The Benefits and Cyber
Risks of 5G

What is 5G?  How will your organization benefit from it?  What are the risks of 5G?  We will address all of these common questions.

The evolution from 1G to 5G networks

“5G” stands for 5th generation standard for broadband mobile networks technology.

1G – the first generation – was launched by Nippon Telegraph and Telephone in 1979.  It brought mobile phones to the market.

The second generation – 2G – was launched in 1991.  Unlike its predecessor, calls made through 2G networks were encrypted.  2G also made it possible to send text, pictures, and multimedia messages.

In 2001 came 3G.  It enabled mobile users to access data anywhere in the world.  Blackberry rolled out numerous and, at the time, revolutionary features using 3G.  The first iPhone was launched in the 3G era.

4G came out in 2009.  However, it’s LTE technology that most of us use to enjoy fast mobile access, watch high-quality videos on our mobiles, and join high-definition virtual meetings. Because the standards for speed in 4G technologies were difficult to achieve, LTE, the technology that displayed significantly improved performance over 3G, was allowed to be branded as 4G LTE – a sign that we often see in the corner of our mobile phones.

This brings us to 5G.  NASA developed it back in 2008 to support the launch of the Machine-to-Machine Intelligence Corp.  At the same time, South Korea launched its 5G R&D program.  However, it’s not until the last couple of years that 5G networks started picking up speed.

Without diving into the technical aspects of 5G networks, it’s worth noting that 5G operates at different radio frequencies, meaning it requires new infrastructure, unlike 3G and 4G networks that could still use the 2G legacy infrastructure.

Advantages of 5G

As of September 2020, 5G has a 7% global rate of penetration, according to the Global System for Mobile Communications Associations.  It estimates that 5G will account for 1.2 billion connections by 2025 – about one-third of the global population.

Despite the global pandemic having somewhat disrupted the speed of adoption (21.8% of organizations that were planning to move forward with it have not yet done so), it’s only a matter of time before 5G becomes the dominant mobile network standard.

It makes sense. 5G presents a lot of benefits:

  • Significantly faster speed: 5G is up to 100 times faster than 4G.  The transmission speed can approach15-20 gigabytes per second.
  • Unparalleled connectivity: an average American has access to10.37 connected devices per household: mobiles, tablets, computers, smart speakers, smartwatches, smart TVs, etc.  Organizations, too, employ an increasingly complex system of connected devices.

5G will reduce the lag time – or “latency” – to practically zero.  This means that communication between a device and a network will be instantaneous.  As the complexity of device networks continue to grow and new technologies emerge, the need for 5G will become all the more apparent.

For example, robotics surgeries and telemedicine will only work with instant communication between a network and a device.  Any institution that considers implementing the concept of “smart cities” will finally be able to move forward with it thanks to 5G.  Industrial-level IoT systems will be able to perform at full capacity.

  • Cloud computing at the speed of light: data transfers will happen instantaneously.  Organizations that utilize 5G will enjoy real-time streaming of data between facilities.  For large organizations and time-sensitive businesses, this will significantly improve their operations.

High-speed ISP vs. 5G

As 5G technologies start rolling out on a larger scale, we will predominantly witness hybrid models of IT systems that utilize both a high-speed ISP connection and 5G.  The question then is: Which systems are best suited for 5G vs. which ones can be sufficiently served by high-speed ISPs?

Because 5G technologies are still in the early stages of adoption, they should be used, at first, for the most critical IoT systems that require ultra-high speeds of transmission – managing the system of smart cities or autonomous vehicles, for example.  Low-power LTE-M and NB-IoT devices, on the other hand, can continue utilizing regular ISPs as they typically transmit far less data.  DO NOT PUBLISH this section yet.

Cyber risks of 5G

5G has the power to transform the way we live and work.  Its mass arrival is also inevitable.  If you want your organization to enjoy the numerous benefits of this network, you must also be aware of the risks and vulnerabilities.

  • 5G is a distributed network, unlike its centralized predecessors.  Data is transmitted over shorter distances than with 4G, which enables faster speed, but also poses additional risks.  A centralized system with fewer pieces of hardware is easier to monitor and maintain than a dynamic software-based system with a larger number of points-of-contact like 5G.
  • Virtual software will take over many of the functions currently performed by hardware.  This will most likely make 5G the target of more hacking attempts.
  • The more devices you add to the infrastructure, the bigger the target that system becomes.  As interconnectivity increases, so will the perceived value of the interconnected system, making it all the more alluring to hackers and other criminal organizations.

How your organization can future-proof its cybersecurity

Whether your organization adopts 5G in one or five years, you need to start developing the right processes and organizational culture now.

  1. Regularly conduct network audits.  If your network has any vulnerabilities, you need to address them right away.  This is not only a vital habit that your organization needs to develop in order to prepare for 5G, but something you should be doing irrespectively to protect your organization’s data.
  2. Map out exactly how you will be using 5G.  Think of the needs of your organization and which interconnected systems can benefit most from 5G technologies.  Creating a blueprint now will give you more control over how and when 5G is deployed in your organization.
  3. Keep your anti-virus software and devices’ security patches up to date.  As technology evolves, so do the cybersecurity needs.  Routine audits of your network and a comprehensive cybersecurity plan will ensure you are proactively addressing the changing needs of your organization’s cyberinfrastructure.
  4. Switching to 5G means overhauling your entire IT system, including replacing some legacy connections and infrastructures, integrating IoT and AI-based systems into the workflow, and updating your cybersecurity solutions.  This is no small endeavor, and the slightest error in planning and implementation can leave your organization vulnerable to security breaches.  It’s never too early to start looking for IT vendors and assessing their capabilities.  Cybersecurity experts that can integrate the various technologies while ensuring your organization’s cyberinfrastructure is secure are essential to a successful 5G transition.
  5. Educate your staff.  Every list of cybersecurity recommendations always includes the human factor.  Your system can be bullet-proof, but if your organization lacks the culture of mindful and responsible cyber behavior, it might not matter.  As cyber threats evolve, so should your security awareness training.

5G presents a world of opportunities. Its smart and strategic utilization has the power to change the lives of millions of people for the better.  However, with its numerous advantages come additional risks.  Your organization needs to start thinking of ways to safeguard against those risks sooner rather than later.