The next step in the journey of digital transformation, the fifth generation of wireless communications technologies (5G) will have an enormous impact on mankind, and on every industry including security. In short, 5G will disrupt the way we live and work. To discuss the changes, we presented our questions to Benoît Jouffrey, VP 5G Expertise at Thales, which is at the forefront of the transformation with an emphasis on trust and security. Following are his responses.

Q: In layman's terms, what is the difference between 4G and 5G ecosystems as they relate to opportunity, flexibility and choice in networking tools?

Jouffrey: Compared with largely one-size-fits-all 4G services, the 5G ecosystem will provide organisations with much greater choice and flexibility in the way they communicate over mobile networks. The network slicing capabilities of 5G means that business can have their own independent networks, with each one customised to their unique requirements and backed up by service-level agreements (SLA). Another aspect of 5G will be the ability to drive latency between UE (User Equipment) and network down to below a few milliseconds, which will massively boost the performance and scalability of enterprise applications.

Q: How can these capabilities drive a company's digital operations?

5G will allow enterprises to be connected more efficiently

Jouffrey: 5G will allow enterprises to be connected more efficiently: they can rely on a higher density of connected devices exchanging more information in a better timeframe. Due to these slicing capabilities, 5G networks allow for much greater personalisation than 4G networks. This means that businesses could benefit from this personalised network, tailored to their portfolio of Internet of Things (IoT) use cases, and not be necessarily expected to rely on a one-size-fits-all network. By combining the unique capabilities of 5G with the insights derived from analytics, machine learning, and artificial intelligence, enterprises will be in much better stead to run their operations efficiently and securely.

Q: How might 5G impact the use of cloud systems?

Jouffrey: 5G is the first communication environment that is cloud-native. As such, 5G networks will support cloud-based applications in a way that 4G, 3G and 2G can’t support. For instance, sensors (e.g. in a manufacturing plant) often have a small internal storage and rely on synced devices (e.g. gateways) to interact with the cloud. Soon, these sensors will be able to work more efficiently, interacting with the cloud via the ultra-low latency and the edge computing capabilities supported by 5G networks. Unlike current IoT services that make performance trade-offs to get the best from these existing wireless technologies, 5G networks will be designed to bring the high levels of performance needed for the increasing use of IoT. It will enable a perceived fully ubiquitous connected world, with the boosted capacity offered by 5G networks transferring exponentially more data at a much quicker rate.

Q: How can one provide trustworthy 5G lifecycle management for IoT devices?

Jouffrey: Trustworthy IoT lifecycle management is an end-to-end approach from the secure provisioning of keys within the devices, to the proper identification of the users, from the authentication on the network or the network slice, to the secure handling of the data either at stored or in motion. Resources need to be invested long before this to qualify the business model, in prototyping, as well as prototype testing. Most organisations don’t have the resources to counter all the security challenges of their 5G IoT deployments. Businesses will often end up choosing between navigating a risk-laden 5G environment, with inadequate or incomplete trust mechanisms, or outsourcing these requirements. When looking at outsourcing, companies must choose a provider with expertise in digital security, ensuring 5G IoT deployments have data protection and connectivity credentials built in, together with end-to-end data protection solutions such as encryption – protecting data in the device, network, and cloud at rest and in transit.

Q: How can wireless modules address new 5G IoT use cases?

Wireless modules can be expected to play a bigger role than in previous generations of cellular

Jouffrey: As IoT considerations are integrated into the 5G ecosystem, wireless modules can be expected to play a bigger role than in previous generations of cellular. 5G modules support different characteristics to earlier generations – the 5G use cases are much more complex, varied, from high-end use cases requiring high data usage and throughput, such as for industrial routers, to low-throughput, energy consumption optimised devices, as required for some IoT sensors. At the end, compared to the largely one-size-fits-all approach that preceded it, 5G will increase the demand for vertical-tailored wireless modules.

Importantly, these wireless modules need to support new data protection and security features that go well beyond conventional compliance to 3rd Generation Partnership Project (3GPP) standards. Due to the extent of personalisation within 5G networks, wireless modules must also offer providers and customers greater security as well as agility all along the device lifespan.

Q: What are the new data protection challenges posed by 5G, and how can they be addressed?

Jouffrey: The 5G era presents exciting opportunities, as well as security challenges. The greatest risks to enterprise data on 5G networks – including eavesdropping, man-in the middle attacks, denial of services, loss or compromisation of data – were already known in 4G. The 5G standards have looked at providing answers to these threats and come with some noticeable improvements, such as the encryption of the international mobile subscriber identity (IMSI), otherwise known as the Subscription Permanent Identifier in 5G. But what’s different with 5G is the threat surface area, due notably to the variety of devices that will be used over these 5G networks and the underlying technologies used for the deployment of the networks, such as cloud native virtualisation. On top of this, it’s the first generation of cellular to launch in an era of global cyber-crime, funded by organised crime and states alike.

So, whilst enterprises should look to the ecosystem of telecom operators and cloud providers, vendors, and system operators to help understand the opportunities presented by 5G – this same ecosystem needs to guide them in countering any new risks that the 5G architecture may pose. The key to securing 5G enabled devices is to build security into devices from the outset using encryption.

The key to securing 5G enabled devices is to build security into devices from the outset

Q: What new roles can the 5G embedded universal integrated circuit card (eSIM) endorse in network authentication?

Jouffrey: 5G is the first generation of cellular to launch in a buoyant eSIM market. The eSIM will be key in supporting network slicing authentication and security, enabling enterprises to leverage their credentials to pre-select network slices. However, to support secure authentication for mobile networks that may require the usage of different authentication algorithms over time, these 5G eSIMs must support this flexibility of usage of multiple authentication and authorisation credentials. With this capability built into these eSIMs from the start, mobile operators can remotely swap the authentication algorithm either for a dedicated primary authentication, or in a definitive way, thanks to key rotation management, thus maintaining a trusted environment.

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Larry Anderson Editor, SecurityInformed.com & SourceSecurity.com

An experienced journalist and long-time presence in the US security industry, Larry is SourceSecurity.com's eyes and ears in the fast-changing security marketplace, attending industry and corporate events, interviewing security leaders and contributing original editorial content to the site. He leads SourceSecurity.com's team of dedicated editorial and content professionals, guiding the "editorial roadmap" to ensure the site provides the most relevant content for security professionals.

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