5G: What CEOs Need To Know About The Next Cellular Revolution

Preparing for the speed and threat surface impacts of 5G requires adjustments to your organization’s security posture. Here's how to tackle it.

From international news outlets to your Facebook news feed, there’s no shortage of opinions on 5G. These fall into three main groups: the optimistic prognosticators, who believe 5G will change everything; the pragmatic centrists, who believe 5G is a big leap; and the doomsayers, who warn the fifth generation of cellular could cause irreparable harm to businesses.

There is some amount of alarmism that always surrounds introductions of new technologies. But there is a side to 5G to approach cautiously: cybersecurity. Despite the potential for 5G to shape the world, it also comes with myriad new cybersecurity risks, such as new types of threats, faster spread and an expanded attack surface.

The Promise of 5G

The 5G benefits mentioned range from true self-driving cars to being able to download multi-part movie series in 4K. This boils down to three main factors: increased speed, lower latency and higher capacity.

The Potential Dark Side of 5G – Increased Cyberattack Resources

5G can pose some significant new security risks. The 5G move represents a shift from hardware-based, centralized switching to software-defined digital routing and relies on a system of distributed digital networks with more traffic routing points. Adequately securing these routing points is necessary to avoid compromise, but could prove difficult and costly.

• Corporate Side: We may find ourselves with 5G-enabled laptops, or using 5G hotspot capabilities on our phones — which will present a fundamental shift in the way that corporate traffic is secured. Users typically routed through enterprise physical infrastructure for security enforcement would now connect “directly” to the internet via the 5G link, the speed of which would be indistinguishable from traditional corporate infrastructure. It would also eliminate visibility that IT security teams are accustomed to having on their networks and expose users to more attacks.

• Infrastructure Side: According to a 2019 Brookings report, higher-level network functions formerly performed by physical appliances on the 5G infrastructure itself are now being virtualized in software, increasing cyber vulnerability attack surface. “Even if it were possible to lock down the software vulnerabilities within the network, the network is being managed by software that can be vulnerable,” the report published. “An attacker gaining control of the software managing the networks can also control the network.”

• Amplified DDoS Risk: More devices online means a significantly enlarged attack surface and the potential for more widespread infection. With more devices to control, and more bandwidth to exploit, attacks could become far more debilitating and widespread.

• Growing IoT Risk: Many new devices will be IoT-enabled and are manufactured with minimal security standards. This risk is exacerbated by the un-managed nature of these devices. When a vulnerability is uncovered, updates for IoT devices are unavailable, leaving devices vulnerable.

What You Can Do to Prepare for the Advent of the 5G Era in Cybersecurity

Preparing for the speed and threat surface impacts of 5G requires adjustments to your organization’s security posture. Suggested tips:

• Formulate your updated security posture and assess what aspects of your network and organization will be most impacted.

• As workloads move to the cloud, consider security solutions that follow the workloads and data. SASE (Secure Access Service Edge) security will play an important role in the world of hyper-distributed IT infrastructure once 5G technology is ubiquitous.

• Shift to a zero-trust approach to network architecture and access. Revisit and harden identity and access management policies.

• Conduct employee cybersecurity education, focusing on securing and updating Good employee cybersecurity awareness is important for dealing with new security threats emerging with 5G.

• Start investigating and investing in next-gen endpoint protection that is based on behavioral and ML techniques for advanced endpoint protection.

• Revisit your patching and mitigation strategy for devices at the network edge, especially for any new IoT device deployments.

• Ensure your DDoS protections are prepared to handle attacks of enormous magnitude. Often, network service providers can help absorb attacks.

• Deploy solutions leveraging machine learning, automated remediation, etc., to help security teams keep up with the increase in speed and activity on the network and prepare for potential new attacks.

• Ensure all devices are fully patched and have current firmware, apps, operating systems, etc.

• Move your security infrastructure to the cloud, where network elasticity is more pronounced and built into the offering.

• Ensure your SaaS providers have the right credentials for protection against both high-level DDoS and traditional attacks.

• Decentralize your management solutions to reduce effects of DDoS attacks.

Conclusion

5G technology is an exciting infrastructure enhancement for an increasingly digital society and will create a platform where innovation can flourish. But reaping the full benefits of 5G will require an understanding of its dangers and how to prevent them — before cybercriminals learn how to fully master this powerful new tool for themselves.