- 5G is set to supercharge the growth of internet-connected devices, which could give bad actors more openings to hack your business.
- But some experts believe that 5G will also bring significant benefits in the fight against cybercrime.
- John Marinho, vice president at wireless comms industry body CTIA, says 5G will tailor security updates for every single device, and also boost encryption.
- Click here for more in the Putting 5G to Work series.
The speed, capacity, and reliability of 5G networks will transform life for consumers and businesses – so much so that it’s been described as helping bring about “generational change” and even “the fourth industrial revolution.”
But inevitably, with the promise of so much more data and billions of new internet-connected devices, comes the threat of hackers and others looking to profit from stolen information, and so with that the heightened challenge of improving cybersecurity.
The good news is that, from the outset, security is clearly a priority for those preparing to bring us all this new technology. John Marinho, the vice president of cybersecurity at wireless comms industry body CTIA, points out: “You now have a standard which provides security by design, privacy by design, from the very beginning.”
When it comes to 5G’s most effective new weapons against cybercrime, he says: “There’s no silver bullet. It’s a question of using all the tools in the tool chest, and these are among the most advanced tools the industry has now created.”
Two significant tools are 5G’s capability to tailor security updates for every single device, and also its ability to boost encryption between those devices.
Currently, although security updates provide a robust defence across networks, 4G providers send the same types of updates to all devices, big or small, what Marinho calls “a model for one size fits all, tailored around smartphones” and he gives an example of the negative consequences.
“If I were to take the security models used on a smartphone and try to apply them to, say, a GPS dog collar, it wouldn’t work, it wouldn’t fit, it would risk consuming too much power and run down the battery.”
By contrast, 5G providers will be better able to identify the different devices and so implement individual security functions tailored to each of them, from smartphones to kitchen appliances, sensors to factory floor equipment.
All of these devices have different priorities, and Marinho adds. “Whether it’s data rates or latency that is critical, we can support the full spectrum of devices being used by the network, and ensure they all have the most suitable security possible,” he says.
Boosting encryption similarly goes hand in hand with the increased reliability for mobile device users promised by 5G. As smartphone users move between networks, their unique information is stored as an International Mobile Subscriber Identity (IMSI), contained in each phone’s SIM card. It is the key to authenticating the device every time it is used, and thus contains highly personal data about each user, where they are and how they use the wireless network.
Now 5G networks will use a key embedded in the SIM card that encrypts that same IMSI before sending it to the network, meaning all that information is protected from cybercriminals – they won’t be able to read the code in transit, nor unlock the decryption key.
Marinho explains: “It will become a challenge for them to even try to monitor the transmission or detect it in the same way we’ve seen those threats to 4G.” He adds: “This is really driven by the notion of including privacy as part of the design in the same way as security.”
Clearly, as well as all its promised benefits, 5G will introduce the capability to mitigate many of the threats we’ve seen in earlier network generations. Marino calls it “the most secure technology we have on the planet, built upon that of previous generations.”
He reflects: “Networks continue to evolve. We saw it with 2G to 3G, and now on a larger scale with the introduction to 5G. There will be a point in time when people come to wonder, ‘Why did we ever use wires to connect anything?'”
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