ZTE is a phone company that doesn't have a huge following in this country, mainly because they're not as mainstream as Apple or Samsung, and haven't spent as much on publicity establishing themselves as someone like Huawei. In fact you might only recognise them for that bizarre dual-screen phone that's coming to the UK very soon. If you've ordered one, you might want to think again, because the National Cyber Security Centre (NCSC) claims the company poses a rick to the UK's national security.
This announcement coincides with a US ban on companies selling to the firm, following a court case in Texas when the company pleased guilty to conspiring to violate US sanctions and illegally ship US goods to Iran. The company has also been found guilty of similar violations with relation to North Korea.
Dr Ian levy, the NCSC's technical director, has written to UK telecoms companies, Ofcom, and ZTE, and said (via Financial Times) “the use of ZTE equipment or services within existing telecommunications infrastructure would present risk to UK national security that could not be mitigated effectively or practicably”. The letter also warned that because ZTE is owned by the Chinese state, meaning it could be at risk from new laws that allow China to influence any companies and individuals that have "wide-ranging powers of compulsion".
"Mitigating the risk of external interference with equipment supplied by a particular vendor depends in significant part on telecommunications equipment being present from other vendors who are not subject to the same risk of external interference. The UK telecommunications network already contains a significant amount of equipment supplied by Huawei, also a Chinese equipment manufacturer. Adding in new equipment and services from another Chinese supplier would render our existing mitigations ineffective."
Huawei has been on the wrong end of security concerns for some time now, especially in the US, and seeing how it supplies a lot of equipment to UK telecoms companies (alongside Nokia and Ericsson) the GCHQ already has a dedicated cell tasked with ensuring there's the company doesn't interfere with telecoms operations. According to Levy, adding ZTE into the mix would make it impossible to manage the security risks and "the result would be an unacceptable national security risk to the UK telecoms infrastructure environment." [Financial Times]