BARCELONA (reuters) – The security of the next generation 5G networks has dominated this year’s Mobile World Congress in Barcelona, with conflicting views on the risks of moving to the new technology being discussed on the stage and in the backroom meetings.
A visitor uses a mobile phone next to a 5G-mark at the Mobile World Congress in Barcelona, Spain February 26, 2019. REUTERS/Rafael Marchante
5G promises super-fast connections that evangelists say will change the way we live our lives, making everything from self-driving cars to augmented-reality goggles and downloading a feature-length movie on your phone in seconds.
But there are also concerns about security, some of which have led to a drive by the United States and others to remove Chinese-made equipment from Western networks.
The questions can be divided into three major areas:
If 5G becomes embedded in everything, from hospitals to transport systems and power plants, it will quickly become a part of every country’s critical national infrastructure.
This makes the consequences of the networks fail or deliberately sabotaged in a cyber attack is considerably more serious.
“What makes people concerned is that you are not going to use 5G only for smartphones and consumers, close to, over time, infrastructure that is the core of our society,” said Thomas Noren, head of 5G commercialization and business area networks at the equipment maker Ericsson.
Ericsson, Huawei and Nokia are the world’s largest suppliers of telecommunications equipment.
If 5G makes high-speed internet is increasingly available, the number of devices in the network will increase dramatically.
These include traditional mobile and broadband connections, but also internet-enabled devices of the dishwasher to the advanced medical equipment. Trade association GSMA forecasts the number of internet devices will triple to 25 billion euro in 2025.
The larger the network, the more opportunities there are for hackers to attack, which means that there is a more complex system with parts that need to be protected.
“Once you have complexity on a larger system, regardless of what it is, the complexity itself is a security issue,” said Gee Rittenhouse, senior vice president for security at the network gear-maker Cisco.
“You don’t have a coherent vision by means of the system, and when you don’t have that coherent picture, there are gaps, and the opponents… to take advantage of this gap, that open security holes.”
One of the 5G’s biggest changes is the ability to use the advanced computing power usually kept in the protected “core” of a network to spread to other parts of the system.
This will allow for a more reliable high-speed connections, and it also means that future technologies such as augmented-reality glasses is not needed built-in computing power, because they can draw from the network.
But it also means that engineers are not able to clearly separate the sensitive and the less restricted parts of the system.
“It is a fundamental change in the architecture of the network,” Nokia CEO Rajeev Suri told Reuters.
The United States and others have warned that this means equipment made by Chinese companies such as Huawei Technologies, which Washington has accused of spying for Beijing, has access to protected information.
Huawei denies the allegations.
Additional reporting by Douglas Busvine; Editing by Georgina Prodhan and Jane Merriman