5G, or the fifth generation of cellular networks and technologies, is quickly spreading worldwide but does not yet have a public foothold in most global communities. Enterprises know they can benefit from the ultra-low latency and general speed of 5G, and because of that, many of these companies are establishing their own 5G networks to support growing digital transformation needs.
Despite the fact that so many enterprises are interested in 5G for business and are deploying the technology already, few have taken the full measure of precautions necessary to secure 5G networks. Read on to learn more about 5G, the new enterprise security threats this technology presents, and how enterprises can better protect themselves against these growing 5G security threats.
Table of Contents
What is 5G?
5G is the fifth generation of cellular technology and offers several different features that were not available in 4G and previous generations of networking technology. 5G uses software-defined, cloud, and edge technology solutions to widen the cellular spectrum and increase bandwidth for a larger number of user devices. Because of its ultra-low latency, 5G continues to grow in popularity for both public and enterprise use, with use cases ranging from support for live streaming to smart factory infrastructure.
Because most areas of the globe do not yet have widespread access to 5G, and also because many enterprises don’t trust the wider access and latencies of a public network, many are opting for private 5G for their businesses. With private 5G networks, enterprises must purchase wireless spectrum access from mobile network operators (MNOs) or the government. From there, enterprise network administrators can manage access and infrastructure features for their particular set of enterprise users.
Learn more about private 5G here: What is a Private 5G Network?
5G in the Modern Enterprise
Enterprises elect to use 5G for a variety of business use cases and general benefits. These are some of the most common reasons the modern enterprise invests in 5G technology:
- The Internet of Things (IoT): a growing number of enterprises are either using or developing IoT devices to optimize their products and services. 5G meets latency, capacity, and speed requirements for this kind of technology.
- Edge computing and mobile devices: organizations with thousands of distributed users are increasingly relying on mobile and edge access to optimize overall network performance. Again, 5G offers the latency and speed these devices require. Beyond the traditional enterprise, organizations with several different stores, campuses, and locations appreciate this distributed access strategy.
- Large-scale digital transformation needs: 5G effectively supports a wide variety of digital transformation needs, including those of manufacturing plants that want to create smarter factory and assembly line setups.
- Improved user experiences: The speed and bandwidth offered by 5G open up networking to a larger pool of users and more sophisticated use cases. Users can benefit from location-independent real-time network availability, better virtual platform support for videoconferences, and catered user experiences based on live data insights.
Learn more about IoT: Containing Cyberattacks in the Age of IoT
5G and Enterprise Security Threats
Device security vulnerabilities
Because of the virtualized approach that 5G takes to networking, all kinds of devices, including IoT and edge devices, can access and support connectivity on a 5G network. Many of these kinds of devices do not natively offer the same security as other enterprise technologies, and many are only as secure as the individual user chooses to make them. Unless an enterprise applies policies and standards across all devices that access their network, these devices can open up the network to external attacks.
Poor application of network slicing
Network slicing is a major enterprise benefit that comes with 5G, allowing a physical network to be sliced into multiple virtual networks that can operate slightly differently while still sharing certain networking resources. However, there are some risks that come with network slicing, especially if enterprises do not apply the same strong security standards across each slice. If one slice is vulnerable to unauthorized users, that slice can also act as a security breach gateway for the other slices.
Supply chain hacks
Some 5G suppliers in particular are associated with governments and other geopolitical allegiances. In an age with a growing fear of cyber warfare, some 5G suppliers are suspected of building backdoor access into their products, making it possible for them and any allies to access private networks.
Increased attack surfaces with limited visibility
The larger number of devices that can access a 5G network immediately expands the attack surface of the network. Especially for enterprises that allow users to use personal devices on the network, it’s not always easy for administrators to uniformly apply security standards across these devices, to identify when new devices join the network, and to determine which devices are responsible when a security breach occurs. The best way that enterprises can increase security visibility while maintaining bring your own device (BYOD) policies is to use security policy management software to support access management.
More on the risks of 5G: 5G Cybersecurity Risks and How to Mitigate Them
Best Practices for Securing Your 5G Network
Secure user and partner access
Many enterprises that work with 5G technology also have technology partners who can access the network. Make sure both internal access and partner access is secure by applying controls and safeguards for any user or device that can access the 5G network. Standardized and automatically applied security policies are the best way to approach secure access.
Develop a holistic cybersecurity strategy
Your company’s cybersecurity strategies can easily fall into silos as you incorporate new applications, software, and hardware into your enterprise portfolio. Take the time to develop a more holistic cybersecurity strategy that addresses the native security features and additional needs of each piece of enterprise software, including 5G equipment. Consider investing in extended detection and response (XDR), policy management and automation, and other comprehensive cybersecurity toolsets.
Engage in regular security monitoring and auditing
Although enterprises typically rely on private 5G networks that limit outsider access, security vulnerabilities can still allow unauthorized actors to breach the network. To better prevent these kinds of security incidents, conduct regular security audits and risk assessments, and automate the process wherever possible. Outside of regularly scheduled security audits, security monitoring and monitoring software should become a part of your ongoing security tasks and procedures.
Provide focused user training
Enterprise 5G networks can be compromised by user errors that open up the network to unauthorized access. Some users may act with malicious intent, but most enterprise users will cause this security risk by simple user error. Train your team(s) on device, application, and other access management best practices and expectations to limit the chances of successful phishing and cyberattacks.