5G Is Peanut Butter, Unless…
Voice and Data|February 2021
Every good thing has a hidden side, one that surfaces slowly and, often, when you least expect it. Be cautious when pushing the button on your big 5G project
Pratima Harigunani

The funny thing about allergies is that you have to go through that swollen lip or the nasty itch before you discover – Ha! That’s one thing I cannot enjoy.

So when something totally mint-fresh hits the grocery stores or IT-shelves, this thought never pops in your mind except for hypochondriacs or consistent allergy-sufferers. How in the world are you to know if the new super-food that is making so much Instagram-buzz out there is going to hit you with a teary-eye. How in the world would you know if the amazing next big thing called 5G can hit you with a security mishap!

Bite 5G with care

If you ask Sophos Senior Vice President Sales for APJ Gavin Struthers about the vulnerabilities that may arise from a cybersecurity perspective when one thinks of 5G networks, he will not mince words and tell you that “Similar to 3G and 4G, a lack of visibility with 5G may be an issue, owing to its speed and potential to move exponentially more data, with connectivity that will surpass current broadband, visibility will be a bigger issue than ever before.”

Struthers explains that, at best, we’ll be able to see whether a device is using a 5G radio, in a 5G environment. “However, there will not be any visibility into what’s actually being transmitted over that radio, making it challenging to spot suspicious activity. We will be able to monitor 5G radio activity with a spectrometer, for example, but we won’t be able to distinguish between good versus malicious 5G activity, since we simply will not be able to see what is included in that communication path.”

That is not a small question to ponder. The scale of this invisibility zone can be quite consequential as we watch 5G taking deeper and deeper roots ahead. As per a recent Ericsson Mobility Report, four out of every ten mobile subscriptions in 2026 will be 5G. The current 5G uptake in subscriptions and population coverage iterate that the technology is deploying at the fastest rate – better than any generation of mobile connectivity.

In fact, by the end of 2020, more than one billion people will have access to 5G coverage globally. The report also mentions a 3.5 billion 5G subscriptions forecast by the end of 2026 – estimated to account for more than 50% of mobile data traffic at that time. If we look at India, 5G subscriptions are slated to surpass 350 million, accounting for 27% of all mobile subscriptions in 2026. However, when you look at how the 5G phenomenon translates for enterprises, the story is extra-large and extra-serious.

The 5G security impact

Most devices in enterprise environments don’t have 4G chips in them, since 4G isn’t significantly faster than Wi-Fi. 5G technology, however, will improve on its predecessors with faster speeds, higher bandwidth and lower latency, which will likely make it more common than 4G ever was.

While the faster speeds definitely have their advantages for users, they’ll also cause disadvantages, since hackers will be able to exploit its speed. For example, an attacker covertly gains access to a photocopy machine that has a 5G radio due to the lack of visibility, and as a result can access all the sensitive information on the machine.

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