EU to unveil 5G ‘toolbox’ to tackle security threats

While 3G made mobile internet possible and 4G allowed mobile broadband, 5G is expected to become the connectivity infrastructure that will pave the way for new product and services, such as self-driving cars or industrial robotics.

“Europe is not behind in 5G. We have not lost the race,” the director for the Future Networks Directorate of the European Commission, Pearse O’Donohue, told MEPs from the European Parliament’s security committee on Wednesday (22 January).

“Two-out-of-the-three biggest suppliers of network equipment in 5G are European, but this is no guarantee of success for the future,” O’Donohue said, pointing out that Europe holds about 50 percent of the world’s patents in this field – while China holds around 30 percent and the US only 14 percent.

However, there is still only very limited usage of the 5G spectrum in the EU, as there are grey areas in the technology – especially regarding security or privacy issues.

“This new technology is a priority for Europe due to its significant impact on economic development and European competitiveness, but it also presents security issues,” O’Donohue said.

But the scope of these security issues is extremely wide, having implications for all sectors of the economy.

EU’s 5G security ‘toolbox’

According to O’Donohue, “cybersecurity is not only a security issue, but also an internal market issue” – and, consequently, it is not only a national competence.

“Europe cannot have a safe internal market unless we have a high degree of cybersecurity so the individual citizen can have trust in his or her data that is on the internet and can be used for surveillance,” he added.

As a result, the commission is expected to present this month a so-called “toolbox” of security standards for 5G – a set of recommendations designed to help EU member states mitigate risks arising from 5G technology, such as espionage and sabotage.

“The toolbox does not target a specific country or provider, it targets all countries and providers to ensure the integrity of 5G network across Europe, hopefully, in a harmonised way among member states,” said O’Donohue, who believes that the toolbox will ensure that Europe speaks in a unified way about 5G cybersecurity.

“We will have to ensure a high level of security of all players in the global chain, either European, Chinese or American,” he added.

As a result, the cooperation with the Chinese telecom giant Huawei to set up its 5G network in Europe might be possible, despite the controversy surrounding the firm.

This new infrastructure of communications is expected to affect all sectors of society, including military operations and systems which demand higher levels of cybersecurity.

5G rollout by 2025

“We are fully aware that the digitalisation of the battlefield and connectivity required to fulfil our present and future tasks will rely on 5G technologies,” the director of communication and cyber defence at European External Action Service, Vasil Sabinski said.

More and more military systems will start to rely on commercial 5G technology solutions that are operated by no military providers, and “the increasing number of stakeholders will make cybersecurity tasks more challenging,” Sabinski warned.

“[But] failing to ensure cybersecurity in the military domain could have important political implications,” he added.

In 2018, the commission-developed EU action plan 5G aimed to have a simultaneous launch of 5G services among EU member states, starting at the end of this year, and with a full roll out in all member states by the end of 2025.

Meanwhile, the EU’s executive body is already proposing a new institutional partnership under the next long-term EU budget (called Smart Network and Services) which will be working towards 6G, while the commission works with member states and with the parliament to ensure the rollout of 5G technologies – and its security.

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