Cyberattacks remind of scary movies, acting head of the FCC

The recent breach of Microsoft Exchange shows that cybersecurity threats are almost mundane whereas defense – insufficient, claims the FCC’s acting chairwoman Jessica Rosenworcel. The only way forward is to understand that threats are not only external.

During a Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS) ’s webinar, Rosenworcel, who was appointed interim chair by President Joe Biden, likened a recent attack on Microsoft Exchange Servers to a horror movie.

“We frantically barricaded the doors, only to discover that the threat had been hiding inside the whole time. For years, while we sought to protect ourselves from external threats, untrusted equipment and services had been sitting undisturbed in our nation’s commercial networks,” Rosenworcel said.

According to her, given the scope of recent breaches, it is necessary to understand that deployment of 5G networks will bring utterly new security challenges for the FCC to tackle. The latest technology will open new possibilities for virtually all sectors of life, simultaneously opening a floodgate for the unseen types of threats.

To push the point forward, Rosenworcel employed horror movie tropes to lay out her plan: never split up, don’t answer the door, and have a backup plan.

The first point outlines how and why the FCC needs to foster trust among government agencies and foreign partners alike. As to prevent  the scenario of horror flicks, she suggested avoiding fragmentation among institutions and like-minded actors.

For years, while we sought to protect ourselves from external threats, untrusted equipment and services had been sitting undisturbed in our nation’s commercial networks,

Jessica Rosenworcel.

The second point invites to block external threats. Rosenworcel mentioned that the US is doing so by stalling the adoption of China’s Huawei and ZTE equipment globally.

“We are adding the finishing touches to the system to replace insecure equipment from the Chinese companies like Huawei and ZTE to the extent that it is present in our domestic networks today,” she said.

Rosenworcel explained that the FCC would continue to deny Chinese vendors access to the US markets, pointing to a recent decision to revoke the domestic authority and international authorizations for three more telecommunication companies linked to China.

The acting chairwoman focused the third point on catching up with competitors. Rosenworcel noted that the agency will launch an inquiry into open radio access networks(RANs.) The US gets its RAN equipment from companies based outside the country, and the largest growing companies are located in China.

“We know based on a comprehensive record developed by various national security agencies around the world that there are serious risks that come with having this equipment in our networks,” the acting chairwoman explained.

According to her, the US could increase its network security and reduce exposure to any single vendor by diversifying  the supply of the RAN equipment. To achieve that, the FCC will research the sector to employ rules that would foster the industry’s local growth. Rosenworcel explained that the FCC will also look into whether network openness can introduce new vulnerabilities, and act accordingly.

“It’s important for the United States to get this right. In fact, it is essential for our 5G leadership in a post-pandemic world,” she said during a CSIS webinar.

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