Infrastructure & Technology

Raising the Bar to Protect Federal Government and Private-Sector Data

4 minute read

From Alexander Graham Bell through the present day, a revolution in the field of communications technology has promoted human freedom, prosperity, and peace. Technology has transformed the way we interact with each other, bringing about dramatic changes in every industry.

“Fifth Generation” communications networks (5G) will similarly revolutionize how machines operate. From connected medical devices to self-driving cars, coffeemakers to power grids, devices will increasingly talk both to one another and to us.

In fact, these changes are already taking place. Today, for example, smart farms know when certain fields need watering, Internet-connected thermostats adjust the temperature to their owners’ schedules, and grocery stores are piloting checkout systems that “see” each item as it is placed in a shopping cart and automatically charge the customer’s debit card on the way out of the store. Innovations that tie physical objects to digital information will proliferate as 5G networks’ ubiquitous, high-speed, distributed computing systems collect, analyze, and transmit enormous amounts of data from sensors embedded in our environment.

As the United States moves further into this new world of connected technologies, these new communication networks will serve as the foundation of tomorrow’s prosperity and security.

This ultra-connected world will save lives, maximize productivity, and optimize scarce resources, but with those benefits come national security risks. Soon, much of our critical infrastructure will connect to these new networks. With those connections, the American homeland will be just a few clicks away from nation-state and criminal cyber actors with the capability and motivation to do Americans harm.

What might the next headline-making cyberattack look like? In a 5G world, it might be “spontaneous” traffic jams in major cities on Election Day, or the subtle manipulation and corruption of an assembly line for a new consumer product whose failed launch tanks the manufacturer’s stock price and enables a foreign competitor to then acquire the company for pennies on the dollar.

This Administration is thinking deeply about these challenges. Our predecessors advanced protections of military and government information, but the 5G transformation means it is time for new thinking about what we must protect, from classes of information or organizational networks, to the communication networks themselves. By reframing these challenges, we know decisions made today will have strategic implications for decades to come.

The Federal Government cannot do this alone, and President Donald J. Trump is committed to working with the private sector, civil society, and the technology community, as well as our partners and allies, to raise the bar to safeguard information and system security to deal with our adversaries. This protection will not come through network nationalization.

Instead, on May 15, President Trump signed an executive order entitled Securing the Information and Communications Technology and Services Supply Chain. This order authorizes the Secretary of Commerce, in consultation with other Federal agencies, to review information and communications technology or service transactions that may pose an undue risk to U.S. national security. The Administration is also working to promote investment in domestic manufacturing and the creation of trusted supply chains to build a secure future for us and our allies.

There should be little debate that networks built with equipment and services provided by companies with documented histories of producing consistently flawed hardware and software place the systems those networks connect to at risk of being compromised or even destroyed. And the systems that are under threat are not only national security systems and critical infrastructure, but also the everyday systems that maintain the American way of life. Companies building these networks should demonstrate an ironclad commitment to technical security and resiliency.

Supply chain security is just one of the many efforts this Administration is undertaking to protect data in the coming 5G world. As we think through the implications of 5G for every American, we are increasingly aware that while protecting our most secretive and sensitive data is necessary, it is not sufficient. In order to preserve the functioning and integrity of our Republic, society, and our way of life, we must learn to protect the networks themselves.

It is these networks that, if built from the start with security in mind, will facilitate America’s next century of productivity, prosperity, and peace.