5G is one of the hottest industry buzzwords right now, and for good reason. Beyond its ability to deliver massive capacity, it is expected to be one of the fastest and most pervasive technologies of all time, fundamentally changing every sector of the economy.
In recent years, we’ve lived through 3G and 4G. So what makes this next generation so revolutionary? Put simply, every emerging technology we are collectively excited about—IoT, VR/AR gaming, autonomous cars and smart cities—is enabled through 5G. This is because this next generation of the mobile network will increase the speed of service by extending high bandwidth and connectivity to the edge, a possibility that wasn’t quite there with 4G. 5G will connect everything around us via a network that is 100x faster than our current cellular connection and 10x faster than home broadband service.
The technology is ready. From a commercial and business perspective, however, 5G implementation is still in its infancy. When it comes to capitalizing on the many use cases 5G offers, what is the holdup? With faster speeds, enormous data capacity, lower latency and more devices connecting and communicating than ever before, the security vulnerabilities are extreme. Given we are in the early stages of 5G deployments, service providers do not even know the full extent of the security concerns; they are just planning for the number of devices joining the network to grow exponentially. With the proliferation of connected personal devices, data privacy concerns have never been higher.
To understand the potentially detrimental threats to personal safety and data privacy, we must first look at specific use cases enabled through this technology.
The 5G Effect
5G is more than just faster speeds—it is unlocking some of the most highly sought-after technologies of the decade. This is because low latency, or next-to-nothing lag time, allows a device asking something of the network to get a response almost instantaneously. For VR and AR gaming applications, this means a seamless user experience. And while sensory video games are good fun, these same principles can carry over to more serious applications in hospitals and other medical settings: By using a VR headset and special glove to control a robot arm, for example, a surgeon may have the ability to operate on a patient offsite.
This extreme scenario offers two major risks: network lags and hacked equipment. An IoT-enabled hospital may have tens of thousands of “things” that could be compromised. Emergency room devices cannot afford to be starved for bandwidth if an admin printer is clogging the network. Any glitch in the network may lead to a slight delay in action, resulting in dangerous consequences. Additionally, with nefarious entries into the network through the high volume of vulnerable endpoints, the attack may have dire repercussions.
A hospital is just one high-stakes environment. Now consider the IoT devices connected to a 5G network operating all around us—autonomous cars, energy grids, home security systems, etc.—the smallest glitch or endpoint vulnerability could lead to life-threatening situations.
Many people do not realize 5G and IoT will have a major effect on seemingly innocuous devices such as refrigerators, thermometers and even light bulbs. While 5G will enable users to check on these types of appliances remotely through a simple app, convenience comes with consequence as these devices can also be usurped by malicious characters. It is important to recognize what 5G can enable, but also how it will all come together.
Preparing for the Next-Gen
Here are some tips on how enterprises can develop an effective 5G-ready security posture that encompasses the entire network:
Invest in automation: 5G security poses its own Catch-22; because connections happen faster, attacks and breaches also happen faster and potentially with much more reach. To mitigate threats, 5G security will require actionable insights at scale. To achieve this, organizations need security systems that detect and automatically enforce security policy from endpoints to edge and every cloud in between.
Scale up and out: To avoid a massive bottleneck, a proper 5G security posture will require upgrades to both physical and virtual infrastructures. Developing a secure architecture and solution that can keep up with the pace and scale of 5G without slowing it down is a large, but necessary, undertaking. The trick is to build in machine learning capabilities so the network can get smarter. Malware must traverse the network, so why not use all the data that the network already produces to fight it? A network that is constantly learning and updating is the only way to operate in the 5G landscape.
Be proactive: History has shown us that whenever we expand our computing power and connectivity capabilities, we also expand the threat landscape. Not only that but as we continue to increase our dependency on communications networks and technologies to move tremendous amounts of data, there is greater potential for serious disaster should they be compromised. This is not the time to sit back and watch how things unfold, as major security risks are on the line.
The use cases for 5G are plentiful. If we can conquer the threats, we can conquer anything the technology enables us to do—and the possibilities are endless.