The roll out of 5G could be hacked by “terrorists and hostile states”, the head of GCHQ has warned. Allowing other forms of new technology, such as artificial intelligence and “the internet of things”, to go ahead unchecked will leave Britain vulnerable to cyber-attacks, Jeremy Fleming said.
He added that China’s lead in 5G technology could pose a security risk to the UK’s vital infrastructure.
Writing in The Sundy Times, Mr Fleming said: “We have entered a new technological age, one that will fundamentally change the way we live, work and interact with each other.
“This new digital landscape will transform lives and economies as data analysis, artificial intelligence, 5G, the internet of things, quantum computing and many other technologies still being developed permeate all areas of human endeavour.”
He said these changes will bring huge benefits to society, including the transformation of healthcare and the creation of energy efficient cities.
“But they also bring risks that, if unchecked, could make us more vulnerable to terrorists, hostile states and serious criminals,” he said.
5G is expected to be a faster and more responsive network, with much greater capacity to meet rocketing demand for mobile video.
Mr Fleming said it is “increasingly likely” that critical technology, such as 5G, will come from China. “We must ensure that processes represent industry best practice so as to avoid real risk to the UK’s CNI [critical national infrastructure],” he said.
“We need to consider early, robust and fair solutions to the global challenge of balancing investment, trade and security.”
His warning comes as mobile operators gear up for 5G battle, as the race to build the new networks gets underway.
EE is planning Britain’s first commercial trial, while its rival Three has said it will use the technology as an opportunity to be more aggressive on pricing.
EE, owned by BT, said it will test 5G signals on 10 mobile masts in East London in October in preparation for a wider deployment next year.
Smartphone manufacturers plan to make the first 5G handsets available to operators around the same time and EE will also test so-called “fixed wireless” technology to replace traditional broadband in homes and businesses.
Three is poised to sign a 5G equipment contract to begin updating its network across the country in the first half of 2019. Consumers will be offered new smartphones and fixed wireless routers in the second half of the year.
Mr Fleming said: “It is also increasingly clear that as the world becomes evermore networked, we need to work even harder with businesses, technology companies, academia and privacy groups to protect the public from real-world and online harm.
“We need honest, mature conversations about the impact that new technologies could have on society.
“This needs to happen while systems are being developed, not afterwards. And in doing so we must ensure that we protect our right to privacy and maximise the tremendous upsides inherent in the digital revolution.”
Earlier this year, it emerged that the UK spy agency was working with phone networks to patch up flaws that have left communication lines open to intrusion from hostile nation states.
Ahead of the 5G roll out, the National Cyber Security Centre (NCSC), an arm of GCHQ, said that it would work closely with companies such as BT and Vodafone to ensure that a flaw in the software used to service networks is fixed. – The Telegraph