Just when you thought technology couldn’t move any faster, it was revealed recently that the UK’s 5G network will be rolled out during 2019.
You know that 4G? Yeah, that’s well old, mate.
But you might have heard about some controversy in its development, after it was confirmed that Huawei, a Chinese telecoms firm, will supply some of the equipment for the new super-fast network.
What’s the problem with that, you may be thinking. Well, it turns out that Huawei aren’t exactly the flavour of the month with various people and organisations around the globe.
You may know them as a producer of smartphone handsets, but this is a major international corporation that the US have named as a security risk due to the way they handle data – they have barely stopped short in the past of accusing the Chinese government of spying on them via Huawei’s technology.
Donald Trump’s colleagues have even started legal proceedings against the firm, claiming that it has engaged in ‘systemic intellectual property theft and fraud’.
Australia have also banned Huawei and another Chinese brand, ZTE, from being involved in their own 5G plans.
Is the Fear of Huawei Justified?
Basically, the concern from security experts is that China could unleash cyber-attacks on a country in which Huawei is present using the proprietary platforms that they have built.
Much of the UK’s infrastructure, from nuclear power to automated transport systems, will be powered by the 5G network, and so allowing any firm a key hand in its development could be considered something of a security risk.
Theresa May has rejected that notion, and after meeting with the National Security Council – of which she is the chairwoman – it was agreed that Huawei would have ‘limited access’ to parts of the infrastructure build, predominantly in a ‘non-core’ setting.
The Chinese firm has thanked the UK for their support, while hitting back at the US and Australia, stating that it was being ‘targeted by a sustained campaign of ill-informed accusations that its involvement in 5G infrastructure somehow poses a threat.’ They also denied that they would compromise the national security of their clients by acting on orders from the Chinese government.
The UK, US and Australia form a strategic pact along with New Zealand and Canada called the ‘Five Eyes’ alliance (no, I’m not making this up). New Zealand has also suspended activities with Huawei until it has investigated further, so right now the UK is taking very much a lonely stance on the matter in hand.
And that could have further implications to our ‘special relationship’ with the US in particular. Robert Strayer, a US State Department Ambassador and cyber-security expert, told the BBC: “It would be very difficult for the United States to share information the way that we have in the past if we are having to rely on unsecure networks.
“As Mike Pompeo has said – if the risk exceeds the threshold for the United States, we simply won’t be able to share that information any longer.”
Is 5G an Opportunity or a Threat?
The 5G network will power the revolution in ‘Internet of Things (IoT)’ based products, which use web connectivity to power them. Think about ‘smart’ products such as thermostat apps like Hive, video doorbell security and many features of modern cars, as well as essential tech such as street lights and traffic cameras; all of these will be made better by 5G.
The problem is that the security surrounding such devices isn’t great, particularly in the infant stage of 5G, and that could leave property and vehicle owners at risk of hacking. The excellently-named Cody Brocious, an education lead at cyber security firm HackerOne, told the BBC: “Security around IoT devices hasn’t been very good, so if they’re opened up to better connectivity they’re opened up to more hackers, too
“Not enough is being done to improve their security, and it’s only going to get worse when they become 5G-connected. We’ll see increases in spam and cyber-attacks.”
To make matters worse, it is expected that much of the UK’s key infrastructure, from security and logistics to many operations in the workplace, will cross over to IoT style, 5G dependent tech in the near future. It has been estimated that there could be as many as 25 billion connections by the year 2025.
And as Steve Buck, CEO at telecoms security firm Evolved Intelligence, says: “5G will power critical infrastructure, so a cyber-attack could stop the country.”
It seems that the dangers are already being acted upon too. The internet security firm Sophos Labs has reported a network of ‘denial-of-service bots’, a form of malware that has infected insecure IoT devices. Together these create a botnet unit, which are then used to bombard websites and shut them down – the hacker is then able to request a ransom payment to prevent further attacks from happening.
Modern technology, eh? It’s brilliant, but also has a lot to answer for.