NSA, CISA and ODNI team up to Assess 5G Security Risks

National security organizations want to identify the risks posed by 5G

The National Security Agency (NSA), Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency (CISA), and the Office of the Director of National Intelligence (ODNI) have teamed up to combat cyber threats that have emerged with the introduction of 5G.

Leaders from these three national security organizations said they want to identify the risks posed by 5G and address them before they cause any major damage to wireless networks. They organized a group to conduct a deep analysis and created a product that looked into the risks of 5G adoption.

Natalie Pittore, NSA’s chief of enduring security framework, said the product focused on a few core areas including standards, the supply chain and infrastructure. It’s not just 5G, it’s 5G layered on 4G, which is layered on 3G.

“Looking at where we can improve 3G and 4G so that we can address some of those inherited risks in 5G to make our 5G technology more secure is a top priority for us. So, we’ve really been exploring those risk areas,” said Pittore.

She added that releasing this analysis in an unclassified environment and working with industry allowed the group to “put out a more conclusive, definitive look into what those risk areas are.”

“And to be able to drive mitigations on where we do, we really need to be applying our expertise in this space as we adopt 5G,”

“We prioritized a list of risks with cloud as it was associated with 5G, and then we decided, you know what, let’s get this best practice guidance out to the public to help defend … our national security systems, defending the Department of Defense networks, where that can move further with CISA in our critical infrastructure and let’s make it usable for folks,” said Pittore.

The NSA’s last instalment of its latest product focuses on the data. 

Cybersecurity is a cornerstone of national security and NSA has major concerns that are connected to 5G.

“What’s really important as I look at 5G is ensuring that our warfighters have secure communications. That they can rely, that they are protected and that when they send out information, that we don’t have to be concerned about the interception or the espionage on that type of network infrastructure that we’re going to be dealing with 5G,” said Pittore. 

We often push for functionality, but we should be asking for the best security when it comes to 5G and make that a top priority.

“What we’re asking for from the enduring security framework, from NSA is for security to be just as much as priority as functionality, and I think that’s especially true when it comes to all of these devices being deployed and used on the infrastructure and particularly when it comes to the warfighter, security needs to be baked in and they need to be able to trust their devices and the networks those devices are communicating on,” said Pittore. 

Cybersecurity Collaboration Center

The NSA has also established a new Cybersecurity Collaboration Center to address the challenges surrounding 5G and to remove many of the barriers that previously existed when it came to working with NSA.

The NSA’s Cybersecurity Collaboration Center harnesses the power of industry partnerships to prevent and eradicate foreign cyber threats to National Security Systems (NSS), the Department of Defense, and the Defense Industrial Base (DIB).

This hub for engagement with the private sector is designed to create an environment for information sharing between NSA and its partners combining ther respective expertise, techniques, and capabilities to secure the nation’s most critical networks.

These collaborative relationships leverage the unique strengths of both government and industry and represent a vital part of a whole-of-nation approach to cybersecurity.

Furthermore, NSA is continuing to pursue standards development. The agency, which has a close relationship with the standards team, collaborates daily and shares goals. 

In the past, the U.S. led international standards creations around technologies like 5G, but recently China has emerged as a vital competitor in standards bodies.

Laura Bate, senior director of Task Force 3 at the Cyberspace Solarium Commission, said the challenge comes when the U.S. starts to see China push for leadership positions in big international bodies.   

“The risk is that China, or any country, could patent a technology, push for it to become a standard and then reap the royalties that come from everyone globally who is using that technology that they have patented,” Bate said.

“As Chinese firms reap more royalties off of their technologies that becomes standard, they then have more money to invest in research and development, which then allows them to patent future technologies so you get this cyclical process, this path dependency that we’re now really struggling with.” 

In addition to standards and supply chain, Bate said that competitiveness of U.S. telecom companies is also a national security implication of 5G.   

“If trusted suppliers of 5G equipment are driven out of the market then we have even a more critical availability problem, but generally speaking what we’re talking about here is that the U.S. has a major incentive to ensure that our telecom companies are able to on a continuous basis provide goods and services that we can trust,” Bate said. 

During the summit Bate said that the U.S. should be taking more steps to become market competitive as far as 5G technology.  

According to Bate, the U.S. should also be investing in basic incentives.  

There has been recent legislation, including the CHIPS Act, that points toward incentives to produce semiconductors domestically. The U.S. Innovation and Competition Act of 2021 provides a number of incentives as well. 

“This one by comparison is not law, it has been passed by the Senate, but not by the House. The USICA, called for short or also hear it called the China Bill, includes billions of dollars for federal investments for the domestic semiconductor market and for research design manufacturing,” said Bate.  

Meanwhile, NSA believes all of this is really about the people. The human network drives the collaborations and plays a huge part in accomplishing the process of securing 5G.   

“This doesn’t happen without everyone one of us coming together, the collaboration that happens from that, the commitment to that and really because we’re all doing it because it’s something we care about, this is not just work for us, this is life’s passion is to be able to defend the nation,”