Huawei, 5G, and China as a Security Threat

Concerns about the Chinese technology giant Huawei as the potential supplier of 5G technology for next generation wireless networks have generated lively debate among cybersecurity community. This paper discusses the strategic and legal issues raised by potential reliance on Chinese technology in the rollout of 5G, explores the national responses, and offers recommendations for a balanced approach.

The paper Huawei, 5G, and China as a Security Threat written by Kadri Kaska, Henrik Beckvard and Tomáš Minárik, researchers at the CCDCOE, recognises that it is rational to require the highest possible security assurance from 5G technology used for critical communication. The pursuit for technological innovation is accompanied by concerns about cybersecurity with implications to a broader national security context. Possible loss or interruption of availability, integrity or confidentiality in critical networks could have a significant adverse effect on society.

Many countries have expressed their concerns about the potential consequences of ties between Chinese communications technology companies and its intelligence services, reinforced by China’s political and legal environment requiring cooperation with intelligence agencies. Accordingly, 5G rollout needs to be recognised as a strategic rather than merely a technological choice.

The authors claim that viable alternatives to Huawei technology are necessary to preserve flexibility of choice and to prevent being trapped with one supplier without a way out. Solid accountability, transparency, and risk mitigation mechanisms are the essential minimum in order to benefit from the socioeconomic benefit of 5G without jeopardising national security. To this end, R&D investment and strengthening regional industry are not purely issues of global competitiveness, but should also be considered – and more importantly, pursued – for their security dimension.

The publication is a product of the NATO Cooperative Cyber Defence Centre of Excellence. The CCDCOE does not speak on behalf of NATO and the research done in the Centre does not necessarily reflect the policy or the opinion of NATO or the CCDCOE.

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