How Will 5G Affect Cyber Security Moving Forward?  

As the future of technology in the U.S. turns increasingly toward the adoption of 5G, how will this affect security? Are more cyberattacks in our future?  

Over the next five to ten years, as 5G technology makes 4G and other lesser technologies obsolete, the Internet of Things (IoT) will grow exponentially. Although this transition is welcomed by many, it brings to light several unique challenges.

The main challenge that IT specialists are concerned about is how 5G will affect security. Let’s take a closer look at this problem and what businesses should expect as they, too, adopt 5G technology. First, however, let’s examine what 5G is and how it differs from 4G and other previous technologies.

What Is 5G?

In order to explain 5G, we must go back to basics a bit.

First, it’s important to explain that the underlying technology for mobile phones, wireless Internet, and other wireless networks and communications across the nation is called a wireless cellular network (or just cellular network). There are several types of cellular networks.

5G stands for fifth-generation, and, fittingly, this means it is the fifth generation of cellular network to be adopted in the U.S. and worldwide.

Historically, since the invention of wireless technology, rollouts for each generation of the cellular network have come at a slow pace. A new cellular network generation has tended to be adopted about every 10 years. The first (1G) was rolled out around 1980. Ten years later, in 1990, we saw 2G. 3G arrived around 2000. 4G came around 2010. Now, 5G is being adopted.

This adoption of 5G across the nation means big changes for the world of technology, and this is exactly what United States officials want. 5G is the cutting edge of network technology — the very best and the very fastest. However, while some people may assume that 5G only means faster networks, it’s important to note that 5G brings about many other changes as well. That is, 5G technology will also usher in new frequencies, protocols, and other big tech changes.

What Are the Unique Security Challenges of 5G?

The adoption of 5G technology is a giant leap for network communications, and the effects (both negative and positive) will be rather drastic. Think self-driving cars, movies that can be downloaded in seconds, augmented reality, and more.

Most notably, the Internet of Things (IoT) will grow by leaps and bounds. In other words, the number of connected devices is going to skyrocket. This presents security challenges because it’s simply too many devices to keep track of and manage — too many devices to secure.

Patrick Kuras, a Business Technology Strategist at Grand Rapids IT Company, Micro Visions, Inc., explains it this way:

“Even today, companies with significant numbers of IoT devices often find securing and managing these devices difficult. If an enterprise moves from an IoT environment of [a few hundred or few thousand devices], to an IoT environment of [tens of thousands or hundreds of thousands of] connected devices, the challenge of maintaining security and manageability increases unsustainably, without a simultaneous upgrade in the manageability of such a network of non-traditional endpoints.”

In other words, the scalability of security measures is not currently in existence at this scale. Tech experts are worried that the number of connected devices with 5G will be so much more than the current number of connected devices, that huge gaping holes in security will be revealed. This will leave businesses open to security threats.

A further challenge lies in the fact that many IoT devices are hard to secure in the first place — even at relatively low numbers. As Kuras puts it:

“Many of today’s most useful IoT devices are based on some form of Linux, and are notoriously difficult to secure, in some cases being entirely non-upgradeable. Dealing with this limitation on a plant-based network of a few hundred such devices on a walled-garden VLAN, behind a firewall, is one thing. A situation like this on a widely-distributed network of tens of thousands of connected devices, that live in the wild, on a carrier network, is completely untenable.”

What Can Businesses Do to Up Their Security as They Adopt 5G?

Kuras suggest four major changes in design philosophy and built-in security features as we move toward an all-5G cellular network grid:

  1. It’s up to carriers to facilitate security — “extending private, firewall-protected zones into the virtual world of distributed IoT networks.”
  2. With the increase in device count, new device authentication and management protocols will need to be adopted for better control.
  3. Devices will need to be able to monitor and secure themselves by being “self-updating, self-hardening, self-reporting, and self-healing.”
  4. In order to secure network access, “protocols with multiple defined layers of discoverability and access will need to be developed.”
Moving Forward: The Importance of Future Measures That Caters to 5G Security

Certainly, no one is arguing that 5G technology can bring numerous positive changes to businesses, individuals, and technology in general. However, with the good, often comes the bad. 5G is no exception.

There will be challenges with 5G, that’s no question. However, if the design philosophies and built-in security features listed above are implemented, businesses can breathe easier that their systems will be secure, and they may avoid potentially threatening cyberattacks and breaches.

Article contributed by Stuart R. Crawford



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