Sep 5, 2019

Ex-FCC head: Huawei fears obscure broader threats to 5G security

The Huawei logo on a phone.

Photo illustration: Rafael Henrique/SOPA Images/LightRocket via Getty Images

There's important work to be done in securing 5G, the next generation of wireless service, former Federal Communications Commission chair Tom Wheeler told Axios. And not all of it stems from China's most controversial telecommunications equipment company.

What they're saying: "All the attention that’s being paid to Huawei, all of the furor, all of the upheaval, has masked the broader issue of the new set of threats that 5G presents," Wheeler said.

The big picture: The decentralized nature of 5G, the wide influx of new telecom equipment and the weak security of the many new devices 5G will connect to the internet create major new security challenges that need to be addressed.

Wheeler writes about those challenges and potential solutions in a Brookings Institute report out this week.

  • The administration and Congress have largely focused on Huawei, which is accused by the U.S. government of sabotaging its equipment to aid China in espionage.
  • While Wheeler acknowledges Huawei is a threat, he worries that the rush to bring 5G products to market will introduce additional security problems lawmakers aren't addressing.

The bottom line: Wheeler says all connected products need security standards that change at the speed of technology, rather than the speed of Congress. "You cannot import a radio frequency device unless it meets established standards. The same should be true of 5G devices," Wheeler said.

  • Regulators, he believes, should be able to hold wireless companies to an industry defined set of standards for 5G security. Otherwise, he worries, proactively handling security issues puts providers at a cost disadvantage.

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