Security Experts:

5G Security Risk vs. Reward

To Reap the Benefits of 5G and Ensure Security, Organizations Must be Fully Educated and Willing to Work Alongside the Technology

Last year, I published an article about the promises of 5G and how enterprises should be considering security before adopting the potential benefits of this next-gen technology. Now, a year later, 5G has finally arrived – we’ve experienced the first nation-level rollout in the U.S. and Europe is not too far behind, unveiling 5G capabilities in many major cities.

From an enterprise perspective, decision-makers plan to use 5G for more efficient processes and monitoring of business activities. They recognize that automation, robotics and healthcare, among others, will benefit in 2021 from the increased data throughput, improved analytics and reduced latency offered by this technology. 

However, when it comes to security, there’s still a general lack of knowledge and information on 5G – without which makes it difficult to determine the right questions to ask of vendors, providers and partners ahead of buying decisions and deployments.

The security landscape changes constantly and threats become more sophisticated – it is the nature of the industry. Meanwhile, 5G is an exciting technology, with new use cases and emerging capabilities in development all the time that have potential to solve complex problems. Still, we do not yet know the full impact of 5G on enterprises and consumers alike, which raises concerns – 5G will unearth new vulnerabilities, and their magnitude and effect could be significant. 

How can enterprises and service providers be better prepared for every eventuality? The best way to remain a step ahead is to use intelligence to interrogate and understand this new threat landscape effectively.

The Self-Driving Car

Consider your car, for example. Once upon a time, vehicles were feats of pure mechanical engineering and, until recently, only static information – such as mileage, speed and MPG – was available to drivers. Today, the car is a digital and electrical masterpiece, a connected device, with information such as the nearest gas stations and real-time fuel prices at your fingertips. Even a smartphone can control various aspects of a car, such as turning on/off air conditioning and opening/closing windows. 

While it’s impressive how far we’ve come, the car is now yet another connected device that needs to be protected as connected vehicles send and receive data through cloud services. Therefore, if an attack intercepted this communication, the threat potential moves instantly from mere irritation to life-threatening. Attackers would not only have access to data on the location and speed of the car, but could also hijack drive-by-wire functions such as acceleration or braking. With the added speed and scale of malware strikes made possible by 5G, this type of attack becomes more feasible than ever; as more devices – cars – are connected, this frightening prospect only grows. 

Scalability: A Double-Edged Sword 

Connected vehicles is just one area where we will see increased scalability with the advent of 5G and in turn, a need for increased security. Where companies once had hundreds or thousands of endpoints to manage and secure, they’ll soon have hundreds of thousands, leading to potentially unmanageable IT/security workloads. This is where the idea of scalability becomes a double-edged sword. 

It is important to remember that while the hype surrounding AI is warranted (to an extent), it is not a magic solution to the security problems that crop up in light of 5G. IT professionals must keep realistic expectations and use AI for the specific tasks it is known to perform well, including:

• Assisting in the transition to responsive security - Security teams can get easily overwhelmed by their responsibilities. Responsive security is a way AI can help counter threats and maintain the upper hand against cybercriminals.

Cutting out the noise - A recent study by Vanson Bourne, commissioned by Juniper Networks, revealed that eighty-seven percent (87%) of security professionals seek a security solution to give better visibility across existing apps, reducing false positives and improving threat response times. This is a major benefit of automation that greatly frees up the time of IT staff to focus on big picture projects rather than mundane monitoring. 

No matter how strong the team, security professionals simply cannot anticipate every threat that may enter the network. Because of this, IT teams would do well to consider an Artificial Intelligence (AI)/automation strategy to keep up with the scale and speed of issues that come with 5G networks. 

The Holy Grail to 5G Security

There is one rule of thumb to remember above all else when it comes to 5G security, or really any type of security: spread the knowledge. 

It takes a village to successfully secure all parts of the network and this means that staff members across the business should all be properly trained to spot and report potential threats. Tools like automation can surely help safeguard the growing number of devices, but it’s all for naught if teams aren’t properly trained. Humans must work in tandem with the technology. 

To reap the benefits of 5G and ensure security, organizations must be smarter, fully educated and willing to work alongside the tech. The combination of automation knowledge with AI innovation and stronger operator awareness is the solution all enterprises must strive for.

The fundamental conclusion is that new solutions bring about new challenges and it’s crucial for teams to weigh all the pros and cons before taking any permanent steps toward implementation. By setting realistic expectations, having a plan in place to counteract any negative side-effects, and creating a culture of information sharing, teams may find that the benefits of a 5G outweigh the security risks.

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Laurence Pitt is Global Security Strategy Director at Juniper Networks. He joined Juniper in 2016 and is the security subject matter expert for the corporate marketing team. He has over twenty years of cyber security experience, having started out in systems design and moved through product management in areas from endpoint security to managed networks. In his role at Juniper, he articulates security clearly to business and across the business, creating and having conversations to provoke careful thought about process, policy and solutions. Security throughout the network is a key area where Juniper can help as business moves to the cloud and undertakes the challenge of digital transformation.