April 19, 2019

The U.S. warns the EU about 5G security issues

By Guido Lanfranchi.

With upcoming 5G networks and the “internet of things” revolution, issues of network security will be increasingly important. For this reason, the United States is pushing for a risk-based framework, which would include serious controls on the supply chain of 5G infrastructure.

“5G will be truly transformational”, as it will “really start touching all part of our lives”, including very sensitive issues such as telemedicine, autonomous transportation, and automated manufacturing. This is the basic premise laid out by Mr. Robert Strayer, Deputy Assistant Secretary for Cyber and International Communications and Information Policy at the U.S. State Department’s Bureau of Economic and Business Affairs. 

Being aware of the importance that 5G infrastructure will have on the lives of people all around the world, Mr. Strayer and his team have been engaged over the last years in a sustained diplomatic campaign targeting 5G technology and related security issues. The U.S. – Mr. Strayer underlined – is “urging countries around the world to carefully consider how they adopt a risk-based framework for security”, which should crucially include “looking at the supply chain of the vendors that would be part of their 5G infrastructure”.

Mr. Strayer focused specifically on the potential risks arising from including in the supply chain companies headquartered in countries where governments have a much larger role in influencing the companies’ strategies. For instance, in the specific case of China – he claimed – laws “allow the Chinese government to direct the actions of companies for their national interests of China”, thus potentially undermining the national security of countries employing the technologies produced by such companies.

Mr. Strayer also noted that, while the prices of products coming from China can be lower, the intrinsic vulnerabilities of these technologies are likely to drive their price up in the long run. Moreover – he noted – one should also consider that such low prices are often achieved through state subsidies, thus undermining the principle of fair competition. 

As a result, Mr. Strayer and his team will continue their negotiations with partners around the world, notably with the European Union, to pursue more coordinated policies on 5G infrastructure. Such coordination – Mr. Strayer warned – might be necessary to ensure that transatlantic cooperation in economic and security matters will continue as smoothly as in the past decades.

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