 2019 feature is a Survival Kit. This is like Active disc cloning, you can use it to make a bootable back up of your start-up partition.

In truth these are both variations on Acronis True Image’s main theme, although they give you more back-up options.

Auto-start on connect

Another clever, helpful update is that you can set the software to start backing-up when a new external USB drive is plugged-in. It’s another step towards simplifying backing-up. Let’s face it, the easier it is to make back-ups, the more likely you are to keep everything up-to-date.

The last interesting update in True Image 2019 is that you can now make snapshots of Parallels Desktop virtual machines. It’s a niche feature for sure, but a welcome one.

My year with Acronis True Image 2018 passed without incident. During that time I switched computers twice and carried on backing up. I did a single restore from the Acronis Cloud to a computer, but it was a test, not a real panic recovery.

It’s a solid alternative offering both a secure cloud backup and the ability to make local backups at the same time.

Prices

Acronis may seem expensive when compared with other apps, but it costs are on a par with other cloud backup services. You can pay US$50 to buy the software for a single computer. It’s a one time payment and lasts forever, but it doesn’t include cloud storage.

A single year licence with 250GB of cloud storage is also US$50. This rises to US$100 if you want to connect five computers. A three computer option is US$80.

The full monty premium version comes with a terabyte of cloud storage. This is the only version that includes blockchain certification. Acronis fingerprints your files to show no-one else has altered them. This is a way to protect against ransomware. The premium version costs US$100 a year for one machine and US$150 for five.