What Can Service Providers Do About 5G Security?

We’re about to undergo one of the biggest generational changes in technology—the shift to 5G networks for mobile internet connectivity. It won’t happen overnight, but it will happen over the next few years.

Now is the critical time for us to begin asking vital questions about security. Specifically, what role should service providers take to make these networks—and our world—as safe as possible. 

5G networks offer the promise of dramatically faster and more reliable connections from mobile devices. Not just computers, laptops, tablets and smartphones, but the billions upon billions of connected devices that are already spreading like wildfire.

In a 5G network, every device has the potential for a speed of 100 megabytes per second. This will create an explosion of innovation and will make for ubiquitous connectivity for everything—human to human, human to machine, machine to machine. Autonomous vehicles will actually be able to work. Remote surgeries will be a real thing. 

Don’t just take my word for it. Here’s what 451 Research has to say about 5G: “It will radically change the technologies and business models of the mobile telecommunications industry. More than that, 5G is widely expected to be a defining stage in the global evolution of IT in general, affecting almost all parts of industry and society.”

But what about security? With ubiquitous connectivity and virtually unlimited bandwidth, what can we do to maximize protections? 

5G networks don’t just create opportunities for businesses, governments and other institutions to be innovative; they provide adversaries with a new platform for innovation—not to mention an attack surface that will be growing by the billions. 

In the brave new world of 5G it is time for the telecommunications providers that are building these networks to step up. It is also time for government regulators to make sure service providers step up. Not two or three years down the road when deployments will be growing, but now, when the networks are being constructed and protections can be built in.

What, you may ask, can the service providers do? In the past, we haven’t asked them to take on the role of securing the information highways they provide. Why should we ask that of them now?

Here’s why:

  1. Because they can. The technology is available for providers to visibly inspect everything traversing through their networks so that they can block malicious traffic where and when it is necessary to do so. 5G networks are built on software, so security can be deployed in different ways versus earlier generations.
  2. Because they should: 5G networks will quickly become a vital part of everything we do. How we live, how we work; education, entertainment, healthcare, voting, defense, you name it. We will be dependent on these systems, so let’s remove the need for  users to think about security every time they log on. They still will, but let’s make it easier—and safer.
  3. Because leaders must insist on it.  If you’re a CEO or a CIO you will likely be putting all your chips at the center of the table with 5G, building business models that rely on the speed, reliability and availability of these networks. You can—and should—demand a clean pipe to the Internet, free of malicious codes and security challenges. You can’t afford to have any of your applications, workloads or data compromised. 

Would you want your family traveling on a highway that doesn’t have basic security protections, like lights or warning signs?  Or course not. 

Expecting the builders of the information highways to do basic inspection and prevention is not too much to ask. It is something each of us, as business leaders, security professionals or just plain technology users, should demand. Now is the time to make our voices heard.

Sean Duca is Vice President, Regional Chief Security Officer, Asia Pacific and Japan, for Palo Alto Networks. 

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