Australia’s Ambassador for Cyber Affairs Dr. Tobias Feakin said since 5G was going to be the “background architecture” for a lot of future technologies, “it is very sensible that you look at it with not only an economic security mindset, but a national security mindset” as well. Australia has banned Chinese tech major Huawei from being part of the 5G rollout in the country.
Dr. Feakin, who is in New Delhi for his this round of official conversations with the Indian government on shared problems and opportunities in the cyber space, however, did not comment on how India was tackling the 5G issue. Australia first Ambassador for Cyber Affairs, Dr. Feakin leads his country’s international engagement “to advance and protect Australia’s national security, foreign policy, economic and trade, and development interests in the internet and in cyberspace”.
Dr. Feakin said the Australian position on 5G was “vendor agnostic, and country agnostic”. “It is about setting common sense principles around the way in which you absorb a reshaping piece of infrastructure. And that’s essentially the way we view 5G, which is not just an additional number on your phone screens which will increase the speed of the way in which you interact with social media, your friends. It’s it reshapes the way in which we interact with our digital environment,” Dr. Feakin explained.
He said Australia’s decision (to ban Huawei) was based on the thinking that “could you allow a high risk vendor into the backbone architecture of your 5G network” especially if you feel the “degree of transparency around particular vendor isn’t high enough” or “you can’t understand the architecture of that company?”
There were other concerns too. “If that company has to answer to its country of origin and all the legislative names that come with that, then that’s a concern for us,” he said, adding that the feeling that “there’s the potential intent and capability to do the various things within that network once is developed” also added up to the final decision.
“If you can’t get us assurances around those particular issues, then we have every right to say that, you know, you can’t provide us with that infrastructure.”
Dr. Feakin, who was a member of the Independent Panel of Experts that supported the Australian Cyber Security Review to produce Australia’s 2016 Cyber Security Strategy, explained that while with 4G networks you can section off different parts of the architecture, with 5G “there is no such thing as a core periphery, you’ve got high functioning activity across the entirety of that network”. “Therefore, you can’t begin to mitigate different parts of that network. So for us, it’s a very different security decision than what would have existed around a 4G or 3G network in the past.”
Dr. Feakin said India was a “large, respected global player” and Australia looks at some of the “more economically prosperous areas” for combined work. “Where do we have good understanding of particular startup communities, we would love to learn more from India in terms of some of what’s going on inside your cyber ecosystem. You clearly have some pretty exciting offerings now,” he told indianexpress.com. Dr. Feakin said he would also love to see how more Australian cybersecurity firms can get involved in the enormous digital environment here.
He said policy considerations around new and emerging technologies was also an integral part of the conversations with India. “5G is the issue we’re talking about now, and but is this tip of the technology iceberg. There’s going to be a whole series of other technology, policy decisions that will have to be taken over the coming years, whether it be around quantum computing, already supercomputing, AI, machine learning… these are issues that are going to face us all. And the more we are talking about them now and understanding how we are going to approach those, not just from a domestic point of view, but from the global shaping of standards and how that technology develops, we are going to be much better equipped to the future.”