5G: How is cybersecurity an issue?

How does 5G impact security?

During Les Assises de la Sécurité et des Systèmes d’Information held in Monaco in October, this conference provided an update on the "5G technological soap opera" that has been going on for over a year, with Donald Trump exacerbating tensions around this technological phase in the trade war pitting the US President against China. In this context, what security concerns could businesses have? How can Europe position itself?

In what global context will 5G arrive?

5G is bringing cyber security tensions between nations to the fore. The commercial and diplomatic conflict, brought to the public’s awareness through news involving Chinese giant Huawei, is now having a global impact. Previously, this war involved only sector specialists.

The Chinese and American governments’ intentions are unclear: is the trade war merely a smokescreen? Donald Trump follows in the footsteps of his predecessor Barack Obama, who launched hostilities with the Chinese operator ZTE affair.

The Americans want to protect their leadership position, while China builds "Made in China 2025"

Huawei has significantly increased the quality of Internet technology, a move that causes the Americans to fear losing their edge. However, the conference speakers believe this fear to be misplaced, because America is still in the lead. At the same time, China has made Huawei its spearhead in promoting the "Made in China 2025” program, of which 5G is a part.

The Chinese are using military methods in this technological race, sending Party emissaries to companies to check their ideological orthodoxy. The magnitude of the conflict is such that the power struggle has great chances of continuing even if Donald Trump is not re-elected.

Europe and France's shrinking position on the global internet stage

In this technological chess match, Europe serves as a trophy, a market to be conquered and protected. Currently, European consumers belong to the Americans, who exercise true digital control. Despite this, the Americans continue to threaten European Union and NATO member countries, seeking to blackmail them with cutting off intelligence information between nations.

Germany, the United Kingdom and France are concerned. This can generate divisions within national institutions, as was the case in England. On its part, China is flooding the market with patents to win the computer hardware standards war. And yet another obstacle, and not the least: China supplies most of the raw materials needed to manufacture the tablets and smartphones we use to surf the web.

And all this time, Europe sits on its hands. Only in mid-October did the vice-president of the European Commission in charge of competition and technological affairs—with 5G at the top of the list—Margrethe Vestager, open the issue for Europe.

Despite everything, the establishment of 5G raises questions about the technology itself, renewing cyber security problems for business professionals.

5G: a new opportunity to consider cyber security in companies

In French companies, CISOs (chief information system officers) get it: while 5G allows faster speeds and greater security, it also raises questions about network operation in companies. First, installing 5G will mean having to migrate clouds.

With 4G, clouds are secure on data centres known to professionals. In 5G, the cloud is dispersed. Second, small companies will have to switch from a controlled local intranet network, limited to a few devices, PC or smartphones, to a remote one.

How can a satisfactory level of security be maintained? CISOs are seeing their roadmap grow. One encouraging element discussed during the round table: this is the first time that security and cyber risks are being considered right from the establishment of the process. Until now, Internet marched on without considering cybersecurity.

This is a considerable and reassuring nuance: if the company is not of vital importance or an essential service, company network cyber security can be effectively managed by seasoned operators. The issues of sovereignty might be lower if these cloud and network aspects are under control.

A new use and philosophical issues

Unlike previous generations, 5G is designed more for business and less for individuals. This is where the modification of the cloud and companies’ local networks comes in. Routers make way for VLANs. Individuals won’t necessarily have much to gain with the arrival of 5G. Furthermore, French incumbent operators are not racing to acquire fixed lines since they are all already operators in this area, unlike operators elsewhere around the world.

On the other hand, though they won’t admit it, French operators are awaiting 5G, which promises of “differentiated network corridors”. With 4G, if law enforcement needs networks, for example, connections are partially taken away from individuals for a time. 5G could create spaces for extraordinary emergency situations (attacks, disasters, etc.).

Operators dream of these corridors in daily life, since they would let them propose a number of offers to their customers and expand their price ranges. But there is still one stage before this possible cultural change occurs: the standards war for devices, which are the real sources of rivalry between nations.

Speakers: An anonymous hacker; Julien Nocetti, researcher at IFRI; Teodor Chabin, CISO, Thales.
Moderator: Florence Puybareau, Content Director, DG Consultants.