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5G development opens UK up to security risks

The Defence Committee has warned that the development of 5G will increase our dependency on mobile connectivity, opening the UK up to security risks such as espionage, sabotage or system failure.

The committee’s new report, The Security of 5G, makes a number of recommendations on working with allies, developing a better response to vulnerabilities in our existing and new systems, as well as the risks of working with Huawei.

The inquiry found that there is clear evidence of collusion between Huawei and the Chinese state, which supports the decision to remove them from the UK’s networks. MPs argue that the designation of Huawei as a high-risk vendor by the government is appropriate and completely justified with the correct steps being taken to remove them from the UK’s 5G. In the meantime, however, the committee is content that Huawei has been, and continues to be, sufficiently distanced from sensitive defence and national security sites.

Nonetheless, the committee supports the government’s goal of removing Huawei from the UK’s 5G networks by 2027. However, the committee note that developments could necessitate this date being moved forward, potentially to 2025 which could be considered economically feasible.

On the former two recommendations, the committee warned that there is currently a lack of global rules regulating international cyber attacks and the government should be working with allies to formulate a system to provide accountability for perpetrators, saying that current work alongside the Five Eyes should be reassessed and look to form a D10 alliance, consisting of ten of the world’s largest democracies, in order to provide alternatives to Chinese technology and to combat the technological dominance of authoritarian states.

Tobias Ellwood, chair of the Defence Committee, said: "Protecting the public and preserving our nation’s security are amongst the principle responsibilities of government. The decision to embed a technology that compromises this would constitute a gross dereliction of these duties.

“The West must urgently unite to advance a counterweight to China’s tech dominance. As every aspect of our lives becomes increasingly reliant on access to data movement we must develop a feasible, practical and cost-effective alternative to the cheap, high-tech solutions which can be preyed upon and which come stooped with conditions which ensnare a state into long-term allegiance to China.

“We must not surrender our national security for the sake of short-term technological development. This is a false and wholly unnecessary trade off. A new D10 alliance, that unites the world’s ten strongest democracies, would provide a viable alternative foundation to the technological might of authoritarian states, whose true motives are, at times, murky. Democracies the world over are waking up to the dangers of new technology from overseas, that could inadvertently provide hostile states access to sensitive information through the backdoor.

“The government’s decision earlier this year was a step in the right direction. However, current regulations are porous,  and legislation lacks teeth, continuing to allow telecoms companies to prioritise profit over the public and the nations’ security. Thankfully, Huawei, and the risks that foreign technology pose to our national security, have garnered much-needed and long-overdue attention in recent months. The government must ensure that legislation is airtight, leaving no room for companies to slip through the cracks. Enacting the Telecoms Security Bill by the end of this year is imperative, as this will bring regulations up to date."

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