Former DHS officials want to build 5G without Huawei

Nagging concerns about Huawei's cyber threat to emerging 5G infrastructure, prompts former DHS officials to advocate standardized, open-source-based development of wireless gear.

wireless networks
 

Three former top Department of Homeland Security officials urged foreign allies take a standardized, slower approach to 5G networks instead of adopting low-cost, available technology from Chinese manufacturer Huawei.

In a Sept. 24 teleconference with reporters, former DHS Secretary Tom Ridge, Nate Snyder, a former DHS senior counterterrorism official in the Obama Administration, and Chris Cummiskey, former DHS undersecretary for management, voiced their growing concerns about a 5G supply chain based on Huawei, China's 5G equipment provider.

Global Cyber Policy Watch, a policy shop operated by Cambridge Global Advisors, convened the call ahead of a coming European Union 5G cybersecurity policy update. Ridge, Snyder and Cummiskey, all members of the Global Cyber Policy Watch advisory board, warned that Huawei's grip on 5G gear poses a threat to telecommunications infrastructure.

All three advocated for more money from the federal government and private industry to develop 5G hardware and software and a more standardized, open source-based approach to 5G technology.

Last May, The Commerce Department banned the company from buying parts and components from U.S. companies.

"Huawei is state-owned and state controlled," said Ridge. "China's economic espionage and backing the 2015 hack of the U.S. Office of Personnel Management show the Chinese government has no qualms about stealing critical U.S. data through nefarious sources."

Ridge, Snyder, and Cummiskey pointed to international 5G standardization efforts such as those being developed by the Open Radio Access Network (O-RAN) Alliance. That effort looks to allow network providers to mix 5G radio base station hardware and software from a number of different suppliers.

All global 5G providers, except Huawei, are part of O-RAN, according to Snyder. The alliance backs open access standards for 5G equipment and software that will allow smaller providers to build 5G equipment and software, breaking up proprietary systems.

The slower, open standard approach will benefit federal networks as well as those on the commercial side, according to Cummiskey, who runs his own consultancy and is a senior fellow at the George Washington University's Center for Cyber and Homeland Security.

"The convergence of cloud, data center consolidation and mobility [provides] "a lot of opportunity for problems" to develop in federal networks as 5G technology moves ahead, Cummiskey said.

The national strategy to take a slower approach, he said, "is a good first move to give the U.S. time" to get more federal and private investment in 5G technology. Funding through the Defense Department and national laboratories to develop 5G technologies can help too, he said.

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