5G (dencg/Shutterstock.com)

5G requires a cybersecurity reset

With so much attention focused on the potential of 5G to revolutionize internet communications that power smart cities, autonomous vehicles and advanced manufacturing, experts at the Brookings Institution say more attention must be focused on the technology's cybersecurity before insecure products and services become de facto standards.

Once the 5G infrastructure is installed, the massive numbers of small-cell antennas deployed throughout urban areas will become targets of attack, as will the devices connected to them, according to new report written by former Federal Communications Commission Chairman Tom Wheeler and retired Rear Admiral David Simpson, who served as chief of the FCC’s Public Safety and Homeland Security Bureau. Additionally, advances will be software based, making the network particularly susceptible to cyber risk.

The redefined nature of the network "requires a similarly redefined cyber strategy," they write, and both industry and government must step up and work on forging a new relationship.

Companies must recognize and be held responsible for a new level of cyber care -- one  that reverses years of underinvestment in risk reduction, leverages machine learning and artificial intelligence and hews to leading (rather than lagging) indicators of cyber preparedness and resilience.  5G providers, regardless of their size, must initiate proactive cyber protection and ensure cybersecurity is part of all software development, the authors argue. All participants in the 5G ecosystem should follow best practices outlined by the National Institute for Standards and Technology's Cybersecurity Framework.

For its part, government must establish a new regulatory paradigm for business that reflects the fast pace of both innovation and threats.  New regulations should reward sectors where participants are investing to address risk, spot trends and follow best practices. To help them make informed decisions, consumers should have access to tools that make cybersecurity transparent, similar to nutritional labeling or a cyber seal of approval, and connected devices should be inspected and certified. Regulators and industry must regularly engage to monitor the 5G supply chain and  incentivize competitive domestic alternatives. 

When President Donald Trump announced initiatives to speed the development of 5G technology, he said that “the race for 5G is on, and America must win.” Acccording to Wheeler and Simpson, however, "the real '5G race' is whether the most important network of the 21st century will be sufficiently secure to realize its technological promises. Yes, speedy implementation is important, but security is paramount."

Read the full report here.

About the Author

Susan Miller is executive editor at GCN.

Over a career spent in tech media, Miller has worked in editorial, print production and online, starting on the copy desk at IDG’s ComputerWorld, moving to print production for Federal Computer Week and later helping launch websites and email newsletter delivery for FCW. After a turn at Virginia’s Center for Innovative Technology, where she worked to promote technology-based economic development, she rejoined what was to become 1105 Media in 2004, eventually managing content and production for all the company's government-focused websites. Miller shifted back to editorial in 2012, when she began working with GCN.

Miller has a BA and MA from West Chester University and did Ph.D. work in English at the University of Delaware.

Connect with Susan at smiller@gcn.com or @sjaymiller.

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