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5G networks – Safeguarding the future

The telecom industry has been focused on constant innovation and every 8–10 years, we see a new generation of telecommunication technology coming through, which is aimed at constant upgradation and enhancement of human-to-human, human-and-machine, as well as machine-to-machine connectivity.

5G though stands out from all its previous generations, as it brings a paradigm shift on how we perceive and consume telecommunication as a service. This technology is bringing in a significant shift, when it comes to the following factors – increased speed and bandwidth, low latency and high reliability, and increased density of connected devices and massive M2M communication.

Furthermore, 5G is also bringing a positive shift in overall user experience, and also playing a big role in enabling Industry 4.0. This is leading to innovation across multiple heterogeneous technologies and driving growth through:

  • Sectoral convergence and collaboration
  • Socio-economic growth by bringing rural and urban population together; and
  • Enhanced consumer experience.

But all of this brings with it the need for safeguards to manage cyber risks. Today, heightened connectivity across digital technologies increases cyber threats and attack surface area, which is also relevant for 5G networks and the overall services, which are exposed to several cyber risks, such as the following:

  • Cyber supply chain risks, due to involvement of multiple actors, technologies, and standards
  • Increased reliance on software and virtualization, exposing the overall network and services to constant cyber threats and vulnerabilities.
  • Enhanced connectivity and data traffic, which increases the risk of data breaches, leaks, and misuse.
  • Risk of service disruption, causing significant impact, specifically when used across critical infrastructure industry, low latency environment, and machines being used for critical activities.

Establishing digital trust
Moving forward, as we all know, the 5G network has been designed with enhanced attributes to deliver highly secure network solutions, but we must look to safeguard them and hence it becomes imperative to establish digital trust in overall services offered by 5G networks, which enables maximizing the value.

Here are a few key goals that need to be established to build trust. They include:

  • Enhanced security and reliability. This focuses on having well-protected systems against internal and external attacks, manipulations and interruptions, while operating as designed
  • Establishing accountability and oversight. Responsibilities for trustworthiness need to be well-defined and be clearly assigned to specific stakeholders, teams, or functions along with provisions for addressing where those responsibilities fail to be satisfied.
  • Ensuring inclusive, ethical, and responsible use. Technology needs to be designed, built, and operated such that it acts as a steward for all people, society at large, the natural environment, and other stakeholders, with the overall intent being, to ensure broad access and use so that it results in ethically responsible outcomes.

These goals shall be attained through effective deployment of digital trust frameworks that should address the following eight dimensions:

    • Cybersecurity. Security of digital systems, covering underlying data, technologies, and processes.
    • Privacy. Design and manifestation of data processing that facilitates individual autonomy through notice and control over information collection, usage, and sharing of information.
    • Transparency. Intention of not only acting in the interest of the stakeholders but also making those actions known and understandable.
    • Redressability. possibility of obtaining recourse where individuals, groups, or entities have been negatively affected by technological processes, systems, or data uses.
    • Auditability. Ability to review and confirm the activities and results of technology, data processing, and governance processes
    • Fairness. Technology and data processing carried out with an aim to achieve equitable outcomes for all stakeholders.
    • Interoperability. Ability of information systems to connect and exchange information for mutual use without undue burden or restriction.
    • Safety. Safety encompasses efforts to prevent harm (e.g., emotional, physical, psychological) to people or society from technology uses and data processing.

Way forward

5G is rightfully positioned to transform the world by enabling the reach of technology across a larger environment and simultaneously driving innovation at a large scale. Therefore, it is necessary that 5G networks and services are safeguarded and constantly protected against cyber threats, and this can be done by deploying the below measures:

  • Adopting and deployment of digital trust framework.
  • Consistent regulatory framework with security requirements and standards.
  • Strengthening the entire value chain of 5G services.
  • Automation to address the risks on a constant basis through usage of AI-based technologies.
  • Constant monitoring and supervision across existing threats.
  • Focused intelligence approach to take pro-active actions.

The role of the entire ecosystem is extremely critical as there will be no single entity that will be able to establish a foolproof and end-to-end secure environment. Having said that, collaboration across the value chain, along with establishing global standards with a proactive approach, will be fundamental in establishing the digital trust.

Lastly, having a trusted 5G network is foundational for driving innovation and maximizing the power of technology to drive the nation’s economy.

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