Huawei appoints former UK CIO to head cyber security post

John Suffolk will become Huawei's Global Cyber Security Officer

Chinese telecommunications equipment supplier Huawei has appointed a former U.K. government chief information officer to oversee the company's cyber security assurance system, a move that could help improve the company's reputation.

In terms of sales, Huawei is the world's third largest vendor for networking equipment, behind Cisco and Ericsson. But the company has struggled to complete business deals in the U.S., where it has faced allegations of having links with the Chinese military.

Part of the allegations stem from Huawei CEO's Ren Zhengfei stint in China's People Liberation Army as an engineer before starting the company. U.S. lawmakers have worried technology bought from Huawei could be secretly used by the Chinese military to disrupt or manipulate U.S. communications.

Huawei has, however, stepped up its efforts to clear its reputation after a U.S. government panel requested the company to reverse a deal it made to acquire a U.S. startup. In February, Huawei released an open letter that stressed the company was employee-owned and has never invested in military technologies. The company has also contracted third-party security audits of its products to ensure there are no "back doors" to allow the Chinese government to gain access to Huawei equipment.

On Monday, Huawei announced former UK government CIO John Suffolk would become the company's global cyber security officer, effective on Oct. 1. Suffolk will develop the company's cyber security assurance strategy, which will be implemented across all the company's business groups. He will report directly to Huawei's CEO.

In a statement, Huawei said its cyber security assurance system operates to protect products involving cloud computing, telecommunication networks, devices and business processes. Suffolk served as the UK government CIO for close to five years, but resigned last year.

The appointment of Suffolk to the position is a "positive step" for Huawei in its efforts to change perceptions of the company, said Matt Walker, a analyst with research firm Ovum. "I don't believe it will have much impact on Huawei's political challenges. However, it does help give Huawei's existing customers a tangible data point to support their faith in the company," he said.

The appointment will also reassures potential customers as Huawei moves to expand further into enterprise markets. "Security is extremely important in these markets. Huawei -- as a new entrant, essentially -- will have a higher hurdle than its better known, established rivals," Walker said.

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