PRAGUE – Global cooperation is key to ensuring the security of 5G networks, cyber security officials said on Thursday at a meeting in Prague aimed at hammering out how to combat threats as nations begin rolling out next-generation telecoms equipment.
The United States has been seeking to limit the role of Chinese telecom equipment makers such as Huawei Technologies in building 5G networks due to fears they could be used by Beijing for spying. Huawei has denied the allegations.
Officials say they hope to conclude the meeting — attended by representatives from 30 European Union, NATO and countries such as the United States, Germany, Japan and Australia — with an outline of practices that could form a basis for a coordinated approach to shared security and policy measures.
Russia, China and Huawei were not invited, although a number of participants said no single company or country was being singled out.
“It is an attempt to widen the discussion to a platform that should involve the entire Western civilization,” said one diplomatic source, adding that a non-binding summary by the chair to be issued on Friday was expected to provide principles for further discussions.
Conclusions from the conference would be informal as some participating countries were not ready to sign any documents in Prague because they had not concluded debates about the issue at home, another diplomatic source said.
A draft document seen by Reuters showed participants were discussing setting up certain security conditions for vendors that Chinese providers could find difficult to meet.
“Risk assessments of supplier’s products should take into account all relevant factors, including applicable legal environment and other aspects of a supplier’s ecosystem,” the draft said.
Huawei said it hoped the gathering would lead to a push for a more scientific and “unemotive” way of approaching technology.
“We fully support international standards, international verification that is based on facts and evidence,” Huawei Senior Vice President and Global Cyber Security & Privacy Officer John Suffolk told reporters.
The security issue is crucial because of 5G’s leading role in internet-connected products ranging from self-driving cars and smart cities to augmented reality and artificial intelligence. If underlying technology for 5G connectivity is vulnerable, it could allow hackers to exploit such products to spy or disrupt them.
Europe — where Austria, Belgium, Czech Republic, France, Germany, Greece, Hungary, Ireland, the Netherlands, Lithuania and Portugal are all preparing to auction 5G licences this year — has emerged as a key battle over Huawei’s next-generation technology.
Timo Koster, the Dutch government’s top diplomatic official for cybersecurity, said any global measures should be in line with European Commission requirements issued in March to share data on 5G cybersecurity risks.
“We need to find a balance between national security on the one hand and economic interests that we have on the other hand,” Koster said.