Friday 19 Mar 2021

5G & IoT Security: With great speed comes great responsibility?

 

By now you can’t have missed the widespread announcements about 5G and all the advancements it warrants. From outdoor billboards to your personalised social media feeds, we are constantly reminded of how 5G will make our lives better and transform how we conduct business.

In case you missed the highlights, the key benefits are greater speeds, faster downloads, connectivity without lag, increased efficiencies, and support for up to one million device connections on private 5G networks. And in the current Covid-19 era, there is a bigger incentive for organisations to rapidly adopt 5G and upgrade their IoT as it will enable:

  • An advanced digital infrastructure that will permit people to continue to work remotely, attracting more talent and boosting productivity
  • Industries such as construction and manufacturing to revive services with increased efficiencies when moving to 5G private networks
  • Education, Government and Healthcare to benefit from providing essential services to pupils, the public and patients with reliable remote access

Moreover, Government legislation and international guidelines have deemed that 5G is perfectly safe, putting any conspiracy theories to bed. In fact, studies from organisations including the World Health Organisation, Public Health England and the UK Health Protection Agency have all shown that 5G isn’t harmful to health.

There seems to be no catch, so why not adopt this new technology immediately?

Perhaps, not so fast. While I am all up for the latest digital transformation, my security senses are tingling.

We must remember that 5G networks are virtualised and software-driven. This increases cyber vulnerability by a lot as an attacker that gains control of the software managing the network can also control the network.

The IoT market is not regulated and therefore not obligated to meet specified security standards. For attackers, these open endpoints are juicy targets for deploying malware-based scripts. The prospect of attaching billions of smart devices that are hackable to an IoT network increases vulnerabilities. The expansion of bandwidth in 5G also opens up more attack-routes.

The pace of IoT innovation is also another factor. Software developers will face pressure to get services quickly to market, so critical security and vulnerability testing could be missed, as it is not often the focal point of concern.

Currently, shifting to a private 5G network is time-consuming and costly. By the time legacy network infrastructures are upgraded, there is a high chance that endpoints have already working on 5G networks. For organisations, smart IoT without their own dedicated 5G network or adequate security knowledge could put the organisation and employee privacy at risk. 

5G will no doubt question our assumptions about network security and the security of the devices and applications that attach to that network. If you plan to adopt 5G in the coming future, you absolutely must have an action plan for 5G security right now. 

5G is no doubt coming up for mass adoption, but security needs to catch up. 

Beyond that, without stronger government regulations, policies and proactive security measures by businesses, 5G networks may remain vulnerable to cyberattacks.

 


 

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Marco Essomba
Founder & CTO
Email: [email protected] | LinkedIn: @marcoessomba

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