back to article Huawei mobile mast installed next to secret MI5 data centre in London has 7 years to do whatever it is Huawei does

A Huawei phone mast is to be installed next to a secret MI5 data centre, despite government directives to strip the Chinese company's equipment from UK mobile networks in the next seven years. The mobile mast is to be built at a West London location across the road from a Security Service bit barn – no more than 30 yards away …

  1. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    So...we'll be stripping out all that Cisco kit...... know, the internet backbone stuff with the NSA/GCHQ backdoors?


    Oh, sorry.....just remembered that those backdoors are for the so called "good guys"!!!

    1. DavCrav

      Re: So...we'll be stripping out all that Cisco kit......

      Are you amazingly surprised that the UK Government is less concerned about network kit that they themselves can access, and more about network kit that one of their enemies can access?

      1. HowieB

        So....about the Cisco/NSA/GCHQ Snoopers......




        This looks interesting. If this sort of code is used BEFORE using an end-to-end channel,

        snoopers will get something like this (see below). (And that would be ANY flavour of snooper - GCHQ, NSA, Russian, Chinese........)

        Simple single file source code, less than 1500 lines of code.

        Looks like the cipher text might be difficult to decode....even with the source code.























        1. Flywheel

          Re: So....about the Cisco/NSA/GCHQ Snoopers......

          It's a covert shopping list: the first item is 0JAY.

        2. Wibble

          Re: So....about the Cisco/NSA/GCHQ Snoopers......


          Alles turisten und nonteknischen lookenpeepers!

          Das maschine-kontrol ist nicht für der gefingerpoken und mittengraben! Oderwise ist easy to schnappen der springenwerk, blowenfusen und poppencorken mit spitzensparksen.

          Der maschine ist diggen bei experten only!

          Ist nicht für gewerken bei dummkopfen. Der rubbernecken sightseeren keepen das cottonpicken händer in das pockets.

          Zo relaxen und watschen der blinkenlights.

    2. cbars

      Re: So...we'll be stripping out all that Cisco kit......

      Half of them are, the other half were kept secret for the really, actually this time, good guys

      1. Michael Habel

        Re: So...we'll be stripping out all that Cisco kit......

        So are you saying that the Chinese, are the "Good Guys" here? 'Cause thats how I'm reading it.

    3. ShadowDragon8685

      Re: So...we'll be stripping out all that Cisco kit......

      You have three options, basically:

      1. Invest in building an entirely-homegrown internet kit provision industry.

      2. Be spied on by the yankees, with whom you are nominally allied.

      3. Be spied on by Chairman Poo Bear who is asshoe.

  2. Sherminator

    It's just a conincidence...... Surely??

    No way that anyone is that clever.....?

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: It's just a conincidence...... Surely??

      Maybe the MI5 DC meant there was a gap in their coverage there (either because they'd avoided it in the past or MI5 picked the spot because of that), so when they looked to fill in those gaps the centre of the gap seemed the natural place to put it. Which happened to be where the data centre was.

    2. spold Silver badge

      Re: It's just a conincidence...... Surely??

      I told you... don't call me Shirley

      1. DesktopGuy

        Re: It's just a conincidence...... Surely??

        Gold medal!!

        Airplane reference (Flying High in Australia)

    3. Michael Habel

      Re: It's just a conincidence...... Surely??

      As Kenobi would say: In my expereance there is no such thing as luck...

  3. The Man Who Fell To Earth Silver badge

    Does this mean all MI5 could find was a 30m cable?

    Inquiring minds want to know.

    1. rg287

      Re: Does this mean all MI5 could find was a 30m cable?

      They can probably get the 30m one through as "office expenses".

      50m goes over the spending cap and requires sign off, which is - y'know - such a pain.

      Shadow IT isn't just for enterprise you know ;)

      1. Remy Redert

        Re: Does this mean all MI5 could find was a 30m cable?

        At school we had a few spots were a switch was installed with 1 cable in, 1 out, because the 4 put switches and the unshielded cable did not approval, but the shielded cable necessary to cover the same distance without switches or other repeaters was too expensive and would have to go through the (lengthy) tender process.

        The fact that this solution was well over twice the cost didn't matter because the individual parts were below the threshold so could simply be bought off the shelf.

      2. Steve K

        Re: Does this mean all MI5 could find was a 30m cable?

        Put in 2 orders for 30m ones?

  4. Jellied Eel Silver badge


    Although local councillors and planning officers were told of the new mast's precise location, MI5 did such a good job of being unobtrusive that nobody in local government appears to have realised the implications.

    Or why local government planning departments would need to know. They might know it's a list X site, or they may be blissfully unaware. So just follow usual planning processes, publish the application and see if anyone objects. Then the objection may go to BT's liason folks who might then quietly withdraw the application. Or the spooks may be ok with the idea because they've done a risk assessment and decided it's not.

    1. Commswonk

      Re: Redacted

      Or the spooks may be ok with the idea because they've done a risk assessment and decided it's not.

      And that it's all a Storm Tempest in a Teacup.

      1. ian 22

        Re: Redacted

        Is yours the one in the Faraday cage?

        1. Paul Crawford Silver badge

          Re: Redacted

          Mine too, but get the right sort of metal otherwise you cup of tee is less than splendid due to the metallic after taste.

        2. Jellied Eel Silver badge

          Re: Redacted

          Is yours the one in the Faraday cage?

          No, and Mr Faraday is just fine in his cage. Human rights cease upon death (ish) & thus a reanimated version is our intellectual property.

          But cages. Best way to identify a suspicious data centre is not via the planning register, but by checking for permits to keep wild animals*. So if generic industrial unit has licences to keep leopards and sharks.. they may be bitbarns of interest.

          * Sysadmins require neither permits nor licences. Yet.

  5. Lee D

    Anything that can be hacked by mere proximity to the building is insecure by definition.

    If you can do anything inside that you don't want people outside to know, or vice versa, you have to take more precautions than "Can you just move that a bit further away, thanks lads".

    And if everything is not completely encrypted and in a radio-dead-zone (whether by not allowing radio devices in or out, or by shielding) then it's game over anyway. Someone could stick something in a lamppost and get the same effect and you'd never know.

    This is "security by proximity" (assuming that you have to be near it to be secure, or conversely that anyone far away can't access it), which is worse than "security by obscurity".

    1. Stuart Castle Silver badge

      Agreed. If the equipment inside the data centre can be compromised merely by sticking something outside the data centre, someone has done something badly wrong in the design. At the very least, I would have thought the data centre would built with something like a faraday cage (maybe in the structure of the walls) to prevent EM radiation.

      1. Brad Ackerman
        Black Helicopters

        Shielding a room is straightforward and not outrageously expensive. Shielding a building is somewhat more difficult; window film is definitely a thing and helps but according to the datasheets I can find it provides 40ish dB of RF attenuation (vs. 90ish for a shielded enclosure), so it works with rather than instead of physical separation.

        If the Security Service somehow didn't have a plan for mitigating such attacks, they'd be utterly screwed because anyone with a river-view room at the Doubletree next door and a telephoto lens has a great view into the back side of Thames House. (Decent hotel, but I haven't stayed there since it was the City Inn.)

  6. John Sturdy
    Black Helicopters

    Maybe it's the other way round?

    Maybe MI5 have some equipment in the DC for observing what the Huawei equipment gets up to? (And didn't want to buy some to test in case they were provided with a modified version.)

    Or even leak some false data to it (the Packet Stream that Never Was)?

    1. I like fruits

      Re: Maybe it's the other way round?

      Right, and they are too lazy to walk a few hundred meters?

  7. rg287
    Black Helicopters

    Enemies of the State?

    We are not revealing its precise location in case enemies of the British state stick pneumatic drills through the pavements surrounding it

    I know Thames Water have had issues over the years, but "Enemy of the British State" seems a bit strong!

    1. katrinab Silver badge

      Re: Enemies of the State?

      That would be Southern Gas Networks ...

  8. TeeCee Gold badge

    Total Huawei ban in 2027.

    Or "never" as I like to call it.

    By then, the whole thing will either be moot, or whoever's in power will have a pressing need to lick the Chinese government's arse and kill it off.

    1. Youngone Silver badge

      Re: Total Huawei ban in 2027.

      I'm not sure it's licking the Chinese government's arse as much as it's trying to stay on side with the current American regime at the same time as not annoying an important trade partner.

      It might not matter after November.

  9. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Arse Licking

    We need those Chinese investments to build our nuclear plants !

  10. martinusher Silver badge

    You've heard of Tempest?

    Sensitive equipment and locations are shielded to prevent eavesdroppers from deducing data from spurious emissions, power line fluctuations and the like. Its been standard practice for many decades.

    Don't you find it a bit worrying when you find people who are supposed to be technically knowledgeable repeating voodoo? Politiicans are sort-of allowed to be ignorant because they're supposed to know experts that can give them this information. However, its becoming increasingly obvious that we've lost it -- I can;t believe the level of crap coming from senior politicians and experts these days. (....and you think that this kind of studied ignorance is going to make your country competitive?)

    FWIW -- Getting R/F into a generic data center is impossible. The buildings are too well shielded and too noisy. This has been a bit of an issue to get precision timestamps for system performance monitoring because the best source of those timestamps is GPS.

    1. spold Silver badge

      Re: You've heard of Tempest?

      ...I thought sensitive data centres employed interns to press the rear loading-bay power door opener up and down all day so generating loads of electrical emissions etc. so camouflaging everything?

    2. Brad Ackerman

      Re: You've heard of Tempest?

      Well-shielded, or just a ton of metal in the way? GPS is easy; put an antenna on the roof and done. Unless you didn't plan for needing to know what time it is and failed to contract for the appropriate roof access, in which case you are bad and should feel bad.

      The general relativity necessary to use the GPS system isn't that difficult, but everyone's using the helicopter icon in this thread already so science guy it is.

      1. This post has been deleted by its author

        1. Radio Wales

          Re: You've heard of Tempest?

          Its's not that they are thick per se,

          It's more that if they are utterly incapable of turning their hand to anything that will earn them a crust - the route ahead is clear. Be a politician.

      2. martinusher Silver badge

        Re: You've heard of Tempest?

        >put an antenna on the roof and done

        You end up having to drop the cable into the facility. Try it. (Nobody will let you.)(Its a security thing.....)

        1. Version 1.0 Silver badge

          Re: You've heard of Tempest?

          I'd put three GPS units on the roof in different areas, feed the signals via fibre-optics into the building and then compare the signals before trusting anything. I'd keep a couple more units in the basement and swap them with a roof units at intervals to make sure the outside units don't get hacked.

          1. Jellied Eel Silver badge

            Re: You've heard of Tempest?

            I'd put three GPS units on the roof in different areas, feed the signals via fibre-optics into the building and then compare the signals before trusting anything. I'd keep a couple more units in the basement and swap them with a roof units at intervals to make sure the outside units don't get hacked.

            Not always that simple.. Especially in shared datacentres eg London Hosting Center, where you may be err.. powerless to do that. Challenge is your collo provider may be sub-letting space on a floor which is leased from another provider in a building owned by someone else. Which means getting permission can be a major PITA, along with getting costings. Especially given roof rental is a thing that building owners profit from.

            And then there's paperwork. Like risk assessment, method statement, proof of insurance and proof that the installer has completed the safe working at heights course & won't sue if they fall off. Which can be less of a risk in large data centres given their height, although someone could still sue on the deceased installers behalf.

            And then there's more paperwork, ie what procedures and charges should apply if you need to get back on the roof to test/replace any kit up there.. Which may mean being accompanied by someone from your service provider who's safe* to accompany you.

            *Back in the day, it was fun sunbathing on the roof of Telehouse while waiting for BT/spares/Godot. Which involved either playing cat & mouse with Telehouse security, or checking if one of the helpful ones was on duty first.

            1. Eltonga

              Re: You've heard of Tempest?

              And this one being a countryside installation, there is always the lightning protection (and regulations) to comply with, and putting a cable straight from the roof and into the DC could not be the smartest idea.

  11. whoseyourdaddy

    Ok, Covidiots. torches ready?

    Go burn that one.

  12. Chris G Silver badge

    It is clear that EE and consequently BT have been taken over by the Chinese, BT should be banned and not permitted to operate in the UK anymore..

    1. not.known@this.address

      Re BT being allowed to operate in the UK

      Given how long it takes Openretch to fix simple problems in local exchanges, I am not sure "operating" is the right word.

      I am half convinced they "fix" one exchange by robbing parts from the next...

  13. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    They know it doesn't matter

    Trump will be gone come January.

  14. katrinab Silver badge

    1. Huawei would not have made the decision on where to locate the mast. BTEE would have made that decision.

    2. If the location is "Top Secret", BTEE wouldn't know about it, and would have made the decision purely based on a review of their coverage map.

    3. If BTEE are aiming for (semi) decent coverage, and Huawei are their preferred supplier of masts, it is pretty much inevitable that this would happen.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward


      When I read the article, my first thought was that it's not a very secret MI5 location - a bit like the way our secret service (MI6) base beside the Thames is so incognito...

  15. TimMaher Silver badge

    “Eye-popping erection”

    Yet another terrific bit of Reg innuendo.

    Well done.

  16. Flywheel
    Big Brother

    Is that the one..

    .. with the alleged special plugins to (allegedly) read speech by monitoring window vibrations and (allegedly) read data by interpreting strobing lighting within that office?

    Reg .. we urgently need a tinfoil hat icon!!

    1. martinusher Silver badge

      Re: Is that the one..

      Our son went to a new high school that was built around an office block that was originally designed for a company involved in developing electronic warfare equipment. On the surface the original building looked like a generic office building but on closer inspection you noticed that the windows had an unusual architectural 'sunshade' around them. This was to prevent people looking in -- from sattelites.

      The company was active in that facility in the 70s and 80s. It was sufficiently secretive that its actually difficutl to find information on it, just the occasional reference in obscure government documents, and a search isn't helped by there being a similar sounding company that makes relatively benign equipment based on the other side of the country at that time. So -- sometimes reality is weirder than the most outlandish conspiracy theories.

      (Incidentally, the basement of the facility included a high security meeting room, the sort you might see in a spy movie. It was removed when the facility was converted into the school.)

      1. Eltonga

        Re: Is that the one..

        I'm sure the teachers really miss that secret meeting room in the basement. Did that company also have that other class of room one sees in the spy movies where they "soften" the hero? That could have been useful for the teachers too...

  17. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Huawei's pisspoor software development practices

    I wholeheartedly agree they suck.

    I'm still waiting for a public analysis of code in equipment coming from NSA's friends, though. Just curious about what's the quality level to be reached...

  18. Radio Wales

    Britains top-secret hidey-holes.

    I have worked out that 'Extremely top-secret' means in effect that we poor British people, don't know what the rest of the world is intimately acquainted with.

    If we want to know what's going on in the UK. we need to ask a foreigner. Preferably, an enemy foreigner - or an American.

  19. razorfishsl

    Who writes this crap?

    MI5 tapping into a phone mast?

    That's like plugging into a local locked and VLANED switch, when you have the option to connect directly to the orgs external data connections.

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