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2020: Cybersecurity Evolution Meets 5G Revolution

 Published: January 13, 2020  Created: January 10, 2020


In the race to 5G, 2019 focused on ‘firsts.’ Mobile operators competed to be the first to offer 5G-enabled networks. Mobile Network Operators (MNOs) like Sprint, T-Mobile, and Verizon boasted new 5G capabilities. Consumers started to wake up to the possibility of the experiences 5G will bring: smarter homes, smart cities, autonomous driving, and more.

As we move into 2020, technologies like IoT, AI and machine learning will advance opportunities in the 5G era and bring a sweeping communication revolution. 5G, however, is a switch to mostly all-software networks, so it’s not without its challenges – one of which is cybersecurity, a hot button issue that will grow equally in scope and breadth as 5G adoption increases. The 5G revolution will usher in three cybersecurity evolutions as we enter 2020:


According to the GSMA, 5G is on track to account for 15% of global mobile connections by 2025. This presents huge opportunities for MNOs and Communications Service Providers (CSPs).

As CSPs roll out 5G-enabled services, 5G’s lower latency, sizeable improvement in bandwidth, and ability to deliver higher speeds will fuel mobile consumer services, IoT, and other 5G advancements. 5G is a switch to mostly all-software networks, and upgrades will resemble the current periodic upgrades to your smartphone. As a result, the cyber vulnerabilities of software pose potentially enormous security risks – one which MNOs and CSPs cannot ignore. Just like with Newton’s third law, expect to see an opposite and equal reaction with cybercriminals devising significantly more advanced cyber attacks.

To combat this, 5G cybersecurity must start at the distributed edge and will require fundamental shifts in how MNOs think about networking and security. Security will need to be edge-to-edge – from the IoT edge, across the core enterprise network, and out to branch offices and multiple public clouds. To do this, everything connected to the enterprise ecosystem needs identification and to have its state of security or vulnerability identified. Following this, all requests for access to network resources will also need to be verified, validated and authenticated to ensure an effective security defense.

MNOs will need to work even more closely with their IT departments to ensure 5G networks and software has built-in, end-to-end security upfront. Those who take a “watch and wait” approach to cybersecurity will be at risk of a rapid downward spiral to the bottom. Network and software security updates will require continuous monitoring and remediation to be effective.

Notably, however, in 2020 cybersecurity will not only fall to MNOs and CSPs. Consumers must also develop a renewed commitment to mobile device security and privacy protection. Utilization of tools while online, such as AV software, VPN, secure browsers, etc. will be imperative to protect their devices in the 5G era.


5G capable devices and networks continue to gain rapid adoption, promising to shape and define our daily lives while fueling economies. Statista reports the 5G security market will grow to a USD $4.02 billion by 2023. As the market grows, and the 5G network revolution unfolds, the question of how attendant devices and applications will be secured is a key concern.

Who holds ultimate responsibility for cybersecurity in the 5G era? There are many theories and much speculation. In 2020, however, responsibility will turn towards services providers who deliver the network, with added support from governmental and industry security bodies. In the foreseeable future, expect to see legislation and best practice guidelines for device and application providers arise to ensure products have a cybersecurity stamp of approval.

In 2020, machine learning and AI will increasingly combat cyberthreats. This will be important for MNOs, looking to new technologies and AI and ML to help evade malicious attacks. As such, we’ll see network providers unveil automation plans that expand to cover all layers of the security architecture.


ABI Research forecasts machine learning in cybersecurity is set to boost big data, intelligence, and analytics spending to $96 billion by 2021, pointing to the opportunity for telcos to take advantage of machine learning and AI’s capabilities to increase cybersecurity practices.

Effective cybersecurity solutions must respond and remediate threats quickly. To this end, AI supplies an added layer for zero-day threat detection in endpoint security when used for detection of advanced and low incidence rate threats without human intervention. While typically used in the cybersecurity industry, supervised AI algorithms extract patterns in existing corpora of identified good and bad files which allows for quick evaluation and risk scoring of new files. Leading-edge cybersecurity firms have identified these advantages, and utilize unsupervised models to extract feature sets and parameter models on unlabeled data sets to extract hidden patterns and novel approaches in order to detect threats.

Old models in which a potentially dangerous file was flagged, loaded to the cloud, and reviewed by numerous threat detection algorithms will no longer suffice. It’s a concept known as “pioneer dies,” and it can no longer effectively keep pace with rapidly evolving threats.

In 2020, expect an increase in the use of highly-attuned machine learning models running on the endpoint itself and not just in the cloud, enabling real time identification and termination of threats. This should come as welcome news for telcos moving to the cloud and CSPs evaluating how to mitigate risk.

The new year presents Telcos with a 5G ecosystem still in its infancy, which affords them the opportunity to simultaneously focus on cybersecurity as it is pushed to the edge. Telcos must ready themselves in 2020 for both.

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