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Over the past five years, we’ve witnessed a major shift away from “traditional” network security models. For decades, computers (we’re talking desktops and more recently laptops) connected to a router, gateway, or UTM which provided local network and internet access. These endpoint devices were installed on networks along with firewalls, IPS, and other systems—which were designed to protect businesses and local networks by filtering (or blocking) traffic and analyzing data in and out. As smartphones came into the mainstream, wireless technology improved. With 3G and then 4G LTE, faster speeds and lower latencies enabled higher levels of connectivity and productivity—all without needing to be connected to a local network via ethernet or even WiFi.
This also introduced the concept of “Bring Your Own Device” (BYOD), creating a network security gap and representing a significant loss of control for IT staff and system administrators. Employees now have “always-on” and “always-connected” devices that are able to circumvent traditional LAN or WiFi-based firewalls, UTMs, and routers. Access to sensitive business email and data without connecting through the local network has created countless challenges for securing networks and protecting both devices and information. It also helped create the need for and fueled the growth of new markets and business models like cloud-based security. We’ve seen this play out as enterprises increasingly outsource IT and network security responsibilities to third-party cloud security firms such as cloud access security brokers (CASBs) that manage and maintain infrastructure, device authentication, encryption, safe storage, web filtering, and more.
With 5G, the “traditional” central access model is about to become even more antiquated…
5G Will (Further) Change How We Connect to the Internet
Until now, 4G LTE speeds have lagged far behind Gigabit internet speeds and most business’ network connections. That’s about to change. 5G connections will deliver speeds 10 to 20 times faster than 4G. With 5G, consumers and employees will be connected via an ultra high-speed internet connection as long as they are within 5G wireless networks, which are expected to blanket our cities—including many business environments. It will be faster and more convenient for end users to reach web content and services (as well as media) using their smartphones or other mobile devices and sensors directly through their mobile service. In fact, forward-looking consumers are anticipating the day when they can cut the cord to their existing hardline home internet. In some early 5G internet test areas like Chicago and Minneapolis, they already are.
When 5G becomes generally available, unless you’re operating in a remote location without 5G coverage, there will be little or no technical reason to connect through a local network at all—except as required for security purposes or to stave off data caps/limits. In many cases, local network connections will simply be another obstacle to productivity. Maintaining the traditional network model may be an unnecessary expense for many companies and actually create another potential point of compromise.
As traditional routers, gateways, and UTMs play a diminishing role in internet access, the concept of the “network” will continue to change. This will require significant adjustments—particularly for enterprises in an era plagued by data breaches and privacy scandals.
For years, critical systems and data have been moving to the cloud—and 5G will put additional momentum behind that shift. Because of this, businesses will continue to look to cloud security services to protect their users, devices, and data as they begin to reduce internal IT infrastructure that is no longer necessary.
It will also be critical that existing infrastructure is maintained. Unpatched or ignored systems will prove a weak point for bad actors to compromise and intrude. Inevitably, as we add yet another technology to our “cocktail” of network communications technology, we can expect new vulnerabilities to arise. And that’s assuming that equipment is perfectly maintained and continuously patched. It’s just not feasible that will happen with all existing devices.
For all of these reasons, and more, protections for our networks and devices must not be an afterthought. Security must become central to design and built into our networks, devices, and applications at all levels. It only requires a visit to one compromised website, or clicking on a single malicious email link—or entering credentials without verifying a URL—for a data breach to occur.
On What Timeline Will the 5G Rollout Occur?
Ericsson forecasts that by 2024, 5G subscriptions will reach 1.5 billion and coverage will extend to 40 percent of the world’s population. In the U.S., 5G will become available in some areas before the end of 2019, but will really begin accelerating in 2020. In fact, most major areas in North America, Europe, South Korea, and China will have access to 5G networks by 2020.
Regionally, 5G will generally rollout as follows:
- North America: Most countries by 2020
- Central America: Likely 2020/21, but may be longer
- South America: Majority of countries by 2020
- Europe: Varies, but most countries by 2020
- Africa: Varies significantly, but generally 2019-2020
- Asia: Majority of countries by 2020
By country, we can expect initial 5G rollouts to occur as follows:
|Before 2019||2019||2020||After 2020|
While this offers a glimpse into the early phases of 5G, it will be years—even decades—before 5G is fully rolled out and achieves market dominance. That’s still an incredibly fast timeline. The cybersecurity community is still facing a massive skills shortage—with an estimated 2.93 million open and unfilled positions worldwide.
How will 5G impact the cybersecurity landscape and what can we do to put security first as networks become even more complicated and equipment ages? For that, stay tuned for the third and final part in our Impacts of 5G series.