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Federal Law Enforcement Leads Weigh Cybersecurity Challenges to 5G Deployment

Cybersecurity and speed of deployment are two concerns around next-generation network capacities.

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Federal Law Enforcement Leads Weigh Cybersecurity Challenges to 5G Deployment
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Federal agencies highlighted cybersecurity as a major concern when deploying 5G infrastructure, during the 2023 Law Enforcement and Public Safety (LEAPS) Technology Forum last week.

“We all know 5G offers a lot of opportunity in terms of innovation, efficiency and economic growth. But all of that comes with a significant risk,” said Zachary Smith, deputy chief of staff of the Emergency Communications Division at the Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency (CISA), during the event.

Because 5G infrastructure processes higher loads of data, it is a tempting target for malicious cyber actors.

“Working with stakeholders, working with the private industry, working with our federal partners, working with public safety, state and local, tribal and territorial, we are working to identify, analyze and ultimately prioritize 5G risks as they pertain to national security and public safety,” Smith said.

The infrastructure must be built with security in mind and not as an afterthought. “Once we have worked with those shareholders and once we get an understanding of the risks and challenges that they face, ultimately, we bring better technical assistance offerings that those organizations, those entities, regardless of type can use to make their deployments more secure, to make their deployments work better,” Smith said.

But as 5G deployment continues to expand, agencies are focused on keeping up without compromising mission integrity.

“We cannot deploy faster than the commercial industry does. That’s not how the government works,” said Matthew Feinberg, section chief for the FBI’s Body Worn Camera Program, at the event. “We’re always behind the eight ball. But as the game continues to evolve, you’re always playing catch up. So some of the things are not just technology catching up, but it’s also legislation catching up.”

CISA created a 5G roadmap to help federal agencies deploy 5G securely. CISA also released the 5G Strategy for Secure and Resilient Critical Infrastructure in 2020 to help stakeholders address the future of 5G and provide information and guidance to inform decision-making around 5G deployment.

“Within the United States government, we have identified through the 5G roadmap and through a number of other documents, secured suppliers and the areas where we know that you can deploy networks that are not only robust and serve everybody’s needs, but [also] are sourced from parts of the world and suppliers that we know we can trust,” Smith said.

FBI’s top three priorities are maintaining capability, superiority over adversaries and protecting employees.

“We all come at this in a slightly different way, but our risk assessments are shared,” said Katie Noyles, section chief for science and technology at the FBI, at the event. “It’s really taking a hard look and going through each of those use cases, analyzing them and trying to develop mitigation strategies. We’re also working to leverage those alliances, those capabilities.”

5G is “the wave of the future,” Noyles added, and some agencies are already taking advantage of its potential to increase connectivity, particularly for emergency and disaster services.

“We’ve seen cellular roam, cellular [unmanned aircraft vehicles], cellular [unmanned aircraft systems]. This is going to be very helpful for firefighters when we’re trying to respond to wildfires that may be in remote areas,” said Christian Williams, section chief for wireless mobility and SATCOM at the General Services Administration (GSA).

5G also provides ubiquitous connectivity — “Being able to use your cell phone, your tablets, your [internet of things] devices all on one network instead of having to run on a Wi-Fi or database,” Williams said.

At the FBI, 5G helps enable body-worn cameras, which inherently need to be reliable in remote locations.

“There is no other medium. It’s all digital, it’s all hashed, it’s all in the cloud. And it’s authenticated from cradle to grave. And so every field up will have access to it. And it’s ubiquitous across all 56 [field offices],” Feinberg said.

Like any emerging technology, 5G use cases are still evolving and federal agencies must stay ahead of security threats.

“Part of that is dealing with the stakeholders and working with stakeholders not just on the public safety and national security side, but in the industry, commercial anatomy design as well to understand not what is just happening and deployed today, but what is being thought about or deployed tomorrow, five,10 years down the road,” Smith said.

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