Author(s): Raghu Gopal
Last week, representatives from more than 30 countries attended the Prague 5G Security Conference, an event hosted by the Czech government. The event sought to establish a foundation of trust between telecom chiefs as well as representatives from the European Union, NATO and industry.
The motivation behind the conference was the potential vulnerabilities that countries could be exposed to if 5G networks turn out to be "dirty" or otherwise susceptible to unauthorized access. Given the goal to build 5G into a big part of an economy's infrastructure, the networks could expose an unprecedented amount of information.
Discussions at the event centered on the importance of national security, economic and commercial aspects that must be part of a country's evaluation of suppliers of 5G infrastructure. Attendees also talked about the important considerations in 5G network architecture to include the security of supply chains for telecommunication networks and infrastructure and the risks that stem from providers being vulnerable to external influences.
The Prague event was held in the wake of US officials raising serious concerns about the security of 5G hardware from Chinese infrastructure suppliers Huawei and ZTE, which has led the US to ban its government agencies from buying equipment from Huawei. The US is also lobbying its allies to follow in its footsteps; already, Australia, New Zealand and Japan have also effectively banned Huawei from mobile infrastructure contracts.
US regulators point to concerns that the Chinese government could exploit the complex telecommunication equipment to gather data, spy on communication and get access to critical infrastructure if allowed to develop 5G networks. These allegations have been strenuously denied. The US government adamantly opposes the use of Huawei equipment because the manufacturer is obligated under Chinese law to help Beijing gather intelligence or provide other security services.
In Europe, 5G security has become a contentious topic, with inconsistencies across countries in the region in their approach to handling the use of Chinese-made equipment. Although Britain and Germany appear ready to allow Huawei equipment at least in the radio part of upcoming 5G networks, other European countries including the Czech Republic seem to be taking a tougher stance.
Officials attending the conference called for a cooperative approach to security, saying they didn't want to target specific countries or companies. However, the absence of Chinese officials from the event puts this into question. However, no formal binding actions were put forward, as 5G security discussions and networks are still in the nascent state of discussions around the globe. The event proposed a broad framework that will serve as a road map for countries to follow, setting out guidelines on policy, technology, economy and security, privacy and resilience. All in all, vague stances.