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COMMENT: How Safe Is The 5G ZTE Smartphone Spruiked By Telstra Boss?

How safe is a Chinese made Oppo, Huawei or ZTE smartphone similar to what Telstra boss Any Penn was spruiking at yesterday’s 5G investor briefing?

From yesterday’s briefing it was abundantly clear that Telstra management who openly spruiked a ZTE 5G Handset as being part of their future 5G network offering, are ignoring warning from various intelligence sources that Chinese made smartphones and in particular ZTE 5G telecommunication gear are a real threat to Australian consumers.

Chris Griffith writing in the Australian newspaper said that ‘the ZTE prototype phone demonstrated at the Telstra 5G event in Sydney yesterday, was already running on the telco’s internal 5G development network and was only slightly thicker than 4G smartphones, he said it was also light weight. “It didn’t have a big external aerial like of the old GSM phones of the 1990’s’.

Earlier this year the heads of six U.S. intelligence and law-enforcement agencies told the US Senate Intelligence Committee that they could not recommend that U.S. residents buy Huawei or ZTE smartphone products.

The implication of this very public warning was that the Chinese brands pose a risk to US national security — and consumer security.

This warning was then followed by an Australian Government ban on Huawei and ZTE being able to partner with Telstra, Optus, TPG, or Vodafone in the building out of new 5G networks in Australia.

ZTE was created by China for the purpose of spying, and openly used bribery to accomplish its goals, court documents allege.

Fairfax Media reported earlier this year that files in a Dallas case between Chinese telecommunications firm ZTE and Universal Telephone Exchange contain shocking claims regarding the purposes and practices of the company at the centre of the Trump administration’s trade talks fight with China.

“China’s Ministry of Aerospace founded ZTE as a front to send officers abroad under non-diplomatic covers such as scientists, businessmen and executives for the purpose of collecting intelligence,” documents in the case allege.

The documents also include testimony, taken under oath, from two telecom executives from Liberia who said ZTE bribed officials, allegedly including judges and the country’s former president, between 2005 and 2007.

The officials said they were offered 5% of the value of a ZTE contract if the deal was taken away from Universal Telephone Exchange. Both men testified to receiving cash in “brown paper bags.”

But are you really running a higher privacy or security risk if you use a Chinese made phone brands such as Oppo? Would they be riskier than any other Chinese-made phones?

According to the experts the answer is yes.

Spyware that sends information has already been found on all these Chinese made smartphones and it is not just within the hardware that code is being hidden. Chinese software Companies are using mobile devices to capture other information.

Yesterday Google suspended two apps from its Google Play app store amid allegations that they could have been used in an information collection scam.

Based on an internal investigation, Google suspended Cheetah Mobile File Manager app and Kika Tech’s Keyboard app after BuzzFeed reported that several apps from the Chinese companies have allegedly exploited user permissions.

Google, a unit of Alphabet said that they found that both apps appeared to have conducted install-attribution abuse using native code instead of a third party, which suggests the behaviour could have been intentional.

Last night UK carrier BT came out and said it will not use Huawei’s equipment within the heart of its 5G mobile network when it is rolled out next year.

BT also confirmed that it was stripping out Huawei equipment from the core of its existing 3G and 4G networks.

Last week, New Zealand became the latest country to bar a local network from using Huawei’s 5G gear.

And on Monday, intelligence service MI6’s chief Alex Younger said Britain needed to decide how comfortable it was using Chinese-owned smartphones and related technologies within its communications infrastructure.

Huawei has denied having any ties to the Chinese government beyond those of being a law-abiding taxpayer.

However, critics point out that its founder, Ren Zhengfei, was a former engineer in the country’s army and joined the Communist Party in 1978. There are also questions about how independent of state influence any large Chinese company can be.

In a letter to Secretary of State Mike Pompeo last week, Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross and Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin, Republican Senator Marco Rubio and Democratic Senator Chris Van Hollen cited a Reuters report about ZTE’s provision of a population database for the Venezuelan government.

The database, which, according to the Reuters report, allows the Venezuelan government to monitor its citizens through centralised video surveillance and smartphones. The Company proposed the use of Dell technology to hide the ZTE developed technology.

For several years Telstra has had a close working relationship with ZTE, they not only sell their handsets they have used ZTE to manufacture Telstra branded handsets, smartphones and other gear sold by the carrier.

Telstra management have often been wined and dined in China by ZTE management and this has included golf trips paid for by ZTE.

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