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Comment: Cyber Resilience and 5G Must Evolve Hand-in-hand

Paul Coffey

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5G networks

Paul Coffey, CEO of The Scotland 5G Centre, addresses lingering questions over 5G and cybersecurity. 

5G is, by nature, dynamic and complex. Developments in 5G, artificial intelligence and Internet of Things (IoT) technologies are leading us toward what is being hyped as the era of intelligent connectivity.

It will enable new capabilities for transport, entertainment, manufacturing and more, where data will be analysed in real-time to enable instantaneous decision making.

The transformational pay-off of 5G has not yet impacted day to day life for the majority, but analysis from Deloitte suggests that next-generation mobile networks could boost Scotland’s GDP by £17 billion and create 160,000 jobs by 2035.

Nevertheless, building trust and confidence in the technology will be essential for widespread adoption and delivering this potential. 5G could unlock powerful opportunities for connected, smart industries and communities if built on solid, secure foundations.

We want to make sure everyone understands the transformational impact 5G can have on their lives and as well as dispelling myths and communicating the benefits, users’ trust stems from security and reliability.

Networks must be well protected, not only to ensure the safety of a business’ information but to instil a sense of security with customers. Therefore, cybersecurity and 5G must work in tandem, as early as possible in the development of network and systems to mitigate the risks. As with any new technology, there are unique cybersecurity threats that both 5G network operators and users will have to contend with.

With greater use comes potential misuse, and there are three main factors influencing the risks associated with 5G.

Addressing the risks

Firstly, networks are likely to involve many devices and touchpoints, meaning increased risks of weaknesses in the network. As more information is transmitted through the network, there is a wider pool of opportunity for those looking for a route to get in.

There will be a range of services and functions significantly boosted by 5G technology, meaning a variety of devices connected to a network. Some critical roles could be severely disrupted if the wrong person managed to take control of a system – for example, industrial machinery or driverless cars.

We also have to consider the nature of the information and data being communicated – if public services such as healthcare move to 5G it could transform the NHS as we know it, but at the same time-sensitive and confidential data will be passing through the network.

At the same time, we are faced with hackers who are evolving at a similar pace – or even quicker – than the tools and technology being developed. We cannot afford to underestimate the potential risks of disruption and it cannot be a static exercise either. Threats are continually changing, and we must build in cyber resilience by design and have plans in place to regularly monitor and upgrade the different types of systems.

Those behind cyber-attacks, such as the disruption car manufacturer Honda faced earlier this month, are generally motivated by one of two things: financial gain or the power of information. Largely, this comes as a result of data theft or distributed denial-of-service (DDoS), often using botnets with command and control software to access a network.

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These types of attack are commonplace in the IT industry, however, the major difference with 5G is that high network speeds mean any data and information can be downloaded quicker than before, potentially before a breach is detected.

To date, the telecoms industry has typically been very trusting of its users, but as 5G expands this expectation needs to change. Designing with this in mind allows engineers to identify weaknesses and build in additional features to manage the risks from the outset, rather than it being an after-thought.

5G is different to anything that has come before; therefore, securing the networks and systems requires a different approach. While there will still be risks associated with the network, security must also be focused on the way it is used and the nature of the devices that will be connected.

This technology has great potential, and it could be the catalyst for digitalisation across many industries and public services. However, ultimately its success depends on creating trusted, reliable and secure systems.

Paul Coffey

CEO, The Scotland 5G Centre

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