Getting ready for the opportunities and cyber risks of 5G
5G is a mobile wireless connectivity solution that supports diverse data routing and spectrum options, more scale, and more bandwidth than 4G (LTE). Think of 5G as 4G on steroids — it offers more of everything. More importantly its combination of compelling capabilities fits into the current technological landscape like a disruptive puzzle piece. It will introduce advantages and challenges to the status quo on par with the changes which cloud computing introduced earlier in this century.
Adopting 5G with appropriate cybersecurity will position businesses to take advantage of the potential of 5G while mitigating the risks that come with new technologies.
5G's market promise
Enterprises are excited about 5G's potential because of its many mobile use cases. Broadly speaking, there are three types of applications:
Enhanced mobile broadband (eMBB): Lightning-fast mobile connectivity, home and business internet and gaming applications. Truly a mobile connection with the speed to exceed many wireline services.
Massive machine type communications (mMTC): Internet of Things (IoT) scaled for high density of devices. And most importantly Industrial IoT. Everything from logistics, smart city/depot/campus/buildings, core infrastructure, utility monitors, consumer solutions, and more. These combined with mobile edge compute (MEC) will bring a powerful tool for enterprises to drive efficiencies.
Ultra reliable low-latency communications (URLLC): Smart cities and autonomous vehicles can use lightning-speed and low latency connectivity to make crucial command and control decisions at the edge.
5G offers game-changing features
Applications such as high-speed home internet and autonomous driving are made possible by some of 5G's most promising features, which include:
Network slicing: Arguably this is 5G’s most attractive feature. Network Slicing enables the 5G system to assign and to end private logical network. This slice assigned for each device can have many attributes such as latency required, quality of service, throughput, and routing to specific edge compute or data exit point in the network. These slices will enable many services such as direct cloud access to an enterprise MEC, gaming platform, and even local breakout directly to your office.
Access to mobile edge compute (MEC): 5G enables mobile edge computing (MEC), which facilitates crucial decision-making at the edge. Traditionally, data is fed to remote computing centers or the cloud, where the information is processed. Results are routed back with a processing lag. Such lags will be a thing of the past with 5G. Greater computing power at the edge makes room for a whole host of operations, including machine learning, predictive maintenance, autonomous driving, and immersive gaming/synthetic training. MEC is alternatively known as multi-access edge computing and can be thought of as a miniature cloud deployments at the edge of the internet backbone.
Very low latency connectivity: Low latency, in combination with network slicing and MEC, will enable the many innovative use cases, such as Augmented Reality and Autonomous vehicles. Latency is the amount of time the data packet takes to transverse the network, which in 5G can be as low as 1ms, compared to about 50 to 100 milliseconds in 4G LTE today.
5G's cybersecurity challenges
The very game-changing features that 5G offers also make it vulnerable to cyberthreats. With network slicing, for example, every cell site, IP aggregation point, or cloud stack could have access to network data. The explosion of potential entry points into the network means businesses need to be extra vigilant about security of their 5G applications and usage.
Machine learning and IoT-driven sensors deliver volumes of data to be processed at MECs, but cybersecurity in the IoT space, despite a growing body of standards, is still immature.
Growing device and workforce mobility is another cause for concern. Devices, which process data and upload information to large-scale networks, are an increasingly ripe vector for malware.
Complicating these factors, the 5G network is new technology and operators are adding new vendors into their ecosystem. 5G networks include discrete components, high virtualization, and thousands of objects to manage. While this architecture enables operators to deliver the services businesses need, cybersecurity will only be as strong its weakest link. Additionally, just as cloud computing set all the pieces in place and acted as a catalyst for entirely new follow-on industries and technologies, the same is true for 5G. And just as the compelling economics of cloud computing caused that trend to be inexorable, 5G will serve as the locus of new technologies and will be an intrinsic feature, such that it cannot be ignored or rejected outright.
How to balance 5G's potential and problems
The cybersecurity challenges associated with 5G need not deter enterprises from adopting the technology. In a few years, wireless network architectures will primarily speak the language of 5G and businesses can't afford to miss out. 5G will increasingly become a necessity, much like cloud computing has become standard in many industries.
You do need an ally, like Leidos, who understands what's involved in the next iteration of internet connectivity and can fortify defenses accordingly. We have been deploying 5G MEC test beds and subcomponents for a 5G laydown. Leidos has been working with all aspects of 5G, including potential machine learning applications to identify threat vectors and mitigate vulnerabilities.
5G's potential will likely lead to a range of new applications from improved telehealth and augmented and virtual reality (i.e. maintenance and synthetic training), to uses we can only begin to imagine.
Having a conversation now about risks associated with 5G empowers businesses to profit from its potential while guarding against cybersecurity threats.