US Twitter diplomacy in its trade war with China has drowned out critical dialogue on the technology that is about to run our lives – 5G. A report by Oxford Information Labs brings new evidence of how other countries are dealing with the 5G Huawei controversy.
The US risks alienating allies including the essential Five Eyes partnership, by threatening to limit intelligence-sharing with those who use Huawei. The US approach could worsen cybersecurity in the name of national security and fails to acknowledge that many countries (including Five Eyes partners) already use Huawei in their 4G networks, making an outright ban unfeasible.
The report notes that US has further undermined its position by flip-flopping on its Huawei ban after declaring a ‘national emergency’ – heightening concerns that the US position is influenced more by the ongoing US-China trade war than it is by genuine national security issues.
The Trump administration’s sound and fury is drowning out serious cybersecurity concerns. ‘The new superfast mobile broadband, 5G, will massively increase the cybersecurity threat landscape. There will be at least 20 times more infrastructure and untold numbers of connected ‘things’ with terrible cybersecurity protections,’ explains Emily Taylor, CEO of Oxford Information Labs, one of the report authors.
‘There have always been concerns and rumours about Huawei’s relationship with the Chinese government. The US is hinting that it knows more than it can say publicly but so far, no convincing evidence has come to light of the two being in league. Meanwhile, serious and systemic risks arising from the low quality of Huawei’s products and code are getting little or no attention,’ adds Taylor.
Away from the loud-hailer of the US administration, other countries are taking more thoughtful, less dramatic steps. These include adopting security assessments, promoting vendor diversity, creating new alliances between like-minded countries, or ensuring that governments have a larger say in 5G procurement.
The Oxford Information Labs report sheds light on China’s national strategy to become a global technological superpower. Perversely, the US ban may hasten China’s achievement of those ambitions, by driving it to become self-sufficient in key components – replacing the Android operating system with Huawei’s Harmony OS, and ARM chips with home-grown alternatives.
How do we harness the benefits of 5G without compromising national security or global markets and avoid diplomatic tussles?
‘A line is emerging between periphery ‘equipment’ and the hardware and software of 5G networks. Such an approach allows for early adoption of 5G while excluding unfavourable providers from more sensitive parts of the network like data centres and software code’, says report author Stacie Hoffmann.
Oxford Information Labs’ research highlights real cybersecurity and geopolitical risks arising from the roll-out of 5G. Unfortunately, these are not the ones grabbing the headlines. For countries to benefit from this exciting new technology while limiting cyber risks and encouraging competition, a more thoughtful, evidence-based approach is necessary.
5G EXPLAINER ANIMATION is available on Oxford Information Labs’ Youtube Channel, with a creative commons licence to distribute with attribution.
About Oxford Information Labs:
Oxford Information Labs (Est. 2002) is a cyber intelligence company focusing on analysis and monitoring of global policy issues and threats arising from the Internet, and on delivering technical cyber security solutions, including website protection, domain name protection, network hardening, PEN stress testing, certification and training.
About the report authors:
Emily Taylor is CEO of Oxford Information Labs. She is an Associate Fellow of Chatham House and is Editor of the Journal of Cyber Policy. She is a founder of ICANN accredited registrar, Netistrar. Her research interests include 5G, Internet governance, disinformation and social media platforms, privacy and linguistic diversity online. A lawyer by training, Emily has worked in the Internet sector for nearly 20 years. Emily has written for the Guardian, Wired, Ars Technica, the New Statesman and the Slate. She is a regular commentator on technology issues in news and broadcast media including the BBC and Sky News.
Emily’s page: https://oxil.uk/emily-taylor/
Latest TV & Media: https://oxil.uk/media/
Stacie Hoffmann is an internet governance and cyber security expert at Oxford Information Labs. Stacie works with industry, policymakers and governments around the world to address a range of issues, from technical standards to policy development. In addition to researching, writing and engagement, Stacie provides expert comments to the media, publishes articles, and chairs panels. She has been featured by podcasts and broadcast news including regional and national BBC radio.
Stacie’s page: https://oxil.uk/stacie-hoffmann/
Samantha Bradshaw is a leading expert on technology and democracy. Samantha’s research is at the forefront of theoretical and methodological approaches for studying, the complex relationship between social media and democracy, particularly the impact of technology on political expression and privacy. Her work has been featured by numerous media outlets, including the Washington Post, CNN, Bloomberg, and the Financial Times. Samantha is completing her PhD at Oxford University.
Media team: firstname.lastname@example.org
Emily Taylor: 07540 049322
Stacie Hoffman: 07399 595757
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