In the past few months, many security concerns related to Huawei equipment have been raised, especially after its tussle with the US. This time we’re seeing its effects in Pakistan, particularly the Lahore Safe City project. The Lahore Safe City scheme was announced in 2016 by the Punjab Safe City Authority (PSCA).
This scheme was brought into place due to back to back terrorist bombings at the time. Under this scheme, a total of 1800 CCTV camera cabinets were installed all over Lahore. These CCTVs were purchased from Huawei.
Huawei installed Wi-Fi modules and cards in the CCTV cabinets of all the cameras. Even though it is not uncommon for companies to install extra equipment during installation for future updates and services but since Huawei did not convey the installation of extra equipment it looked a little suspicious.
The Founding Chief Operating Officer at Punjab Safe Cities Authority, Akbar Nasir Khan, said in a statement,
It is always the choice of the parties in a contract to finalize the technical details and modules as per their requirements and local conditions.
Even though the authorities claim they were hinted upon the Wi-Fi card in the bidding documents, two of the people involved in Lahore Safe City project told BBC that Huawei never provided an application for a Wi-Fi link and the Wi-Fi card didn’t help in the management of the cabinets either since a remote access to the PSCA was already given via other means.
However, Huawei was very receptive to the complaints and gave a prompt response. According to PSCA, Huawei explained that the cards were installed only for the purpose of remote access. PSCA, disregarding this explanation, told BBC news that there had been no security breaches but due to the potential misuse of the Wi-Fi card they have been removed.
The UK based cybersecurity firm that regularly checks the cabinets for PSCA also commented,
If you put a wi-fi card in then you’re potentially giving someone some other form of remote access to it. You might say it’s done for one purpose, but as soon as you do that it’s got the potential to be misused.