It beggars belief no Five Eyes country has a major 5G vendor: Turnbull

Former Australian Prime Minister warns the intent of a vendor can change in a heartbeat.

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Turnbull in the House of Representatives before his enforcement retirement

(Image: APH)

Malcolm Turnbull, Australia's 29th and most recently knifed Prime Minister, has bemoaned that the members of the alliance -- Australia, Canada, New Zealand, the United Kingdom, and the United States -- do not have a horse capable of winning the 5G race.

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"In many discussions with my western counterparts, I raised the concern that we, and in particular the Five Eyes, had got to the point where there were now essentially four leading vendors of 5G systems -- two Chinese, Huawei and ZTE, and two European, Ericsson and Nokia," Turnbull told Henry Jackson Society in a speech in London on Tuesday evening.

"With the benefit of hindsight it beggars belief that the countries which pioneered wireless technology -- the United States, the UK, Germany, Japan and with WiFi, Australia -- have got to the point where none of them are able to present one of their own telcos [as] a national, or a Five Eyes, champion in 5G."

Turnbull said Australia's ban on Huawei and ZTE instituted in August, was not done at the behest of another nation or for protectionist reasons, but because it defended Australia's sovereignty and as a "hedge against changing times".

"It is important to remember that a threat is the combination of capability and intent," Turnbull said.

"Capability can take years, decades to develop. And in many cases won't be attainable at all. But intent can change in a heartbeat."

One of the reasons given by the Australian Signals Directorate (ASD) for recommending the ban was the diminished distinction between edge and core networks in 5G.

"The distinction between core and edge collapses in 5G networks. That means that a potential threat anywhere in the network will be a threat to the whole network," ASD Director-general Mike Burgess said in October.

"In consultation with operators and vendors, we worked hard this year to see if there were ways to protect our 5G networks if high-risk vendor equipment was present anywhere in these networks.

"At the end of this process, my advice was to exclude high-risk vendors from the entirety of evolving 5G networks."

As the United Kingdom considers whether to follow in Australia's footsteps or not, Turnbull reiterated the ASD's warnings.

"If a state-sponsored adversary has enduring access to staff, software, or hardware deployed into a target telecommunication network, then they only require the intent to act in order to conduct operations within the network," Turnbull quoted the ASD as saying.

"Traditionally, cybersecurity is premised on raising the cost for an adversary to such an extent that the adversary will not find it worthwhile to compromise a network. When an adversary can persistently and effortlessly pre-position, the effective cost of activity is greatly reduced."

Also: Australian political parties also hit by state actor in parliamentary network attack: PM

The former Australian Prime Minister said he had spoken with US President Donald Trump many times about 5G.

In recent times, United States Secretary of State Mike Pompeo has warned that the US could have issues with nations making use of Huawei equipment.

Pompeo warned that the presence of Huawei makes it difficult for an important American system to coexist.

Last month, Trump called on US companies to develop 6G, and "win through competition, not by blocking out" more advanced competition.

Trump has been weighing up signing an executive order that replicates the Australian ban on Huawei and ZTE by blocking US companies from purchasing equipment from foreign telco vendors that are regarded as a national security risk.

Touting his cybersecurity credentials, Turnbull pointed out that under his stewardship, Australia has appointed its first minister for cybersecurity, its first cybersecurity coordinator, and its first cyber affairs ambassador.

"I had made sure cyber was a cabinet concern and I wanted to make sure the issue of cyber security, crime, and attacks was elevated to a boardroom issue as hackers became more sophisticated," he said.

Australia has been without a dedicated minister for cybersecurity following the removal of Turnbull.

TPP-11 is a favour to America

Turnbull also detailed the process of how the Comprehensive and Progressive Agreement for Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP 11) came to be following the dumping of the original TPP agreement in the opening week of the Trump presidency.

The then-Australian Prime Minister and then-New Zealand Prime Minister John Key both formed the opinion the deal should proceed despite America's absence, and the first leader they worked on was Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe.

"In the course of a long walk along the cliffs of South Head, I was able to persuade Shinzo that the deal was not dead, and the TPP could continue without the US," Turnbull said.

"Working together, we lobbied all the other TPP nations and one by one we persuaded them that the deal should continue. And so it has, the TPP-11 is now a reality."

By keeping the agreement going, other nations can join it in future, Turnbull said.

Read more: Colombia looking to join new TPP

"Far from snubbing the Americans by persevering, we did them a favour," he said.

Holding fast to a view he put forward in April 2018, Turnbull said a post-Brexit United Kingdom could join the TPP, and further said he believes America will join the trade bloc.

"I did my best to persuade Trump not to pull out of the TPP, and stressed to him its strategic significance, an argument I might add he said he had not heard before, and one that I believe eventually will persuade his, or a subsequent, administration to join it," he said.

"This deal didn't come easily though and is an example why in a modern world we should swim against any tide of protectionism."

The TPP entered into force in Australia on December 30, and has been signed by Australia, Canada, New Zealand, Singapore, Vietnam, Malaysia, Japan, Mexico, Peru, Brunei, and Chile.

In February last year, New Zealand published the content of the TPP 11 deal, with the intellectual property chapter outlining safe harbour and fair use regimes, as well as pushing civil and criminal penalties for piracy.

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