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Is Your Security Posture 5G Ready?

After years of hype, fifth generation (5G) devices are finally a reality, and the networks supporting them are rapidly rolling out. With the age of 5G finally here, what does this mean for the future of networked devices and security teams? As it turns out, it means quite a bit.

Every decade, there's an overhaul of wireless network infrastructure that promises to increase speed and network resiliency. There’s probably not been a more significant upgrade to mobile networks than 5G since the initial first-generation wireless networks, (which didn’t even include text messaging). Much has changed since then. With 5G networks, users will experience less latency and faster downloads and network speeds. Testing of 5G has measured speed increases up to the equivalent of 20-fold – surpassing LTE’s current maximum of 300 megabits per second (Mbits/s) to 10 gigabits per second (Gbs/s), under ideal conditions. The ability to connect more devices to the wireless network than before is an additional benefit.

A New Transformative Network

Talking network speeds and bandwidth is one thing, but it’s what we can do with all that connectivity that matters. Fifth-generation networks expand the capacity to accept billions of new Internet of Things (IoT) devices, sensors, and other smart systems such as connected cars, telemedicine, and even smarter cities. A recent Ericsson Mobility report estimates 5G will cover about 60 percent of the world’s population in 2026.

While 5G will leverage the core communications backbone within the U.S., it will also rely on increased software-defined networking and edge computing so that network resources can be allocated based on needs, and countless small cell and macro towers will provide signal repeating capabilities in high-density urban areas. One of the most significant differences in the security of wireless networks with 5G is the shift to distributed software-defined routing. This means the intelligence of the network is no longer centralized but instead decentralized out toward the network edge.

But it’s what will be connected to this new network that will change enterprises.

IoT Devices’ New Age of Connectivity and Security

The new network will handle a tremendous amount of traffic generated by users, applications, and billions of devices connecting to the small-cell antennas spread throughout urban areas. Many IoT devices that will be deployed will be inherently insecure and pose an attractive vector of attack for bad actors.

But don't expect the risks to slow down adoption. Mordor Intelligence forecasts the IoT devices market is anticipated to reach over $1.3 trillion by 2026. Of course, enterprises must respond to this growing and evolving attack surface. An AT&T survey reported most survey respondents plan to adjust their security program to the new realities of 5G. The survey found 16% of respondents have already started changing their programs to meet 5G challenges, and 38% are effectively beginning now. Within the next two years, an additional 35% will soon follow. Of the security professionals asked, 75% said that 5G would force their security policies to change.

The survey identified a handful of security challenges associated with 5G, including a larger attack surface due to the massive increase in connectivity (44%), a more significant number of devices accessing the network (39%), the extension of security policies to new types of IoT devices (36%), the authentication of a larger number and wider variety of devices (33%), and finally the insufficiency of perimeter defenses (27%).

The results highlight how, while the nature of enterprise security doesn't change with 5G, the scale of the security challenge indeed grows. There are many more devices, much more network traffic, and considerably more data.

Keeping 5G Networks, Devices, and Data Secure

Now that we're aware of the 5G security undertaking ahead, what steps can enterprise security teams take to enable their networks to be up to the task?

The first place to focus is on the quality of the devices being installed on the network. Careful evaluation of all enterprise endpoint device manufacturers, including IoT devices and sensors, following secure design, build, and deployment practices will help ensure devices are secure by default and able to be effectively managed once in the field. Straightforward update processes for device software and firmware are important since network devices and apps need to be continuously monitored for potential anomalies. Lastly, find ways to secure data on the devices and while in transit.

One way is to start with a secure workspace, like BlackBerry® Dynamics™, which allows true cryptographic separation between work and personal data – preventing data leakage and enabling safe use of BYOD – a key interest of 5G users. Inside BlackBerry Dynamics is the BlackBerry® Work application that contains BlackBerry® Access and BlackBerry® Connect, for unparalleled enterprise productivity with secure data at rest and in transit. Together, these solutions provide staff with the tools they need to remain secure on 5G and legacy networks.

BlackBerry® Work combines email, calendaring, contacts, document access, and editing capabilities for users. BlackBerry® Access provides secure and containerized access to corporate networks, applications, and data in a secure browser, certified for use in regulated industry through its EAL4+ accreditation. Additionally, BlackBerry® Connect integrates instant messaging and collaboration software such as Microsoft® Lync® and Cisco Jabber® with mobile apps.

Providing secure endpoint devices to staff is also critical. Today, the smartphone is the primary productivity tool for the on-the-go, post-pandemic worker. They need to be secure as they connect to 5G networks. For staff and executives that need to know they’re secure on whatever network they find themselves, SecuSUITE® includes mobile applications that enable secure communications, voice, and data on leading mobile device operating system platforms.

Act Now with a Comprehensive Strategy

Ultimately, success requires taking a comprehensive view of all endpoints throughout the enterprise. With the explosion of 5G devices bought and deployed, it can be easy to lose sight of other endpoints on the network. However, strategically, IoT devices must be treated as an extension of current endpoint security efforts and managed within a unified endpoint and IoT device monitoring and management program. The fewer consoles needed to do so, the better.

As enterprises deploy more devices onto their 5G networks and apps and data travel through these networks, there's an increased likelihood that these devices will be attacked. Too many attacks will be successful unless the right steps are put in place to monitor, manage, and secure these devices.

The 5G and device security challenge will only grow for all organizations, and there’s no better time to start than right now. Enterprises must be cybersecurity aware every day – and especially so when new and powerful technologies like 5G move from promise to reality. Taking a prevention-first approach to cyber security is key so that it doesn’t matter what device is used. Core to this is the remote desktop capability of BlackBerry® solutions that allows users to work safely and securely from anywhere within minutes.

Baldeep Dogra

About Baldeep Dogra

Baldeep Dogra serves as Director, Product Marketing at BlackBerry.