Fifth Generation Wireless Technology (5G)
Wireless networks are the modern infrastructure upon which the global, data-driven economy is built. The global telecommunications sector is undergoing a transition from fourth generation wireless technology (4G) to fifth generation (5G) that will drive future economic growth. In Canada, this means Canadian telecommunications service providers will invest approximately $26 billion in Canadian networks by 2026. 5G wireless technology is expected to directly and indirectly contribute as much as $40 billion annually to Canada’s economy within the same timeframe.
5G networks will become a crucial component of Canada’s critical infrastructure over the next few years. They will operate at significantly higher speeds and provide greater versatility, capability, and complexity than previous generations. This will make 5G networks the foundation upon which an increasing number of devices will connect to the internet and to each other. The high level of interconnectivity and complexity in 5G networks means that an exploitation of vulnerabilities by malicious actors will be more difficult to safeguard against, and that incidents will have a broader impact than in previous generations of wireless technology.
Canada’s current approach to the security of its telecommunications networks is through the Security Review Program conducted by the Communications Security Establishment (CSE). This voluntary and collaborative program has been in place since 2013, and has helped mitigate risks stemming from equipment and services under consideration for use in Canadian 3G/4G/LTE telecommunications networks, including Huawei. To date, this program has led to the exclusion of particular equipment in sensitive areas of Canadian networks; mandatory assurance testing in independent third-party laboratories for certain equipment before use in less sensitive areas of Canadian networks; and, restricting outsourced managed services across government networks and other Canadian critical networks.
In late 2018, Public Safety began coordinating, through a working group, an intragovernmental examination of the economic opportunities and security risks associated with 5G technology. This group, comprised of Public Safety, CSE, Global Affairs Canada, National Defence, Innovation, Science, and Economic Development, the Canadian Security Intelligence Service, and the Privy Council Office, is preparing options based on the examination that will help safeguard Canada’s wireless telecommunications networks.
Canada’s Five Eyes partners have all made public announcements on how they plan to protect 5G wireless telecommunications networks. [Redacted]
The United States (US) added Huawei to its Entity List on May 15, 2019, thereby indicating that Huawei is seen as a threat to national security. Although this prevents US companies from doing business with Huawei, a Temporary General License was issued, delaying the implementation of the Entity List and allowing US companies to work with Huawei for 90 days. A second 90 day License was granted on August 19, 2019.
On July 22, 2019, the United Kingdom (UK) released a risk mitigation framework that addresses security challenges posed by vendors. While the specifics of the UK approach have yet to be decided, the UK’s Digital Secretary announced that a decision on Huawei’s involvement in their 5G networks will be made sometime this autumn.
Australia has fully restricted any vendor who may be subject to extrajudicial directions from a foreign government that conflict with Australian law from its 5G telecommunications networks.
New Zealand is able to restrict the use of equipment and services in 5G telecommunications networks through a case-by-case review of the national security risks of proposed deployments by Telecommunications Services Providers. They are required to notify the Government Communications Security Bureau of proposed decisions, courses of action, or network changes for security review purposes.
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