5G is widely considered the next great breakthrough in the digital transformation of business. And with every great breakthrough come new and often surprising security threats. Understanding what new risks and vulnerabilities will accompany 5G technology is critical for businesses looking to stay ahead of the cybersecurity curve. Here’s a little of what you’ll need to know to not fall victim to the pitfalls of technological disruption.
Understanding the Impact of 5G Technology
will inevitably be a physical overhaul of all our essential networks. This overhaul will be wide-reaching across industries but also far-reaching with potential for decades-long impact. Because 5G is the conversion to a mostly all-software network, future upgrades will be software updates much like the current upgrades to your smartphone. Because of the cyber vulnerabilities of software, the toughest part of the real 5G race is to retool how we think about securing what will inevitably be considered the most important network of the 21st century, as well as the ecosystem of devices and applications that sprout from that network.
Never have the essential networks and services that define our lives, our economy, and our national security had so many participants, each reliant on the other—and none of which have the final responsibility for cybersecurity. The Internet of Things will be more connected, more communicative, and more vulnerable with a faster more powerful network on which to be connected. What was once a slight vulnerability, where once hacked devices or systems could be contained, and security concerns mitigated, it’s hard for us to see what faster network access could provide the best and brightest in the hacker community. With great power comes great responsibility. So thinking proactively and strategizing around how to limit risk and address vulnerabilities pre-emptively will be the key to 5G success.
Unpacking the Security and 5G Risk Equation
For several years now, the United States has focused progress toward minimal 5G cyber risk outcomes by zeroing in on legitimate concerns regarding foreign devices such as Huawei and ZTE equipment on U.S. networks. However, this focus on Chinese equipment overlooks the need for a strong national focus on the full breadth of cybersecurity risk factors facing 5G adoption. Policy leaders need to conduct a balanced risk assessment, with a broad focus on vulnerabilities, to better understand the threat probabilities and impact drivers of the cyber risk equation. Oversight is clearly necessary to assure businesses and consumers alike that the promise of 5G is not overcome by cyber threats which result from the too hasty deployment of a new network.
A review of 5G cyber threat mitigation should instead focus on the responsibilities of both businesses and the government. The clearest risks of dependency on a larger 5G ecosystem have already begun to emerge. Moving away from centralized, hardware-based switching to distributed, software-defined digital routing denies the network the potential for chokepoint inspection and control. Even when lockdowns are possible, when the network is also being managed by software, in many cases early generation artificial intelligence, an attacker who gains control of the software managing a network can also control the network itself.
A rapidly expanding catalog of IoT devices opens up the playing field to hackers who are able to penetrate run-of-the-mill IoT devices to access the networks themselves. This has already been an issue, but what will happen when there are even more diverse and variably managed devices, each hackable and at the same time critical to anything from public safety to the battlefield.
While it’s clear that a faster and more connected network promises great leaps in the work of those committed to doing good. So too does it promise great vulnerabilities and even opportunities to those looking to do harm. In that light, businesses eager to join the rush to 5G should perform a committed review of 5G cyber threat mitigation to make sure they are addressing what risk factors they would be exposing themselves and their business to.