Building End-to-End Security for 5G Networks


5G Wireless Network Security

5G is opening a world of opportunities for digital business, but many benefits will not be possible if security is not an integral part of the solution

The arrival of 5G presents unparalleled opportunities for organizations, especially those competing in today’s constantly evolving and highly competitive digital marketplace. 5G brings a ten-fold increase in mobile broadband and ultra-reliability coupled with ultra-low latency (URLLC). The resulting development of new, highly responsive applications, rich media streaming, and more will utterly transform networks. And that’s just the start. The development and deployment of advanced high band millimeter-wave (mmWave) 5G will accelerate the development of smart infrastructures, enhance the automation of manufacturing environments, and provide the super-high density needed to power new computing environments.

However, as with any new technology, the other side of the coin is that as enterprises adopt 5G networks and services to enable digital innovation across new network edges, they are also introducing new risks. And part of the 5G challenge is that there are few security solutions on the market designed to keep up with 5G-enhanced networks. We already see some environments—not just ultra-high performance data centers, but new edge compute environments and even remote workers on 5G-enabled devices—being poorly secured. For example, millions of remote workers are now being protected with little more than a VPN connection. Without a security plan in place, these organizations will be unprepared to defend themselves against the next generation of malware designed to harness the speed and scale of 5G and exploit the fragmented and thinly deployed security systems currently in place.

5G Security Challenges 

Of course, you want to ensure that security controls don’t outweigh the reason you are adopting 5G in the first place. Security systems not designed for 5G environments can slow applications, introduce latency issues, and impact the user experience of workers and customers. Fortunately, 5G includes a number of inherent security capabilities that can help. But we must be careful not to over rely on them. No organization moving sensitive data, applications, and workflows across their network or depending on business applications to connect to critical resources should ever consider 5G as their only line of defense against cyber threats or the intentional misuse of infrastructure and services. An additional layer of security visibility and control designed for the realities of a 5G network is necessary. 

But this is about much more than just buying a fast firewall. 5G is going ubiquitous, meaning we will see it deployed everywhere across the distributed network—in LANs, WANs like SD-WAN, data centers, cloud platforms, and cloud-based services in addition to endpoints and IoT devices. It will not just permeate IT but will play a critical role in OT as well. From a security perspective, each of these environments already has its challenges—and far too often, their isolated security solutions that have already fractured visibility and fragmented control. 

5G simply complicates this issue further by adding hyperperformance to the security mix. And hyperperformance environments also mean ultra-fast cyberthreats. Unfortunately, many organizations have already begun to sacrifice centralized visibility and unified control in favor of performance, the interconnectivity of users and systems, and rampant digital transformation. 

End-to-end Security and High Performance 

Addressing this challenge starts by converging networking and security into a unified solution—a process known as security-driven networking—to create a security strategy that is not just highly flexible and adaptive but that can be broadly deployed. By weaving security into the core of the network, security systems will not only be able to expand and adapt to digital innovation efforts but do so at 5G speeds. This enables an end-to-end approach that can deliver essential security while maintaining low latency and high performance. But achieving this requires a platform approach that can provide consistent protection to any user on any device in any location. 

The job of a security platform is to be deployable anywhere, in any form factor, while providing consistent functionality across and between edges. And for 5G, not only should virtual platform instances be able to scale up and out to meet performance demands, but physical devices need to include enhanced processing power, so security never becomes a bottleneck. In addition, a platform needs to be open, meaning that it relies on things like a common operating system, open APIs, and industry standards so built-in and third-party solutions can work together rather than operating in isolation.

The first advantage of a unified platform approach is that it enables single-pane-of-glass visibility, consistent policy distribution and enforcement, centralized threat intelligence collection and correlation, and orchestrated response to detected threats. It also allows security to follow data, workflows, and transactions end-to-end, rather than handing off security as data moves from one domain to the next, critical in a world where businesses run on applications. 

But perhaps the most critical value of a platform is that it enables true automation. 5G-enabled threats will far outpace the ability of data analysts and systems engineers to detect and respond. Automated systems are inherently faster than humans. And when enhanced with things like machine learning and AI, they can also detect, investigate, and respond to threats in the blink of an eye, shutting them down mid-attack, even at 5G speeds.

A Secure 5G Ecosystem 

5G is opening a world of opportunities for digital business. But it is just the opening salvo. 6G is around the corner, and many of the ways this new functionality will impact organizations haven’t even been invented yet. But none of this will be possible if security is not an integral part of the solution. Organizations need to start transitioning now to a universal security platform that can scale as networks evolve and extend to the furthest reaches of the network. By blending security and networking functionality into a unified, expansive, and adaptable platform, businesses can prepare now to support the next generations of high-performance, hyperconnected networks and devices their users will demand and on which their future depends.

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Related: Securing a Connected Future: 5G and IoT Security

Related: 5G Security Risk vs. Reward

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John Maddison is EVP of Products and CMO at Fortinet. He has more than 20 years of experience in the telecommunications, IT Infrastructure, and security industries. Previously he held positions as general manager data center division and senior vice president core technology at Trend Micro. Before that John was senior director of product management at Lucent Technologies. He has lived and worked in Europe, Asia, and the United States. John graduated with a bachelor of telecommunications engineering degree from Plymouth University, United Kingdom.

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