Former NATO Supreme Allied Commander James L. Jones and retired Air Force Major General Robert Wheeler were both optimistic that the next wave of wireless technology will be the safest.
The fifth generation of wireless technology has the potential to upend the way cities work, but it’ll all be for naught if 5G networks can’t be properly secured, James L. Jones, a former U.S. national security adviser, said Thursday.
“I think we’re involved in a very serious race that’ll affect who we are as a nation for the rest of the century,” Jones, a retired Marine general and former NATO supreme allied commander who served as President Barack Obama’s first national security adviser, said at a smart-cities conferencehosted by the law firm Dentons. “4G” — the current wireless standard — “was a revolutionary technology that enabled things like smartphones and GPS, but 5G is disruptive.”
But the new networks will only be as strong as their cybersecurity, Jones said.
“For all the good things we might think about in smart cities, there will be threats we have to deal with,” he said. “We have to win, because our ability to win will affect data and security.”
Specifically, Jones, who now runs a private consulting firm, said he focuses on inside threats, telling his clients to run more regular background checks on employees and to be wary of behavior that triggers major cyberattacks, such as one in Atlanta this year that began when a city employee opened a phishing link in an email that unleashed a ransomware virus.
When I was in the White House I never used the White House computer,” he told StateScoop. “I never used my own computer. I did everything by a secure phone or hand-delivered letters. Our networks are vulnerable.”
While most city computer networks or consumer-facing wireless networks aren’t going to have the same layers of security as the National Security Council, Jones sounded an optimistic note about the technology. “The good news is that when we get to 5G, [wireless networks] will be almost invulnerable,” he said.
Telecommunications companies are starting to test 5G technology in a number of U.S. cities, and some states, including Illinois, have adopted legislation making it easier for wireless carriers to install the small cells that will power eventual 5G networks designed to support the next generation of smartphones and other internet-connected devices.
The telecom industry has said 5G devices will be manufactured with encryption that uses their providers’ public keys, though similar promises about previous generations of wireless technology did not prevent successful cyberattacks.
But 5G will be the platform on which local governments’ “smart city” dreams rest, said Robert Wheeler, a retired Air Force major general and Jones’s fellow panelist.
“If you think about 5G and the ‘internet of things,’ you think about the backbone of critical infrastructure and how a smart city will run,” Wheeler said.