Technology is transforming the world around us at an exponential rate and public and private sector organisations must embrace digital transformation or risk falling behind the times.
Concepts such as the Internet of Things (IoT) that not too long ago seemed a distant, almost unimaginable idea are rapidly becoming a reality. And what’s the driving force behind the increase in innovation? The 5G network, with its ultra-low latency which allows for faster data transfer and connectivity than ever before.
5G – opportunity or threat?
As the rollout of 5G begins to build momentum, businesses must identify how deployment will benefit them and support growth without increasing security threats. It’s well-recognised that cyberattacks are on the rise. More and more businesses coming under scrutiny for high-profile security breaches that are not only damaging to profits but also to reputations.
The Department of Digital, Culture, Media and Sport recently revealed results of the Cyber Security Breaches survey, revealing that 32% of UK businesses had identified at least one cybersecurity breach in the past year alone, costing businesses an average of £4,180 each time, as well as eroding customer trust.
5G undoubtedly brings huge potential, as businesses continue to embrace digital transformation and implement new technologies, processes and systems. However, it also brings hackers more opportunities for intrusion. As the next generation network enables organisations to process and share larger volumes of data, businesses will find themselves more vulnerable to attacks.
5G: a reality check
5G is set to revolutionise the way connectivity is delivered. Thirty times faster than current network infrastructure, it will allow for seemingly instantaneous, two-way data transfer. For businesses, this low-latency connectivity is tipped to help meet the increasing digital demands of customers, service users and colleagues.
Yet 5G isn’t all about speed – it’s about the possibilities that speed brings. Further down the line, the next generation network will enable a fully connected, smart way of living. The Internet of Things – millions of devices communicating in real-time to create a seamless digital ecosystem – will no longer be a buzzword but rather, normality.
Most enterprises won’t see progress with 5G until 2021 and so businesses mustn’t let the hype around 5G cloud their judgement. The infrastructure challenges posed by 5G means the rollout will be much more gradual than the seemingly sudden launch of 4G. Communications providers are only now beginning to implement the necessary infrastructure and many practical aspects remain undefined.
This presents opportunities for all stakeholders – including governments and technology providers – to collaborate effectively to achieve the end-goal of a fully connected and digital society.
Balancing security and innovation
Enticed by the possibilities of 5G, businesses are at risk of overlooking the security concerns which arise with the next generation network. Whether they’re unaware of the security threats at hand, or daunted by the challenge of transitioning from legacy systems and the costs this involves, many organisations are neglecting to consider how prepared their security infrastructure is.
Of course, it would be misguided to let security fears stunt technological progress but, as 5G paves the way for a fully connected digital world, businesses will only fulfil 5G’s potential with the right foundations in place.
By its nature, cloud technology will invite more threats due to the increased volume of data, and the flexibility of software-defined networking (SDN) and network functions virtualisation (NFV) fleave systems vulnerable to attack.
Network security measures don’t have to be onerous, however. Unified threat management (UTM), for example, gives businesses complete protection against a host of incoming threats, removing the need to implement different solutions for different threats.
Taking steps to organise data using encryption is also imperative. While it’s impossible to prevent hackers getting in, business can use encryption to protect sensitive or private files. Creating an impossible maze of navigation distracts and confuses potential hackers and creates a challenging and time consuming process, impeding hackers in their tracks.
In addition to technical measures, businesses can bolster security by instilling vital organisational and cultural changes to ensure security is of paramount importance amongst employees. Figures from the Freedom of Information (FOI) act revealed that reported data breaches to the Information Commissioner’s Office (ICO) are on a continual upward curve, with human error the most common cause.
Engaging the workforce as a human firewall trained to recognise abnormalities in the network will be a priority. Without full buy-in from every person in the organisation, businesses that implement 5G and new technologies will find themselves at an increased risk.
The cost of loss of assets and reduced productivity each time a breach occurs can be detrimental to businesses of any size or scale, and a workforce that is not aware or adhering to cybersecurity strategies and processes in place will feel the pinch.The recent Cyber Security Breaches Survey revealed 1 in 4 (27%) businesses who reported a data breach last year had to use staff to help deal with the problem, and 1 in 5 (19%) were forced to stop work altogether as a result of cybersecurity breaches. These risks can be minimised with a robust security culture in place that reflects the importance of identifying potential issues early.
Exploring the unknown
Whilst 5G is still in the early stages of rollout, it’s prime time for businesses to ensure their security infrastructure is robust enough to cope with forthcoming changes and ensure that vital assets are protected.
Businesses that ensure their technical and organisational security measures are ‘designed in’ from the start will be putting themselves in the best possible position to unlock the potential that 5G will offer. The digital transformation strategies of those who don’t will be built on a foundation of sand. Those with foresight will see 5G as the gateway to innovation, and, with a robust security system and culture, will have the ability to explore everything it has to offer.
By Iain Shearman, Managing Director at KCOM
KCOM is one of the UK’s oldest communications services companies, dating back to 1904. We’ve always been proud of being different. Our founders were pioneers and innovators in the field of telephony and today we emulate their spirit by helping our customers harness the power of technology.