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Securing a Connected Future: 5G and IoT Security

Organizations Must be Wary of the Security Implications of Transitioning to 5G 

Already available in some cities, 5G is ushering in an entirely new set of standards for global wireless communications. As the IoT-era continues to come into its own, businesses developing automotive, healthcare, industrial, energy and other IoT applications are planning with 5G in mind for a lot of reasons. 

The greater capacity and reduced latency of 5G will enable a seamless, more efficient operational experience. Organizations from manufacturers to hospitals will be able to make improvements and send critical upgrades to entire networks without disrupting operations, overloading servers or otherwise damaging assets and services. 

We can’t forget about 5G speed. Imagine downloading a feature-length movie in seconds on your phone with 5G speed. In an industrial setting, faster mission-critical communication between IoT devices will drastically improve productivity and efficiency. Globally, 5G is estimated to enable $12.3 trillion in economic output by 2035 with manufacturing accounting for more than $3.3 billion.  

As a result, 5G will forever change the way we do industrial jobs. Doing maintenance on a wind farm will include a handheld device with data and insights from sensors on turbines, blades and weather systems. In transportation and storage, remotely networked, autonomous trucks will drive themselves across countries, with the inventory quickly tracked and rerouted.

5G will also have significant implications for connected healthcare networks. 5G speeds will enable data to be transmitted in real-time, paving the way for techniques such as remote surgery. It will also help healthcare organizations track and monitor connected medical devices, manage and analyze patient data from wearable IoT, and allow remote doctors to provide quick and accurate test analysis for patients on the other side of the world. 

But all these scenarios include risks — if an IoT device has been compromised an expanded 5G network creates a greater and more complex attack surface. Thus, as businesses prepare for the transition to 5G they must also be wary of the security implications. 

5G and IoT: A New Security Paradigm

Enormous bandwidth increases, the rapid expansion of edge computing and countless new IoT devices introduce risk despite their intended benefit. In a 5G network, any device can become the vulnerable weak link in the security chain that opens the door for attackers,which could be disastrous (imagine smart electric grids going down). 

This is because 5G, by virtue of its architecture, can expose sensitive data as it traverses the network and open the door for devices to be hijacked and used for nefarious purposes or simply sabotage operations. Unlike traditional telecom networks where sensitive functions happen at the core, 5G blurs the distinction between the core and the edge. Devices at the edge will likely have to collect and analyze data or act without returning  to the core of the network to deliver the best service. Malicious actors will be motivated too, as targets can range from retail to healthcare, which will hold mountains of personal identifiable information with the increased use of smart devices.  

Due to the lack of security designed into IoT devices and inherent risk in 5G networks, organizations leveraging 5G will have to consider cross-layer approach to security that accounts for the need of different security methods across technologies being used including applications and IoT devices. Additionally, end-to-end security will be critical in protecting communication paths between devices, users and the core network. DNS intelligence will be important as more devices will be connected to the internet or the cloud. 

Fortunately, IoT device manufacturers are beginning to consider security in the design process, but organizations that are planning to use 5G and IoT need to be proactive about protecting their IoT devices and networks right now. It’s up to you to ensure that IoT devices are accounted for in asset management, security monitoring and incident response systems.

In all, it’s going to be about visibility, secure communication and fast action when issues are discovered. The risk will be worth the reward.

RelatedThe Time is Now to Secure for 5G

RelatedU.S. Warns of 5G Wireless Network Security Risks

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Seema leads product marketing for Splunk’s emerging markets group and is responsible for Splunk’s Internet of Things (IoT) and Business Analytics solutions. In this role, she works closely with Splunk customers to help them understand how valuable insights from machine data can be applied to solve real-world business problems. Prior to Splunk, Seema served in product marketing roles at DataStax, Birst, and Actuate (OpenText). She has a Bachelors in Engineering from the University of Pune, India and a Masters in Computer Science from USC. Please don’t ask her to do basic math.