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Data Security in the Age of 5G Enabled IoT Communication


Thanks to the pandemic-induced accelerated digitization, we are experiencing huge leaps in innovations that are changing the very fabric of society and life. Among these innovations, the implementation of 5G technology in the age of IoT-enabled communication is paving way for a never seen before, a new generation of wireless technology.

A study by Ericsson Consumer Lab revealed that at least 40 million Indian smartphone users are expected to switch to 5G within the first year of its launch. It further suggested that users are willing to pay up to 50 percent more for 5G plans if they are bundled with digital services. With 5G, the focus shifts from telephony with data access to that of enabling internet connectivity as well as an interconnection for a plethora of sensors and devices. It is pertinent to note that 5G enhances connectivity and the possibility of sending out much more personal data by virtue of a user consuming the different types of digital services that it enables.

The capabilities of 5G, combined with the unprecedented power of IoT and edge devices, will lead to the creation of a new large-scale edge-based network ecosystem that can locally share and process information on cloud-based resources. These will be highly interconnected networks, processing large volumes of data across millions of devices. However, this can have serious implications on data security – as the number of connected devices rapidly increases, so does the number of data security threats with IoT. This is clear from the data released by the 2020 Unisys Security Index in India. According to the survey, the four biggest concerns of Indians are in fact related to data security – personal information theft, hacking and viruses, bank card fraud, and online shopping. These results reflect concerns about the state of data security in the country and require all parties involved to act. 

The foremost challenge here is the proliferation of IoT and edge devices enabled by 5G that will lead to the exponential growth of the attack surface. Wearables and other IoT-enabled smart devices significantly add to the amount of sensitive personal data, both voluntary and involuntary, that are transmitted. Hence, a larger variety of personal data becomes available to build accurate digital profiles of individuals, which must be accessed securely, only by authorized parties.

This level of control is critical, as it helps safeguard sensitive information like health records, location, biometrics, preferences, identity etc., from malicious attacks. Therefore, it is imperative, now more than ever, to ensure data security by building a robust security infrastructure.

Any device across the meshed edge environment can be susceptible to attack, thereby becoming the weakest link of the security chain and leading to the entire enterprise being exposed to cyber risks. While embracing 5G, enterprises must ensure edge-to-edge security that covers everything from the IoT devices to the main enterprise network as well as the edge computing platforms and public cloud. A zero-trust approach to information security is recommended. To do this, all connected devices must be securely identified and rated. Additionally, all requests for network access must be verified, validated, and authenticated at each instance. 

The new 5G world calls for security that can support and combine proven traditional strategies like network segmentation. The new approaches enable the navigation of local and remote resources and manage the complexity of the multiple systems when implementing 5G networks and public cloud services.

Data privacy concerns need to be addressed now more than ever as the industry struggles with data breaches and transparency issues. End-users must ensure that every connected device in the 5G eco-system complies with information security mandates even as the scale of security coverage required is magnified. Interestingly, tackling data security issues require enhancement of end-user training and awareness as much as hardening of security of systems, networks, and devices. The end-user remains a critical vulnerability as we evolve through generations of connectivity, be it 2G, 3G, 4G, 5G or even 6G, which is in the distant horizon. Although the benefits of 5G are many, organizations can truly reap the same when they focus beyond short-term success and strive to build consumer trust while delivering personalized experiences – all while giving data security the utmost priority.

(The author IC Aiyappan Pillai is IEEE Senior Member & Founder, Congruent Services and the views expressed in this article are his own)

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