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Additional considerations on the Huawei 5G issue

In principle, excluding Huawei’s 5G from the US networks certainly does not make them safer.

The logic for the operation of the 5G network is such that the criteria for secure transmission shall be defined immediately.

An executive order of President Trump, issued last May, prevents US companies from buying materials and information technology from companies that pose a danger to national security.

There is an obvious reference to Huawei and ZTE, the two Chinese companies that currently set and dictate the rules in the 5G sector.

At the basis of these operations for excluding Huawei-ZTE products there is the new Chinese National Intelligence Law of 2017, which obliges all Chinese companies to support the government abroad.

It should be recalled, however, that – according to all independent analysts – Huawei and its 5G network are at least a year “ahead” of their Western competitors, besides being less expensive and more user-friendly.

The 2017 law provides the Chinese system (and the CPC) with new tools – especially in the cyber sphere – for State security. Exactly the opposite of what happens in the West, where the intelligence services seem to be bogged down in an eternal wasteland made of little money, excess of regulations, hatred on the part of decision-makers and closed-minded attitude vis-à-vis civil society.

Considering this strategic context, it is easy to predict what will happen to us.

Nevertheless, it is not just a matter of naive evaluation of hardware – as far as the Huawei 5G network is concerned – considering that the dangers to security are always present also in software and networks.

Thinking that there is only one danger for the 5G networks, and not for others, is a colossal naivety, which will be exploited by those who do not want us to equip ourselves with 5G networks at the best level available on the world market.

In fact, both the Russian Federation and North Korea have already penetrated some US web networks without using – in any way – Huawei or Chinese-made material.

Hence why so much ado about Huawei, considering that the current 5G or 4G networks are equally penetrable, and certainly not by China?

As I hope it is clear, the origin of a network says nothing about who wants to use it illegally or “covertly” and how.

The US 5G system has not yet an international standard, while the 4G security measures, which may well be adapted to the new network, have not yet been fully adapted to the new use paradigm, both in the USA and in the EU.

A recent study on the 5G authentication by the ETH of Zurich and the universities of Lorraine and Dundee has showed that the standard currently used on the 5G network- derived from the 3rd Generation Partnership Project (3GPP), an international organization of telecommunication industries – lacks security and accuracy.

Hence, this is certainly not a “fault” of Huawei.

The Authorization and Key Agreement (AKA), which is a security protocol used mainly in the 5G network, also shows structural weaknesses, which can enable some people to steal data and intercept communications.

Once again this does not regard Huawei. Quite the reverse.

It should be recalled that currently the US government has no control over the 5G procedures and standards. It can only collaborate – and not substantially – with the companies operating in the sector. Nevertheless, we believe it is already too late.

The myth of the “free market” is back again. If the USA still believes that a network like the 5G – which, as was said in the Davos Forum, will create the “fourth industrial revolution” – can do without the State support, we are really stuck back in the nineteenth century.

Instead of always thinking about the links between the founder of Huawei and Chinese Armed Forces (and, indeed, we should wonder how many US companies are born from the military sector and hence why should we trust them), the USA should be able to establish – by legislation – the built-in network security standards and criteria.

But it will never do so. Hence also the USA is interested in building 5G networks with backdoors, while Huawei follows the world market and adapts to it.

This should obviously apply to all producers. Why is no world Conference of 5G producers organized to set the network security criteria? Is someone – who is not Huawei – afraid of it?

A further problem for the advanced networks will arise with the Internet of Things (IoT), one of the 5G elective applications.

The IoT is a particularly sensitive system and many attempts have already been made by hackers to block it, especially with the Distributed Denial of Service (DDOS).

We can partly survive with the same 5G flow rate, but nothing can be guaranteed and taken for granted.

But, ultimately, what is really the 5G network?

It is a set of technologies, which can connect both self-driving cars and the most traditional data networks.

The transmission bandwidth is over 20 gigabits per second, but the 5G network operates with two different frequencies.

In one of two modes, the 5G system uses the same networks and the same frequencies as 4G and WI-FI, but with a better coding system and with wider transmission channels.

In the second mode, the 5G system uses much smaller frequencies, which can send data even faster than 4G, but for shorter distances.

Hence, considering that the 5G system operates mainly with small and very small waves, which “fall” after a short distance, it will need more transmitters – in series or in parallel.

With a view to increasing the bandwidth, the 5G cells use – in particular – a technology called Multiple Input, Multiple Output (MIMO).

In this case, hundreds of antennas operate at the same time, which significantly increases the speed and proportionally decreases the signal latency.

In the 5G network it is currently one millisecond only, while in the 4G system the standard latency is 30 milliseconds.

There is also a specific 5G technology available, enabling both transmitters and receivers to send / receive data on the same wavelength.

It is known as full duplex and operates with specific circuits, so that the outgoing and incoming signals can never interfere with one another.

At security level, the 5G network is weak when exchanging cryptographic data and, obviously, the greater the number of processing points, the more the possibility of data theft increases geometrically.

Currently, however, it is weak for everyone, not just for Huawei users.

The average 5G speed is currently one gigabyte per second (1GBps) – far beyond the 4G standard and the standard of any WI-FI network operating today.

As already seen, with a view to reaching the very high speed of its signal, the 5G network uses the millimeter waves (MMS).

They are radio signals with frequencies ranging between 30 and 300GHz. Obviously, high frequency waves have a great signal transfer capability and carry much data, while the lower frequency ones carry little data and can be blocked by buildings, cars, airplanes and trees.

With a view to solving this problem, the 5G network resorts to small cell antennas, which must be placed in a far more widespread way than 4G antennas – one every 150 meters approximately.

The small cell antennas are 1.3 meter high, but if the 4G uses frequencies ranging between 1 and 5 GHz, the 5G networks operate with frequencies between 24 and 90 GHz, with serious health risks.

As we all know, however, if the signal dispersion is proportional to the distance squared, the possibility that the 5G spreads data not allowed by the source is intrinsically high.

It is not an issue of naive IT backdoors in sensors (which seems, however, rather unlikely) but of simple squared spreading of signals.

After all the 5G is very similar to microwave radiation.

And there are now certainties about its negative effects on both the skin and the reproductive organs.

Nevertheless, as often maintained by the supporters of the new 5G network, it is not so much a 100 times faster system than the 4G for Internet communication, but rather the way in which the future world will organize production, life, trade and exchanges.

So far, at least in Europe, the US Presidency’s activities to block Huawei have been such that the 5G network in Europe will cost over 55 billion US dollars more than expected.

Currently, in Europe, Huawei and ZTE hold 40% of the 5G networks and the related equipment.

Hence, half of the 55 billion US dollars comes from our EU markets’ loss of competitiveness.

Not to even mention the situation in which the 5G network operators in Europe were to rebuild the entire network of fixed structures – an incalculable cost.

In fact, the companies operating in the sector should  rebuild  the entire physical lines, at a huge cost, apart from the networks’ loss of effectiveness.

At that point, we might just as well keep the 4G network.

What about the interference with the other networks, especially the military ones?

Here the USA tells us that the danger lies in the width of the spectrum used by the Huawei 5G network but, as we have already seen, both the very low signal permanence in the networks and the multiple antennas prevent any signal closure, any  backdoor and any parallel recording.

Normally the US military and intelligence transmission systems are “sub-6”, which means they use a band ranging between 3 and 4 GHz.

The signal overlap is therefore unlikely.

Furthermore, the USA – with South Korea and Japan – had planned a 5G network with a wave width of 24-300 GHz, a very different and far more expensive technology than the Chinese one, which was supposed to go into production around 2022.

It would have been called mm Wave technology, a technical procedure transmitting with a wavelength of approximately a millimeter that, however, can penetrate solid materials, is very directional – like light – and is also selective in targets.

Hence Huawei has therefore shot ahead, with simpler, sounder and more reliable technology. This is the real reason underlying the opposition to the Chinese 5G project – cheap intelligence issues are only a pretext.

On the technological and commercial levels, considering that the Chinese 5G networks provide greater coverage and fewer disruption risks, China has already installed 350,000 5G stations in China and over 10,000 abroad, in 30 countries including Turkey and Iceland.

Between 2009 and 2011, however, Vodafone Italia discovered “backdoors” in the Huawei network – not in the 5G, but in the standard network.

No data was tampered with or illegally recorded, as claimed by Vodafone Italia itself and by the media that reported the news.

The Italian Internet operator also said that the network security problems had been quickly solved.

The Chinese company defined those defects as mere “errors”, not as backdoors, a term designating a voluntary mechanism of non-permitted data recording.

Hence this is the reason why the NATO Centre of Excellence claims that “there is no alternative to Huawei’s 5G” but that “it would be necessary to define autonomous security standards”.

It is therefore inevitable that the Chinese 5G networks become essential parts of the communication system, but also of the defense-control system of many Western countries, including the United States.

In any case, Huawei has always said that there have never been any security incidents concerning its network and, indeed, Huawei is the most controlled and checked industry in the cyber sector worldwide.

Considering that every part of the network built or designed by Huawei is fully verifiable and usable, a way to make a 5G network completely safe is encryption. We imagine it will be developed in a short lapse of time and with homogeneous criteria for all global operators.

Nevertheless, insofar as Huawei networks are built in the world we have outlined, they cannot anyway be intelligence networks in favour of China, considering that: a) the Huawei 5G network is already the most widespread and used system and statistics is such as not to allow any ambiguity; b) the technology itself – with the minimum signal latency – is such as not to allow backdoors that are neither obvious nor hidden and which, however, would be capable of blocking the entire global market for the  Huawei 5G system; c) the idea that the founder of Huawei is a former officer of the People’s Liberation Army and a CPC member makes us smile.

What if we applied the same criterion to the huge number of components or tools for the web that are produced in China, but for the major Western companies?

Moreover, d) it is irrational to think that a company like Huawei ruins its market – which is what really matters – or even its reputation for technical and political reliability for some IT backdoors.

It should be reiterated that intelligence is not made by eliciting unmentionable secrets, but by discovering the creative mechanism of the enemy’s thinking.

Intelligence is not about a “fact”, but about a concept.

As Napoleon used to say: “Unhappy the general who comes on the battlefield with a system”.