May 22 – 2019
CANBERRA (Reuters) – Earlier this year a team of hackers working for the Australian government worked on a digital destructive exercise in a cluster of low-rise buildings in the capital of Australia.
Officials posed a challenge to team members, officials of the Australian signal manager, the official body responsible for eavesdropping.
The question that needed to be answered was: how much damage could they have if they had access to fifth generation mobile communication equipment in a hostile country? At the same time they had all cyber attacking tools.
Current and former government officials say the team's findings have opened the eyes of Australian security and political leaders to serious facts. The fifth generation offensive potential was so great that Australia would be seriously exposed if it were hit by such attacks.
Sources familiar with the deliberations said that insight into how the fifth generation can be used for espionage and sabotage of basic infrastructure was not everything for Australians.
Mike Burgess, head of signal management, recently explained the importance of fifth-generation security and said in a speech in March at a Sydney research institute that he was an integral part of communication at the heart of the country's sensitive infrastructure and of electricity Water supply and sanitation.
Many believe that Washington has taken the lead in the global campaign against Huawei Technologies, a technology giant that has been a key element in China's quest to expand its global reach in the three decades since its inception.
However, interviews with more than 20 current and former Western officials revealed that Australians were the first to demand action in the fifth generation, that the United States was initially slowing down and that Britain and other European countries were being torn apart between security issues and competitive prices Presented by Huawei.
Australians have long been concerned about Huawei in existing networks. But the fifth generation maneuver was a turning point. Six months after the experiment started, the Australian government effectively banned Huawei, & # 39; the world's largest maker of network equipment, and prevented it from participating in the fifth generation implementation plans.
A spokeswoman for the Australian government declined to comment on the exercise.
After the Australian side had informed US leaders of what had been achieved, other countries, including the United States, began to take action to limit Huawei.
The crackdown on the leading Chinese company was intensified last week when US President Donald Trump signed an executive order effectively prohibiting the use of Huawei equipment in US telecommunications networks for national security reasons. The Commerce Department imposed restrictions on the purchase of American technology by the company.
Google has suspended a number of its transactions with Huawei.
General James Jones, who withdrew from the US Marine Corps and served as national security adviser to President Barack Obama, said the US government was not interested until midway through last year.
Now, Americans are running an intense campaign to control Huawei as part of a broader effort to reduce Beijing & # 39; s growing military power under President Xi Jinping. The reinforcement of cyber operations is an important element of the massive military development that Shi initiated after his appointment in 2012, according to official US and Chinese military documents.
The United States has accused China of using electronic penetration on a large scale for strategic and commercial benefits.
Washington fears that Beijing will have an unprecedented opportunity to attack sensitive infrastructure and jeopardize the exchange of information with key allies if Huawei can prove its position in the world's fifth-generation networks.
According to senior Western security officials, this can involve cyber attacks on public utilities, telecommunications networks and large financial centers.
In any military conflict, such attacks can lead to a major shift in the nature of the war, cause economic damage and disrupt civilian life in the battlefields.
China will certainly be vulnerable to attacks from the United States and its allies. Beijing complained in 2015 about a defense document entitled "China & # 39; s military strategy" that is the victim of cyber espionage without specifying who is responsible.
Documents from the National Security Agency, the American squadron Edward Snowden, showed that the United States had penetrated the systems of Huawei, according to media reports. Reuters could not verify an independent source of the raids.
But preventing Huawei from strengthening its position and proliferation poses a major challenge for Washington and its close allies, especially other members of a group called the Five Eyes for Intelligence Sharing, Britain, Canada, Australia, and New Zealand.
From a humble beginnings in the 1980s in Shenzhen, in southern China, Huawei has grown into a giant in the world of technology, with extensive activities in global telecommunications networks. They are also ready for dominance in the world of fifth generation infrastructure.
There are few global alternatives to Huawei, which have financial opportunities: revenues increased by 20 percent to more than $ 100 billion last year, as well as Beijing's competitive technology and political support.
"Restrictions on Huawei activities in the United States will not make the United States safer or stronger," the company said in a statement in response to questions from Reuters. Such steps would "limit customers in the United States with cheaper, more expensive alternatives," she said.
For countries that exclude Huawei, the risk of reprisals by Beijing is high. Because Australia last year prohibited the company from working in fifth-generation networks, coal exports to China have experienced unrest, including delays in customs from China. The Chinese Ministry of Foreign Affairs said in a statement that it treated all imported coal as one treatment.
Tensions over Huawei also show differences between the five eye groups, which form the basis for Western security after the Second World War. During a trip to London on October 8, US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo issued a strict warning to Britain, which did not exclude Huawei & # 39; s use of fifth generation networks.
The founder of Huawei is Ren Zheng, 74, a former Chinese army officer. "Mr. Ren has always insisted on the integrity and independence of Huawei. We have never been asked to participate in espionage and we will never refuse this."
Washington says there is no need for secret back doors to disrupt fifth generation systems. These systems will be highly dependent on software updates that must be paid for by hardware vendors. The United States says that this access to fifth-generation networks can be used to distribute malicious software.
So far, America has not made public evidence that Huawei & # 39; s equipment can be used for espionage.
The West has long been wary of Chinese communication equipment. In 2012, a report from the US House of Representatives intelligence commission concluded that Chinese technology companies posed a threat to national security. Huawei condemned the report.
Despite these concerns, the US government's response to the risks of the fifth-generation networks has only recently crystallized.
In February 2018, Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull set off for Washington and sounded alarm bells before the Australian eavesdropping exercise. Turnbull was a former technology entrepreneur and believed that the technology of the fifth generation was a big risk and wanted to encourage allies to act against Huawei.
It is expected that the technology of the fifth generation will result in a huge increase in communication speed and capacity. Data downloads can be 100 times faster than current networks.
But the fifth generation does not only mean speed. Because it will allow a steady increase in the number of connections between the billions of devices that are expected to work on the fifth generation of smart fridges for cars without drivers.
"It's not that more people will have multiple devices, but machines will talk about machines and devices will address hardware," said Bergs, head of the Australian signal manager, in his speech in March. All with the possibilities of the fifth generation ».
Huawei said in a statement that the company "in no way controls the companies in which our customers install our equipment. The US and Australian allegations are fictitious and have no basis whatsoever for any evidence. & # 39;
In July 2018, Britain sent a battle to Huawei, a government-led body that, among others, senior intelligence officials said it could no longer fully rely on its ability to address the national security risks of the Chinese communications equipment company for communication. The Authority oversees the work of a factory set up by the British government in 2010 and is funded by Huawei to inspect the equipment used by the British company. The factory was established because Huawei was considered a security threat at that time.
An American official said the report was a bomb that formed the American view of Huawei's fifth generation of risks.
US officials also point to Chinese laws that have been passed in recent years that say they can force individuals and businesses to help the Chinese government with espionage.
The Chinese Ministry of Foreign Affairs called it "a misinterpretation and deliberate disruption of the relevant Chinese laws."