UK government proposes new telecom security bill

The U.K. government proposed a new bill to increase its control capabilities over telecoms networks, which could result in operators being hit with large fines if they fail to adhere to new security requirements.

In a statement, the government noted that the Telecommunications Security Bill would give it “unprecedented new powers” to boost security standards of U.K. networks and remove the threat of high-risk vendors.

The bill will also strengthen the security framework for technology used in 5G and full fiber networks, including the electronic equipment and software at phone masts.

The U.K. government highlighted that this bill will be key to protect the country from hostile cyber activity by state actors or criminals. Over the past two years, U.K. authorities has attributed a range of cyber attacks to Russia and China, as well as North Korea and Iranian actors.

The bill will also provide the government with new national security powers to issue directions to public telecoms providers in order to manage the risk of high risk vendors. While they are already banned from the most sensitive “core” parts of the network, the bill will allow the government to impose controls on telecoms providers’ use of goods, services or facilities supplied by high risk vendors.

Operators failing to fulfill the new duties or which do not follow directions on the use of high-risk vendors could face heavy fines of up to 10% of turnover or £100,000 per day. Telecom regulator Ofcom will be in charge of monitoring and assessing the security of telecoms providers.

In July, the U.K. had announced that Huawei’s gear will be completely removed from the country’s 5G networks by the end of 2027, following new recommendations by the National Cyber Security Center (NCSC).

The government also confirmed that it will also implement a total ban on the purchase of new Huawei kit for 5G, starting next year.

Digital Secretary Oliver Dowden said: “We are investing billions to roll out 5G and gigabit broadband across the country, but the benefits can only be realized if we have full confidence in the security and resilience of our networks.This groundbreaking bill will give the UK one of the toughest telecoms security regimes in the world and allow us to take the action necessary to protect our networks.”

The government also noted that telecoms watchdog Ofcom will be given stronger powers to monitor and assess operators’ security, alongside enforcing compliance with the new law. This will include carrying out technical testing, interviewing staff, and entering operators’ premises to view equipment and documents.

The bill, which was submitted on November 24, still needs to be approved by the Parliament.

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