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UK launches 5G security inquiry

The Joint Committee on the National Security Strategy is to probe the UK government’s approach to telecoms technology as a national security issue

The Joint Committee on the National Security Strategy (JCNSS) is to conduct an inquiry exploring Westminster’s approach to “sustaining access to ‘safe’ telecoms technology” as a national security issue, focusing in particular on the UK’s 5G mobile network infrastructure and, by extension, the use of Huawei equipment in said networks.

On the same day that Norman Lamb of the Science and Technology Select Committee of MPs told culture secretary Jeremy Wright that there were “no technical grounds” to exclude Huawei entirely from the UK’s 5G networks, the JCNSS said it would explore a number of questions about the role foreign telecoms suppliers play in the country’s critical national infrastructure.

The committee noted the government’s 2015 National Security Strategy and Strategic Defence and Security Review (SDSR), which emphasised the need to seize opportunities, harness innovation and work with industry to ensure the UK has the capabilities and equipment it needs, under its Promote our Prosperity objective. The strategy blueprint also highlighted the role of technology as one of four main challenges that will likely drive the UK’s national security posture in the next few years.

“We are standing on the brink of a technological revolution. The next generation of telecoms infrastructure will change our world in ways which we can’t yet foresee. Energy, transport, health, education – changing the underlying infrastructure will impact on the ways we interact and use these services and has the potential to revolutionise the UK’s economy,” said JCNSS chair Margaret Beckett.

“It is absolutely vital that we get this right. The foundations of this work must be secure. Yet the government has found itself in a situation where it has just three viable options for suppliers of key equipment for the UK’s 5G infrastructure.

“One of the questions for this inquiry is how government can build a secure future for all of us which does not rely too closely on individual providers. As the government’s SDSR spells out, seizing opportunities and harnessing innovation across industry is essential to building robust frameworks for the change ahead. We can’t put all our eggs in one or two baskets – a resilient and secure network means spreading the risk across strong and solid foundations,” she said.

The committee is seeking written evidence on a number of areas, to be submitted by 13 September 2019. These include the challenges facing the UK telecoms industry in a global market; the opportunities and risks of UK telcos buying hardware and services from overseas; the effectiveness of government support to the industry and sector innovation, covering the scope and implication of key documents, including the National Security Strategy and the 2017 Industrial Strategy; the potential role of regulation and legislation; the roles and responsibilities of the National Security Council and other government bodies; and the extent to which relevant policy-making draws on cross-government science, technology and cyber security expertise.

The committee also proposes to examine how the UK’s approach to 5G security compares to that of its closest partners and allies, such as France and Germany, and the Anglophone Five Eyes allies, as well as the potential for cross-border collaboration with like-minded countries and organisations to sustain the telecoms sector.

Besides Beckett, the JCNSS is composed of both MPs and peers, including Labour’s Yvette Cooper, the Conservatives’ Dominic Grieve and Tom Tugendhat, and from the Lords, former Liberal Democrat leader Menzies Campbell, and Martha Lane-Fox.

Read more about 5G security

  • Cabinet Office uses NCSC conference to lay out government’s approach to the security of 5G networks, as controversy grows around using equipment from Chinese supplier Huawei.
  • DDoS attacks top the list of primary security concerns for mobile operators now that 5G wireless is advancing as the number of connected devices grows.
  • With 5G technology expected to move more data and processing to the network edge, some experts have called for the need to address the security risks when planning 5G networks.

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