Prague conference seeks to find consensus on approaching 5G cyber threats

Tomáš Petříček, photo: ČTK/Vít Šimánek

Leading experts on cybersecurity from 32 countries are meeting in Prague at the 5G Security Conference held under the auspices of Prime Minister Andrej Babiš. It is hoped that the meeting can produce a series of consensual recommendations on how to approach future cyber threats emerging from the 5G network.

Andrej Babiš,  photo: ČTK/Vít Šimánek
“Over the past several years we have seen a big growth in communication technologies and systems. This trend will continue with the fifth generation of networks known as 5G. It will fundamentally transform the way we communicate and live.”

Launching the government’s Prague 5G Security Conference on Thursday, Andrej Babiš emphasised the revolutionary nature of 5G.

The packet of new systems promises a vast expansion to the capabilities of wireless devices, expanding bandwidth from todays 10 or 20 megabytes per second to up to 20 gigabytes.

This potential is expected to bring about major changes not just in the use of technologies such as self-driving cars and home appliances, but also in governance.

But experts and intelligence agencies have been warning for years of the security risks involved in adopting the new network technology.

Particularly noticeable have been the ongoing efforts of the United States to persuade their allies not to involve Chinese companies in their 5G infrastructure for fear their technology could be used for spying.

Yet, while Australia and New Zealand have already announced they will avoid Huawei products in their 5G infrastructure development, Britain and Germany have signalled the opposite.

Building a path towards consensus in 5G security is therefore one of the main reasons why the Czech prime minister decided to hold the two-day conference.

It is hoped that the Prague meeting of over 150 experts and representatives from the Western world can produce an agreement on recommendations that will be used when discussing the future approaches within the EU, NATO and UN.

However, Czech leaders are also split on the issue.

Tomáš Petříček,  photo: ČTK/Vít Šimánek
Mr. Babiš’s government has listened to the warning of the country’s National Cyber and Information Security Agency regarding the use of Huawei technologies in critical infrastructure and commissioned a cyber-security audit.

But Czech President Miloš Zeman has defended the Chinese tech-giant, stressing they are the leaders in the field and, according to the weekly Respekt, urged Mr. Babiš to include Chinese company representatives at the conference.

The importance of inviting allies was stressed by the Minister of Foreign Affairs Tomáš Petříček, whose ministry is hosting the event.

“At this conference we are contemplating the model of cooperation among countries in an area where absolute trust is necessary…The countries on which we may become technologically dependent must be trusted and reliable.”

While parts of the conference are available for public viewing on the website of the Office of the Government, the most important security concerns are being discussed in private.

Nevertheless, the conference did produce an important statement from the prime minister when it comes to domestic affairs. On Thursday, he announced that mobile operators are expected to set up their 5G networks in the Czech Republic by 2024.

This will be preceded by a frequency auction in November and the subsequent division of frequency bands in 2020.