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June 21, 2024

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Former cyber commission director: Supply-chain EO looks too narrowly at 5G challenge

By Charlie Mitchell / May 23, 2019

Kiersten Todt, executive director of the national cybersecurity commission in 2016, says the 5G-centered executive order on supply-chain security focuses on only a piece of the bigger issue, which requires a global response involving tight collaboration between the U.S. and “like-minded economic powers.”

The ultimate issue, she said, is whether the infrastructure supporting next-generation wireless communications is constructed based on the values of an open or closed political system.

“The United States should support an open 5G infrastructure - and it should also not be naive to think there aren’t countries, other than China, that would prefer a closed 5G infrastructure in which content is controlled and restricted and government reigns absolute,” Todt told Inside Cybersecurity.

Kiersten Todt

Kiersten Todt, executive director of the national cybersecurity commission

“The United States must work with like-minded economic powers and with industry to create a thoughtful and deliberate strategy for building a 5G infrastructure; our strategic advantage is our value system,” she said. “This strategy must balance privacy, free speech, accountability, innovation, and security.”

Todt said “5G affords the U.S. the opportunity to engage, globally, on technology and innovation and to lead the world into this next generation of technology. The United States has to be the drafter of a global 5G infrastructure; we don’t want to be in the position of editing another nation’s approach."

Earlier this week, two former heads of cybersecurity at the Federal Communications Commission and others also raised questions on whether the executive order effectively addresses sweeping global challenges related to next-generation 5G security.

“I'm concerned that the Trump action comes out of weakness and does not address the underlying strategic problem of declining U.S. technology leadership in global markets. It does very little to address our actual risk exposure for U. S. companies and government personnel with roles in the larger international economy and may do harm in the long run,” said retired Adm. David Simpson, the FCC homeland security chief under former Chairman Tom Wheeler.

David Turetsky, who preceded Simpson as head of the FCC Public Safety and Homeland Security Bureau, said the EO didn't come as a surprise but that it was inserted into the middle of the trade fight with China and unlikely to be effectively resolved in that venue.

“I don't think it's surprising that national security concerns about Huawei equipment have brought us to this point,” Turetsky said. “I think it's a little bit unfortunate that it happens in the midst of trade war because the national security issues have transcended any trade war solutions."

Likewise, Robert Metzger, a leading lawyer on federal and defense acquisition rules, said the order could do more harm than good because of “unintended” consequences in addressing a “conjectural” threat.

The order garnered bipartisan statements of support from lawmakers upon its release last week, along with concerns from the tech sector and others.

The order requires the Department of Commerce to write regulations to bar purchases and imports of communications technology and services from foreign adversaries, a move that comes amid heightened concern about China's influence in development of next-generation 5G networks. It also directs DHS to assess telecom system vulnerabilities. -- Charlie Mitchell (