National security agencies warn of 5G network vulnerabilities and adversary influence

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WASHINGTON – A group of prominent U.S. national security agencies warned in a report Monday that the influence of opposing nations over 5G standards is a major threat to securing advanced communications networks of the future.

Standards bodies for 5G technology are vulnerable to “undue influence” from opposing countries that want to strengthen proprietary technologies and limit future interoperability with other technologies, the report from the National Security Agency, Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency of the Department of Homeland Security and the Office of the Director of National Intelligence. The report does not name China, but the United States’ main technology competitor has inundated international standards watchdogs with recommendations, according to reports.

The Pentagon is spending hundreds of millions of dollars at military bases across the country on 5G experiments, such as smart warehouses and advanced radars. The strongest and fastest networks will be able to handle many more connected devices.

Standards bodies, such as the Internet Engineering Working Group and the International Telecommunication Union, establish technical standards and security controls that would impact the design and architecture of emerging technologies, including autonomous vehicles and advanced computing, technologies the military needs for future wars.

“Given the impact of these decisions on the implementation and adoption of 5G technologies, it is essential that international standards and policies are open, transparent and consensus-driven,” the report says.

The report describes a range of other threats to fifth generation communications networks, including supply chain risks for 5G equipment and insecure network architectures, as 5G networks begin to become operational.

“These developments also present significant risks that threaten national security, economic security and have an impact on other national and global interests. Given these threats, 5G networks will be an attractive target for criminals and foreign adversaries to exploit to gain valuable information and intelligence, ”the report said.

The report also indicates that nation states could try to quickly embrace emerging technologies to become dominant in 5G, potentially forcing U.S. companies to use unapproved vendors in their networks.

The report added: “Undue influence by nation states on industry-specific or emerging technology standards can negatively affect the competitive equilibrium in the 5G market, potentially limiting the availability of trusted vendors and leading to a situation where untrustworthy suppliers are the only options. “

China is trying to shape the standards in its favor by submitting massive amounts of proposed technical standards to governing bodies, causing many to be adopted, according to Nikkei, a Japan-based financial news organization. The U.S. government is gravely concerned about products manufactured by Huawei, a China-based telecommunications company and the world leader in 5G equipment, because of its ties to the Chinese government. The federal government has banned US companies from doing business with Huawei.

The United States is particularly concerned about the hardware supplied by Huawei, and the report cited unreliable components as a specific risk in the 5G supply chain. These components could contain malicious code or backdoors allowing a hostile actor to gain access to US or allied networks and steal data.

“Flaws or malware inserted early in development are more difficult to detect and could lead the developer to mark the component as legitimate through digital signatures or other approvals,” the report said. “These vulnerabilities could then be exploited by malicious actors.”



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