Workers install 5G telecommunications equipment on a T-Mobile tower in Seabrook, Texas. Picture: Reuters/Adrees Latif
Workers install 5G telecommunications equipment on a T-Mobile tower in Seabrook, Texas. Picture: Reuters/Adrees Latif

US' DHS to advise telecom firms on how to prevent 5G cell tower attacks

By Ellen Nakashima Time of article published May 14, 2020

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The Department of Homeland Security is preparing to advise the U.S. telecom industry on steps it can take to prevent attacks on 5G cell towers following a rash of incidents in Western Europe fueled by the false claim that the technology spreads the pathogen causing covid-19.

The planned industry alert comes in the wake of dozens of arson attacks on 5G towers in Britain, the Netherlands and Belgium last month apparently spurred by the conspiracy theory.

"During the covid-19 pandemic, Western Europe has seen increasing attacks against equipment and workers, and these attacks are plots to damage 5G towers often linked to unsupported theories alleging a link between 5G and the virus," said a U.S. official familiar with the alert, who spoke on the condition of anonymity because the advisory has not been finalized.

5G is a next-generation technology that features super-fast connections expected to power all sorts of innovation, including self-driving cars, remote surgery and smart cities. Large telecom providers such as Verizon and AT&T are rapidly expanding the number of 5G cell tower sites across the country, often using existing 4G towers.

In the last few weeks, U.S. carriers have seen sporadic attacks on their cell towers that were apparently prompted by covid-19 disinformation, said an industry official, who spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss a sensitive matter. "It's pretty clear," said the official, who added that some of the attacks may be by "eco-terrorists."

DHS's Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency will issue the alert with advice on ways to reduce the risk of attack, including installing appropriate sensing and barriers, cyber intrusion detection systems, closed circuit television and monitoring drone activity near towers.

The U.S. government has sought to dispel the 5G-virus link. The Federal Emergency Management Agency states clearly on its coronavirus rumor control page: "5G technology does NOT cause coronavirus." And the World Health Organization has weighed in, saying that viruses cannot travel via radio waves or mobile networks and noting that covid-19 is appearing in countries without the advanced wireless systems.

5G technology uses electromagnetic fields to transfer information, and "it is physically impossible that electromagnetic fields transfer particles like viruses," said Eric van Rongen, vice chairman of the International Commission on Non-Ionizing Radiation Protection, a Germany-based organization providing scientific advice on the effects of non-ionizing radiation. "So 5G, or any other telecommunication system, cannot spread Covid-19."

Moreover, "there is no scientific basis for the theory that 5G might compromise the immune system and thus enable people to get sick from Covid-19," said van Rongen in an email.

"False and unverified claims related the negative health effects of 5G technology aren't new, but we've observed a convergence of conspiracy theories related to coronavirus and 5G," said Graham Brookie, director of the Atlantic Council's Digital Forensics Research Lab, which tracks disinformation online. "More importantly, we've seen increased amplification of these conspiracy theories by figures with significant audience reach at a critical moment when people are constantly looking for the latest information about the ongoing public health crisis."

The misguided notion apparently began with a doctor interviewed in a Belgian newspaper in January, who mused that 5G cell towers might be linked to the spread of the coronavirus, according to Wired magazine. The doctor's comments were quickly picked up by anti-5G campaigners, and even though the newspaper removed the article from its website, the theory spread on Facebook, including on dozens of English-language pages. It jumped to YouTube and was amplified by celebrities with hundreds of thousands of followers, including boxer Amir Khan, singer Anne-Marie and actor Woody Harrelson, Wired noted.

YouTube has said it would remove videos that falsely link 5G to the coronavirus.

The Washington Post

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