Can 5G contend with workplace security concerns?

'Organizations used to build a castle and moat around their buildings using security appliances. The problem is people are no longer working inside the castle.'
10 June 2021

Telecommunication tower with 5G cellular network antenna. Source: Shutterstock

Now that 5G network rollouts are picking up in earnest globally, it’s boundless potential to accelerate use cases within the workplace will surely draw more attention. But will there be any veracity to 5G security concerns, especially at this early stage in implementing it across the enterprise?

5G technology is already showing massive potential as one of the most revolutionary technologies of the digital era. With providers beginning to deploy 5G networks across the globe and the global 5G-infrastructure market is projected to hit more than US$42 billion by 2025. 

From UHD streaming to augmenting sensor checks in utility firms, 5G could have huge implications in entertainment, energy, communication, manufacturing, and the list goes onThough the truly transformational potential of 5G remains uncertain— the most creative and innovative applications will emerge once cellular technology becomes ingrained— the combination of ultra-high network speed and ultra-mobility could fundamentally change our way of working. 

“The incredible increase in bandwidth supported by 5G technology will have huge implications on everything cloud-related, allowing users and devices to consume virtually any application in the cloud from any location,” Paul Martini, cloud-based security expert and CEO of iboss, told TechHQ. However, the rise of 5G will also “invert the traditional office perimeter.”

“Prior to 5G and the cloud, the office perimeter was the buildings in which users worked. Today and with what 5G has to offer, the office perimeter will be the user and the device itself.” While this could present a lot more freedom and flexibility in the way that businesses and workers operate, that increase in mobility, Martini told us, will also bring unique challenges to the organization.

In the 5G era, users are no longer tethered to the confines of wi-fi networks. The decentralization of networks requires administrators to reevaluate the ways users access organizational files and execute business work. “To use a metaphor, organizations used to build a castle and moat around their buildings using security appliances,” Martini said; “The problem is people are no longer working inside the castle.”

Ultimately, Martini believes that the rise in 5G will signal the end of the network perimeter — which will have implications on how businesses must build themselves to protect against security threats. 

Already, employees access more information on the go than ever before, meaning traditional, legacy cybersecurity measures are no longer effective. Increased bandwidth offered by 5G and wider access to ultra-fast connections could enable a wider surface area for attackers, and the ability to carry out attacks more efficiently— users and devices outside of the office will, therefore, be more vulnerable than ever. 

According to UK cybersecurity group Information Risk Management, 83% of cybersecurity leaders across sectors claim to be “troubled” by the heightened risks presented by 5G connectivity. Organizations then must consider security challenges in a more holistic manner as in Martini’s words, the concept of building a “moat around a castle” will not be a sufficient model — instead, 5G connectivity will require businesses to double down on protecting users and devices outside the boundaries of an office.

“This is why it’s critical to shift the design pattern from security strategies that were designed for fixed buildings, such as network security appliances, to network security that lives in the cloud and goes wherever the users go,” Martini said. In late2019, the European Union Member States released a joint risk assessment report on 5G technology and advocated for a new approach to meet the multi-dimensional security challenge of the next-gen network. 

Strategists and insiders of 5G propose developing end-to-end security into the network to address the stated security concerns. Taking network slicing as an example, each ‘service category’ has its distinct network demands. By doing so, the ‘service category’ will have its own virtual slice of the network designated to transmit data through high bandwidth and ultra-low latency, without affecting another service.

As we head towards a future of business empowered by 5G connectivity, applications promise to be unbridled for the most forward-thinking of enterprises. However, every investment into 5G potential must be matched by investment into equally sophisticated and coverall security.