23 Mar 2021

Demystifying 5G

5G: A building block of digital transformation for service providers, enterprises, and governments that must be secure 

There is a widespread perception that only service providers and telcos are investing in 5G. The move to 5G by service providers and telcos is well underway, with mobile network operators announcing 5G pilot trials and commercialisation plans as they expand their geographic footprints. But the reality is that enterprises and governments around the world are also investing in and leveraging private 5G networks. This is because 5G offers them an array of opportunities, due to its compelling value proposition as a major driver of business transformation.  The design of 5G networks — with its ability to allow millions of devices in high-density settings — can enable smart supply chains, autonomous transportation, smart manufacturing, mass adoption of the internet of things (IoT) and much more. This in turn enables new enterprise and government use cases not previously possible. In fact, 5G is now the catalyst for change for many private and public sector organisations, allowing deployment of industrial-scale IoT networks combined with ultra-low latency, mission-critical reliability and a high degree of mobility- all of this is driving the future of “Industry 4.0” and government digitisation initiatives. 

Private 5G networks and new approach to security

5G adoption is growing rapidly across numerous industries worldwide, including energy, utilities, critical infrastructure, manufacturing, logistics and fleet management.  Governments, and specifically defence agencies, are also beginning to leverage private 5G networks across many environments from logistics and military bases to aircraft carriers.   

While there are different business and mission-critical use cases for the development and deployment of 5G, they all require a new approach to security. Whether deployed by service providers, enterprises, or government agencies, securing 5G networks is different from securing other types of networks as the attack surface is significantly larger. Cyberattacks take advantage of the speed and volume of traffic associated with 5G and organisations need to develop robust approaches to tackle the threats. The proliferation of devices, vast increase in intelligence at the network edge and the aggregation of critical functionality at the network core bring out challenges that together contribute to a perfect storm of security risk in 5G deployments.   

What's needed to secure 5G

And because the stakes are so high, legacy security solutions will not meet the needs of organisations.  5G security must be “enterprise-grade”: the approach must be comprehensive, context-driven and automated, and able to scale across 5G infrastructures. Fortunately, innovation in enterprise-grade 5G security is rapid, and it can be leveraged by service providers, enterprises, and governments.  Key capabilities that are essential to secure 5G centre on: 

  1. A “zero trust” model that reduces the attack surface, whereby everything trying to connect to or traverse the network should be verified before access is granted. This requires authentication, access control, network segmentation and granular enforcement; 
  2. Consistent visibility of threats, risks, and vulnerabilities passing through the networks to be able to prevent cyberattacks in real-time; and  
  3. 5G-native security fit for highly distributed, cloud native 5G networks. This includes containerised 5G security, real-time correlation of threats to 5G identifiers, and 5G network slice security. 

 5G will enable a hyper-connected world that will open up a range of new possibilities, as well as new security vulnerabilities and threat vectors. However, the need to secure 5G shouldn’t be mystifying and with the right security approach it will ultimately unlock value for businesses, governments, citizens, and society as a whole.  

Palo Alto Networks explores the 5G use cases and security imperatives further in these blogs: 

Guest blog by Carla Baker, Senior Director, Government Affairs UK&I at Palo Alto Networks - Follow Palo Alto Networks on Twitter and LinkedIn.

To read more from #DiversifyingTelecoms Campaign Week check out our landing page here.