When I initially heard about the government’s engagement of China’s Huawei to develop and implement its integrated information system, I was hesitant and appalled by the decision (I still have concerns). However, after seeing these people at work, I can now understand why the bold step had to be taken.

Paris configuring the new switches
Paris configuring the new switches

The National Executive Council (NEC) and the government awarded the contract to Huawei to design and implement its Integrated Government Information System (IGIS). Huawei then subcontracts most of the work to other smaller companies. Of course, the work is overlooked by a Huawei employee to ensure standards and requirements are met.

Huawei sub-contractors installing the hardware
Huawei sub-contractors installing the hardware

I had the liberty of watching these people at work last week and I must say I am impressed with the type of work they have done. While the work relationship seemed casual, they addressed each other openly and freely, the standard of work had to be maintained.

The Huawei equipment
A closer look at the equipment.

The leader of the team I observed, Paris Heng, was quite meticulous with his work but maintained a causal relationship with those he supervised – and whenever something wasn’t done right – he would do it himself. They worked so smoothly and meticulously that it was like a well-oiled machine in motion. However, I can assure you it wasn’t.

Paris tidying the cables
Paris tidying the cables in the MAN box

When the initial analysis and planning process was underway, the contractors faced quite a number of obstacles. The first would be the communication barrier. They expressed how hard it was to communicate with departments and employees. Every time they would try to visit a department, the IT manager or responsible authority would not be around. This caused a major delay in their work. However, as you may have noticed, they persevered and finally got the information they required.

Now, the basic information they required was a floor plan, network plan and a basic system plan. However, all the departments they visited could not provide this information so they had to start from scratch. They developed schematics for all the building they were going to implement in and eventually got the equipment installed.

Last week, they finally switched over our network to their equipment which would allow us to use the latest in technological advancements like VoIP, video conferencing, etc. and the seamless transition was very impressive. This got me thinking ‘what if’ a local company was assigned to do this and I began to see some logic in engaging Huawei.

The Huawei team with our IT manager
The Huawei team with our IT manager (far right).

The very fact that every department they visited did not provide a network plan and other essential information was a sign of poor professionalism practiced by those engaged to install initial communication systems. Even the contractors were joking at the workmanship of their predecessors. Unfortunately, while I must admit that their workmanship is superb, I still have concerns over security.

Huawei has been linked to the Chinese military and its government. There have also been reports on the internet about Chinese hackers being backed by their government and unconfirmed reports of electronic sabotage, espionage, and deliberate attacks on other countries. This is a cause for concern.

The simple fact is that the hardware used is designed and manufactured by Huawei leaves it open for exploitation. What if there are trapdoors /backdoors programed into the firewalls that would allow them to observe traffic and monitor specific emails, etc.?

Anyway, I could be paranoid and these could be just my imagination, but let’s hope I am wrong.

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