BRUSSELS—The European Union issued a stark warning on Oct. 9 that “state-backed” companies from “hostile” countries could infiltrate 5G networks to paralyze the continent, in a thinly veiled reference to the Chinese telecommunications giant Huawei.
In a joint threat assessment compiled by security experts from all the bloc’s 28 countries, it stated that malicious abuse of the new technology would have a “particularly severe and widespread negative impact.”
It highlighted the risk of providers “being subject to interference from a non-EU country” where there was “a strong link between the supplier and a government” that could “exercise any form of pressure” on it.
The report stopped short of naming Huawei or China, and senior European officials refused to be drawn into naming them, in a bid to “keep our approach neutral.”
However, the terms in which the security risks were outlined made it clear that EU countries had the Beijing-backed telecommunications giant in mind.
The dossier states that suppliers based in countries “where there are no legislative or democratic checks and balances in place” and an “absence of security or data protection agreements” with the EU present the highest risk.
It warns that hostile actors could use “major security flaws, such as those deriving from poor software development processes within equipment suppliers” in order to “maliciously insert intentional backdoors into products.”
This could then be used to hack any number of devices that will be connected to the 5G network, from shipping containers and climate sensors to smartphones or even household appliances, to “attack the network” and overload it.
Sir Julian King, EU security commissioner, said the report was “already a signal to the market” that such threats would be taken seriously and that procuring 5G “isn’t like buying a car, it’s like joining a club.”
“5G is going to be the digital plumbing of our societies. It’s going to carry very sensitive information and support many aspects of not only how we run our economies but how we live our lives,” he said.
King defended the EU’s decision to not name China or Huawei in the report, saying the bloc didn’t want to “put the cart before the horse” but said it couldn’t be accused of “ducking the issues.” This is unlike the U.S. approach to the Chinese telecom giant, which has already banned the company from its 5G network, and has launched a series of charges against it.
King vowed that Brussels won’t be “pulling punches” when it follows up the threat assessment later this year with a “toolbox” of proposed measures member states should take to protect the continent’s security.
Huawei has already been blacklisted by the United States, which has called on the EU to follow its lead after branding the company a security threat. However, European officials suggested that the bloc will take a different approach to the tech giant.
Huawei has repeatedly denied using backdoors in its technology to spy on customers. In May, the Dutch newspaper Volkskrant reported that authorities in The Hague were investigating the company on such grounds.