Introducing 5G- Friend or Foe

The introduction of fifth generation networking (5G) will propel us lightyears into the future. This development in technology has the potential to expand bandwidths that’ll allow up to 50 billion smart devices, which means that virtually everything will be digitally connected.

However, like with any groundbreaking technological advances, there comes a list of unimaginable threats and consequences. As the speed of connectivity vastly increases with 5G, the amount of data gathered from sensors and devices located in our homes, cities, and transportation hubs will grow at unprecedented rates. With smart devices present in both our work and personal lives, there is no doubt that we will experience a new level of convenience, efficiency, and entertainment; but at what cost to our digital and physical safety?

Technology Is Our Friend

As a society, we have grown to rely on technology for just about everything. The trust we place in our devices stems from their mounting capabilities, which have even allowed us to engineer self-parking cars. With 5G coming into play, we’re about to get a little, or a lot, more spoiled. Enhanced information sharing, home automation, and individualized healthcare are only a few examples of what 5G can bring to the forefront. Interconnected smart devices will have the ability to work together to enhance our personal well-being, as well as the overall functionality of communities. That means we’ll start seeing new opportunity for safer, cleaner, and wealthier neighborhoods. Yet, with all the benefits that 5G has to offer, we should be very wary of the security risks associated with these advancements. Security always come comes second.

Trust but Verify (Foe)

5G accelerates the Internet of Things (IoT). However, as Vint Cerf reminds us the Internet was not meant to be secure. Thus, anything connecting to it faces certain vulnerabilities. For every advancement society makes with new capabilities, the same opportunity is afforded to the bad guy. We also should worry about the security and privacy of all things connected to the IoT, which means…….just about everything.

Just as 5G can simplify and enhance our lives, 5G has the potential to undermine our democracy, personal safety, and private information. It’s like a futuristic movie gone wrong where devices that people once trusted turn against them. Eventually, the devices and systems think for themselves…. (think). Now, this might never happen but even coming close is a departure from our democratic and legal goals.   

Let us take cars as an example. 5G networks could allow smart sensors in vehicles to communicate with one another avoiding car accidents. This technology could improve traffic routes and enhance fuel economy. At the same time, those same networks could be accessed by nefarious actors who would use the smart sensors to purposefully cause life-threatening collisions.

In the case of healthcare, the speed and capacity from 5G will create life-saving opportunities for service providers. New smart health monitors might detect medical conditions, aid doctors in improving prescriptions, and alert paramedics in case of emergencies. In theory, this is everything we could ever hope for as it would spur even more innovation. But, if found in the wrong hands, 5G health monitors have the power to do the exact opposite. It would empower the speed and attack power of those attempting to disrupt systems. It would also expand the opportunity to be more disruptive where death could be the end result.

Securing our Connections

So, even with all the excitement surrounding 5G, there is plenty of hesitation. To actually make it a reality there has to be mass deployment by service providers and the costs are great. The technical challenges however will dwarf the access to capital. The fear is that security will be minimized as service providers seek to get radios and systems in service as fast as possible. For instance, new cloud/virtualization technologies such as software-defined networking (SDN) and network functions virtualization (NFV) have their own security issue. As platforms that will be used to support 5G networks, we could be layering vulnerability on vulnerability.

Security begins with securing the transmitting and receiving devices. The code needs to be assessed and systems pen tested as hackers will surely find new access points to use the network for their bidding.  Advanced technological capabilities demand advanced security from lab to street. Hardware, applications, and back-end infrastructure must all be taken into consideration when thinking of our next steps. The one solace that we can take is deploying companies “win” when the system is stable and delivers value. The business truth however is that as soon as systems can generate revenue they will be deployed. This is with security accounted for or not………………….