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Brisbane’s Cross River Rail Authority has contracted Huawei to deliver its new digital signalling system, entrusting the safety of passengers to the Chinese company considered a “high-risk vendor” by the federal government.
The system runs off the 2G GSM network and is not affected by the government ban on Huawei’s 5G network participation.
Cyber experts say the system could be used by a malicious actor to disrupt or — in extreme circumstances — derail train services.
The Brisbane rail network already carries 55 million passengers a year, while the system will also control the movement of freight trains carrying goods to and from the Port of Brisbane.
It’s understood Huawei bid about $18m to supply and implement the technology, undercutting rivals by up to 50 per cent.
The federal government last year blocked “high-risk vendors”, including Huawei and China’s ZTE, from providing 5G equipment in Australia, but the director of UNSW’s Canberra Cyber Centre at the Australian Defence Force Academy, Nigel Phair, said risks associated with Huawei were not confined to 5G technology.
“It comes down to Chinese legislation compelling all Chinese organisations to assist the state of China when called upon by the government. That’s technology agnostic,” he said.
Mr Phair said that rail control systems could be used to plunge networks into chaos. That included “having trains running or not running through, causing them to crash”.
He said the decision also provided support to Huawei in its global push to supply key control systems at a time when Western countries, including Australia, were trying to lock down critical infrastructure.
A Cross River Rail spokesman said the Department of Home Affairs was consulted prior to the contract being finalised for Huawei to deliver the European Train Control System technology.
“The department provided advice about what process to follow and this advice was adhered to,” the spokesman said. The decision to engage Huawei was made by project contractor Hitachi. The Department of Home Affairs said it advised owners and operators of Australia’s critical infrastructure, including states and territories, on how to identify and manage national security risks on a case-by-case basis.
“The Security of Critical Infrastructure Act 2018 supports the government’s approach by specifically managing national security risks of foreign involvement, particularly sabotage, coercion and espionage, in Australia’s critical infrastructure assets,” it said.
A Huawei spokesman declined to comment on “active commercial negotiations”, but said the company was a world leader in delivering rail network technology. “In Australia, we have successfully delivered our technology to Sydney Trains for over 10 years and last year won the contract to deliver our technology to the Perth Metro project,” he said.
It’s understood other train networks in Australia have implemented 2G GSM systems with upgradable cores so they can more easily move to 5G technology when the 2G network is decommissioned, but Huawei would be unable to upgrade the system to 5G because of the ban on its involvement in the next-generation communications network.
This article first appeared on www.theaustralian.com.au
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