Malaysia's Security Concerns on Huawei 5G - An Alternative View


In January 2019, it was reported in the local media that the government is waiting for an official report from the Malaysian Communications and Multimedia Commission (MCMC) before deciding on whether to ban Huawei from building its 5G infrastructure in Malaysia. Communications and Multimedia Minister Gobind Singh Deo said the agency was looking into the security concerns surrounding the telecommunication equipment manufacturer, and was preparing a report on the issue.


Huawei is a risk, certainly — but there are other ways besides a ban to mitigate that risk. No matter who is making our 5G equipment, we need to be proactive about cybersecurity. 


Information technology products and services contain vulnerabilities—with respect to that reality, Huawei is really no different from any other technology vendor. Whether the failure to patch a known vulnerability demonstrates a deliberate attempt by Huawei to render certain devices vulnerable is impossible to know. 


No reasonable amount of system testing can prove that the system is free of defects (e.g., security vulnerabilities, software bugs). Testing offers evidence that a system meets certain requirements (e.g., produces certain outputs when given certain inputs), but it is impossible to demonstrate that the system will not also do something undesirable.  


As long as conflict occurs at the nation-state level while critical cyber networks are designed and manufactured internationally, we all must be very careful. This is a systemic problem.

In the recent weekly program Fareed Zakaria GPS on CNN, Fareed Zakaria calls on Americans not to be fooled by the ads in the United States where organisations were touting 5G with promises of speeds up to 100 times faster than the current networks, networks so fast it could spur the growth of automated factories, smart cities and driverless cars.


Referring to a new report by the Defense Innovation Board, an advisory committee to the United States Department of Defense, Fareed Zakaria said the U.S. doesn't have 5G at any sort of scale. The report said China is winning the race for 5G dominance. 


The report argues, it's primarily because of Spectrum, the airwaves that deliver data from cell towers to cell phones. Spectrum is the foundation of mobile Internet. Its frequencies determine how much data can be transferred and how fast. It's a national asset. It's in limited supply. 


As the Defense Innovation Board report notes, 5G built for such frequency would require many millions of base stations and all kinds of other infrastructure. That would take time to build as well as lots of money, $400 billion, the authors estimate. 

Today, already, China has nearly 10 times as many 5G base stations as the U.S., and it plans to launch the first widespread 5G commercial network by 2020. 

And China has already assigned air waves for 5G at a mid-level frequency to its three state telecom companies. This mid-range frequency is at the sweet spot of range and speed, requiring fewer base stations and enabling a faster, cheaper rollout of 5G. 

So if middle-frequency Spectrum would translate to a quicker rollout of 5G in the U.S., why isn't Trump announcing its auction? Because much of it is already used by the Pentagon. 

The U.S. led the world in 4G's development and rollout. In 2016, 4G added $100 billion to America's GDP. It flooded American tech companies with revenues. From 2011 to 2014, industry jobs increased by 84 percent. 


Think what 5G's economic opportunities would be.

United States has been leading the call for countries to ban Huawei altogether from their 5G networks allegedly because of concerns that its equipment could be used by Beijing for spying or sabotage.


Perhaps the United States should be reminded that the US government does not allow Lockheed Martin to share the software code for their F-35 fighter jets sold to various nations across the world despite requests from these countries who are allies of the United States. The source code is "kind of the holy grail" for this, controlling everything from weapons integration to radar to flight dynamics. The F-35 relies heavily on software for operation of radar, weapons, flight controls and also maintenance. The US military has stated that "no country involved in the development of the jets will have access to the software codes" and has indicated that all software upgrades will be done in the US. (https://www.reuters.com/article/us-lockheed-fighter-exclusive/u-s-to-withhold-f-35-fighter-software-code-idUSTRE5AO01F20091125)


The United States is pushing for the sales of the F-35 fighter jets to other nations but yet they retain sole control and possession of the source code. The nation states does not have access to the source codes. Huawei is pushing for the sales of their 5G network equipment not to nations but the various telcos in most of the nations and they shared the source code with the telcos and DID NOT retain sole possession and control of the source code. And the United States is accusing Huawei of sharing the source code with the Chinese government.


Be that as it may, no matter what equipment we use for 5G, there will always be security risks. With such an exponentially higher amount of data, there will inherently be an exponentially higher risk. And the United States continued push to take a competitor 'out of the market' could lead other companies to get complacent, which would mean innovation and development could be slowed — which presents an even more severe security risk overall. 

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