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5G Security has Taken Center Stage, but is it a Business Imperative?

 Published: September 4, 2020  Created: September 4, 2020

By Michael O’Malley

Latest insights from the Economist Intelligence Unit’s Global Barometer show that 41% of execs think 5G is now less important than it was before the pandemic. There are numerous reasons why this could be the case, one being that 4G and home broadband has been proven to be up to the job of supporting home working.

There’s also no escaping the headlines that surround 5G and political espionage. They read like a script from House of Cards. Presidents, prime ministers, heads of foreign intelligence services and global corporate leaders, providing the colorful characters that are essential in any good political drama. It could well have made some organizations rethink their plans for adopting 5G enabled technologies and wait until there can be more assurances on security.

New Technologies

The latest edict by the UK government is a pretty clear statement. It has promoted many industry insiders to say that it will take years to exchange kit, possibly even a decade for some operators, as they take on the heavy lifting of removing core network components and finding alternative suppliers. The financial impact is huge: operators will have to find additional budget to purchase the kit, conduct validation and integration testing, overhaul their service wrap around offers and factor in the time and cost of retraining employees on new technology.

Achieve new ambitions related to driverless cars

Despite all this, many carriers have made very public statements that they will progress with 5G as planned, some are even accelerating plans. The insight available to them confirms that there is still a good proportion of businesses and pubic bodies that see its value. It’s a way to propel smart city development and connectivity, and to achieve new ambitions related to driverless cars, and highly automated manufacturing for example. 5G therefore remains a rolling stone and regardless of the core network kit, security needs to be designed in, not bolted on, at every step of network and application design and build.

New Rules For Working

The pandemic has shaken up how we live and work. It has brought home the necessity for ultra-fast, affordable and agile communications everywhere. It’s also proved a fertile hunting ground for scammers keen to exploit the public’s thirst for up to the minute news. Click bait has been rife and it still forms one of the most effective ways to distribute malware and ransomware.

Unprotected VPNs have added to the risks, as companies scrambled to roll out remote access at mass scale. It overburdened their security infrastructure and created vulnerabilities all in the name of getting home working ramped up quickly. Some companies have learnt the hard way that maintaining patches on software and keeping on top of the security education their employees receive is vital to protect operations from attack.

Rural Vs Urban Working

The move to home working has also brought to light discrepancies in speed and access to communications, reigniting the rural versus city investment debate. We’ve seen some companies say that employees can now work anywhere, and others downsize their office footprints. This is opening the door for people to swap city living and commutes for more rural locations. 5G roll out plans typically focus on large cities and towns, but is this still the right strategy? I’d suggest that operators need to step back and look at the larger global trends and update their plans.

Connected Cows And Beyond

For example, farming and the environment has to be a planning priority now. To meet the needs of a predicted 9 billion people in 2050, farming supply will need to increase by 50%. COVID-19 has brought into sharp focus how precarious the global food supply chain is. In addition, this increase needs to be met with technology to make agriculture more efficient in order to preserve the world’s natural resources while meeting these goals.

COVID-19 has brought into sharp focus how precarious the global food supply chain is

The vision of the ‘connected cows’ is mooted as a way to solve global food security. As such, farming and the environment are set to gain greatly from technologies and applications enabled by 5G Internet of Things (IoT). But the benefits will only be realised if the connectivity and security is in place. The vast network of IoT sensors that will be used to improve farming inefficiencies, increase welfare standards and reporting, as well as efficiently manage food manufacturing will generate an abundance of data.

Highly Sensitive Data

This data will range from highly sensitive sets related to pricing and employees, critical data related to yield management and compliance, to more transactional weather and water sensor data. Ensuring continuity will be essential to not just farming productivity and meeting standards, but also protecting IP or personal information throughout the supply chain and preventing a cyberwar intended to starve people. Corporate espionage is a very real threat to manufacturing at the moment, and as farming becomes more connected, it’s expected this threat will extend as far as the farmyard. Not only that, protests against government handling of policies related to food poverty or overproduction could be done using ‘hacktivism’. It’s easy to buy a hack these days and start an online attack to make your point. So, as farming adopts technology models we usually see in the corporate world of pharma and finance, it too may become a target.

Healthcare Goes Truly National

The much talked of vision for the virtual GP accelerated in the pandemic, helping people see a GP without leaving the house. Governments have had a very real glimpse into the importance of connected healthcare in terms of saving money and time. There is now a greater likelihood that nursing teams will be given mobile devices that can access and update patient records in real-time, GPs will scale down consultation space in favour of online appointments, and prescriptions will be automatically filled and delivered at the click of a button. Comprehensive 5G networks can help make more of this happen particularly in remote areas where health care is scarce, of that there is no doubt, and this is before we get into the exciting prospect of remote brain surgery that 5G can facilitate.

The pandemic also exposed the precarious nature of online healthcare

But the pandemic also exposed the precarious nature of online healthcare. Patient data remains a sitting duck, as illustrated perfectly by breaches we saw across the world both in public and private delivery. At its very worst, nation state attacks pose a significant threat to public health and it’s essential there is local and global collaboration to ensure data is protected. This threat won’t wane. In fact, it is increasing as we drive more innovation and connectivity. Security experts have their work cut out. But it’s not impossible to achieve secure networks and applications, so long as we don’t put profit before people.

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