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The reality of 5G for cybersecurity professionals

While 5G had been an abstract point of contention for years, within the past 12 months it has quickly become a reality for countries across the globe. Three major communication service providers in Australia – Telstra, Optus and Vodaphone – have switched on 5G in limited areas and have plans to expand their networks across the country. Evidently, the race towards 5G in Australia is coming to a gradual end – but what awaits us at the finish line?

The next-generation technology promises faster global communication, enhanced data transmission and greater bandwidth that are expected to drive drastic and unprecedented advancements in productivity. Further, there will be a great increase in consumption and user gratification as the lower latency of 1ms will allow users to download massive media content almost instantaneously.

Ultimately, 5G has the potential to provide those with a lack of access to broadband technology with an unparalleled level of connectivity. The heightened Internet of Things (IoT) connection and rising number of mobile devices means that individuals in rural areas will have access to online resources that may have previously seemed like a distant reality.

Its application in the global workforce is also anticipated to bring about remarkable improvements in healthcare, critical infrastructure and the automotive industry. For example, many are looking forward to advances in telehealth capabilities, as the increased speed of data transmission and bandwidth will enable medical practitioners to remotely monitor patients with online consultations and the added ability to remotely administer treatment and prescriptions.

With the expansion of 5G coming well underway across the nation, let this serve as a reminder that we cannot let the novelty of this rapid evolution blind us from the underlying issues that inevitably come with any technological breakthrough. 

As a primarily software-defined network, 5G will pose rather complex issues in terms of securing and retooling. Unlike its hardware-inclusive predecessors, 5G does not necessarily have physical points at which cybersecurity hygiene can be performed. Furthermore, this software is often managed by early generation artificial intelligence, inherently riddled with its own complications.

Already, the roll out has led to a proliferation of new 5G devices that present their own unique risks. This leads to broader complications for cybersecurity professionals as they are responsible for securing the larger attack surface inevitably providing malicious attackers with greater opportunities to carry out their ill intents. The entire scope of threat expands, making ransomware, data breaches and DDoS attacks all the more attainable. It is clear that enhanced detection capabilities are made all the more necessary here as 5G means that malware campaigns and DDoS-as-a-Service will benefit not only from faster network speeds, but also from the ability to infect more devices and execute other avenues of attack.

Cyber-adversaries have long taken advantage of Internet-connected devices, including Internet-connected cars, surveillance systems and other home appliances, but greater global connectivity obviously has implications beyond that of just targeting individual users and endpoints. While the integration of IoT innovation into our utilities has the potential for enormous societal progress, it could also give state-sponsored criminals the avenue and power to bring down critical infrastructure.

Protection from the emerging 5G threats will necessitate a greater amount of skill that is not widely accessible, but with recent changes to tertiary education fees the required expertise is on the horizon. It is expected that service providers and creators of this technology look to building security into every aspect of the development life cycle and into upcoming 5G technologies themselves.

This will not only require more sophisticated network and endpoint security solutions, but a nation-wide acknowledgement and increased investment in security awareness. As a proactive measure, organisations should implement basic security training and make substantial security changes where possible.

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