View from India: Security is of paramount importance in 5G

5G is being rolled out commercially in the coming months. The communications technology is likely to find its way into healthcare, education, manufacturing, automotive and services. The flip side is that it is prone to cyber attacks.

The pandemic has compelled industries to rely on remote work and minimise human interaction in their operations. As a result, automation has gained precedence. Now industries and manufacturing units are moving to the next frontier for scaling up levels of efficiency. The convergence of information technology (IT) and operational technology (OT) as well as a shift from industrial automation to industrial autonomy (IA2IA) could enable better efficiency and connected ecosystems. 5G could be a choice for reliable connectivity.

Characterised by ultra-low latency and high speed, 5G will connect billions of wireless devices, including Internet of Things (IoT) devices. This will give a new dimension to smart cities, transportation, warehousing and healthcare among others. What was unthinkable will become a reality, unleashing avenues like never before.

However millions of gigabytes of data will emerge from multiple access points that enable a high level of interconnectivity. “There is an associated risk coming from 5G data and computation. Consequently, network security needs to be tackled,” warns Ritu Sethi, software engineering manager at Intel. “Firewalling has to be more intelligent and routed for the next level of security. Safety and security are other areas of concern,” Sethi said at the Keysight Technologies panel discussion on 5G Private Networks.

 For instance, hypothetically if 5G is deployed in transportation, then 5G will provide real-time updates with reference to traffic management. But if the information is not accurate or timed right, then it could lead to traffic collision. AI-ML can be incorporated to detect and rectify untimely messaging or malicious code. They could send out intuitive alerts to factor in the confidentiality or privacy issues.

Given its role, the intuition detection system could begin from the configuration stage. If we zoom into a manufacturing unit, it’s may be quite normal to find robots working their way through the shop floor. Yet, caution needs to be exercised while executing the task; the robotic arm should avoid dropping heavy stuff on people.

Security is the crux of the issue. If cost of security is a factor, maybe manufacturers could be incentivised for incorporating security features from ground up. Cyber experts could be part of the planning when 5G devices are being conceptualised. 5G security architecture utilises network slicing, cloud-based resources and virtualisation. But the pace at which devices-networks are expected to connect, it is likely to complicate processes at one stage or another. So, better to play safe and have tools in place to try and fix security bugs.

5G software will have more traffic routing points than 4G, and this means there should be constant monitoring. Stronger passwords, encryption guards and anti-virus solutions are other essentials. A VPN, or virtual private network, may help in keeping strangers at bay.

A 5G private network can be thought of as more or less the same as a public 5G network. The difference is that the private network enables owners to provide priority access or licensing for its wireless spectrum. Automotive companies want to have control so many prefer having their own 5G networks. Cellular private networks are providing organisations with a way to deploy wireless services while guaranteeing coverage and maintaining network control for security. “The deployment of 5G private networks will be facilitated by policy framework and spectrum allocation. Use cases could come up in smart mining, smart factories and smart manufacturing. The integration of private wireless network could help small productive units improve efficiency and lower cost of production,” added Vishnu Sri Harsha Navuluri, director, product management, 5G products and solutions, Tata Communications.

The Government of India and the Department of Telecommunication are making 5G spectrum available for network providers. “Each country could have its own regulations for 5G spectrum. Other parameters indicate whether the company uses the existing infrastructure or prefers a public option for 5G. Nevertheless 5G’s low latency could make it a sought after choice in smart factories,” explained Jagadeesh Dantuluri, general manager, Keysight Technologies. But then, one needs to be careful. Someone outside a factory could send a signal (more like a prank) which could jam the 5G network. The end user pays a price for this. Though this seems disturbing, it also unleashes new avenues in terms of design. The design aesthetics should include security along with the overall lifecycle of the network.

5G technologies are projected to bring a change in enterprises and industry verticals such as sprawling campuses and mining that require Industry 4.0 transformation. “Licensed spectrum is required for the deployment of 5G. System integrators, vendors and domain knowledge experts make for the infrastructure pie and this could also mean new job openings. Cloud infrastructure, either on-premise or public is another requirement. Being a self-decision-making network, the 5G deployment strategy could incorporate features to combat potential threats by including authentication and authorisation features. Interoperable, lock-ins and manageable networks may be the other plug-ins,” noted Nitya Verma, senior director of embedded systems, Capgemini.

Customised solutions are essential for 5G devices, and plug-and-play models will not work here. It’s the time for telecom operators to upgrade their offerings to 5G as well as business organisations to improve their revenue. But security is a mission-critical issue and so one hopes that innovative secure solutions will be customised for 5G technology. This area is still emerging and evolving.  

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