Mar 23 2021

As Government Agencies Prepare for 5G, Don’t Forget Security

A modern network security approach is needed as agencies prepare to roll out 5G wireless networks to support their missions.

5G promises transformative mobility, and connection speeds we’ve never seen before. While the benefits are notable, as federal agencies prepare for 5G connectivity, it’s vital that they evaluate their infrastructures for 5G preparedness because existing practices and legacy security solutions will not meet what’s needed to secure 5G.

The advantages of 5G are undeniable — higher data speeds, latency improvements, greater agility, efficiency and openness — meaning that 5G will be a major driver of digital transformation. And for federal agencies, this means stronger and faster connectivity that significantly enhances mission readiness and enables new capabilities across many environments, from campuses, logistics and military bases to aircraft carriers.

5G’s next-generation wireless technology will ensure these environments can leverage industrial-scale Internet of Things networks with ultralow latency, mission-critical reliability and a high degree of mobility.

Yet before agencies begin to revolutionize their ecosystems to take advantage of 5G, they must understand that accompanying the impressive 5G capabilities are elevated cyber-risk, expanding threats and vulnerabilities. This makes it more critical than ever for federal agencies to prioritize setting the foundation for a strong security posture early in their 5G planning or deployments.

If government agencies have not yet modernized their networks and cybersecurity solutions, 5G will make it a crucial requirement.

Legacy Cybersecurity Solutions Won’t Make the Cut for 5G

Legacy cybersecurity solutions, which primarily focused on protecting the perimeter, will not be able to defend against a broader and more complex attack surface, greater threat potential and new points of attack, particularly as IoT devices proliferate in a 5G environment and the perimeter disappears.

What may have worked in the static, hardware-driven, centralized and on-premises 3G and 4G environments simply won’t work in the new dynamic, software-driven, scalable, decentralized and cloud-based 5G environment.

Real-time visibility: Legacy firewalls lack the visibility needed to prevent cyberattacks targeting 5G networks. Comprehensive protection and context-driven security at scale are key to protecting 5G networks from cyberattacks, requiring granular visibility across all layers and at key locations of the network. With real-time visibility and automated enforcement of traffic interactions, federal agencies will have the ability to detect and stop cybersecurity threats in real time within that traffic.

Operational complexity: Disparate security tools will not scale and cannot be consistently applied throughout the distributed 5G networks. As IoT devices proliferate and machine-to-machine systems are adopted, along with the increased use of cloud, automating security will be key. Machine learning and automated, cloud-delivered threat intelligence will help federal agencies defend against adversaries operating at 5G speeds and prevent known and unknown threats in real time across 5G networks on a global scale.

Slice-level security: Secure 5G network slice offers a dedicated end-to-end piece of the network that provides reliability and confidence to use 5G for core mission-critical activities. It helps ensure custom security posture and dynamic security enforcement as demanded by the end use case served by the slice. Context-driven security can be rightsized for specific federal agencies’ use cases and can accommodate a per-slice or group-slice level, or individual users of the slice.

EXPLORE: What will 5G networks do for federal agencies?

Laying the Right Cybersecurity Foundation

As federal agencies undergo digital transformation and begin to embrace 5G networks with a specific focus on driving digitization, accelerating IoT adoption to revolutionize connectivity, improving productivity and increasing operational efficiencies, prioritizing the deployment of a strong security posture is critical and requires the following three capabilities:

Zero-trust security: Extending zero-trust security into 5G with machine learning–powered next-generation physical and virtual firewalls will help protect end-to-end 5G infrastructures across all layers and key locations of the distributed, cloud-native, multicloud 5G architecture. Segmenting 5G networks for zero-trust access, an architectural security strategy rooted in the principle of “never trust, always verify,” can also reduce the volume and impact of cyberattacks.

Consistent, granular visibility: Comprehensive protection of federal agencies’ 5G infrastructures requires consistent, real-time granular visibility of threats passing through the networks to be able to stop them in real time. Based on sensitivity or criticality, steps also can be taken to identify and control the level of access granted to each device and user on the network.

Automated security: Real-time, automated security enforcement at the 5G network level and device level is the only way to outmaneuver threats in this complex environment. Authenticating and automatically identifying the devices and users before granting access to perform a certain action, such as requesting data, are the keys to successful security.

MORE FROM FEDTECH: 5G is one of the key wireless technologies poised to take off in government in 2021.

How Do We Get to a Stronger 5G Security Posture?

The use of 5G in U.S. federal agencies is nascent but accelerating. The Defense Department has commenced testing and evaluation of 5G technologies at five military installations across the country, making it more critical than ever for federal agencies to take the first step of implementing proper security measures to support the use of 5G.

The importance of securing 5G in federal deployments is not being overlooked. The DOD 5G Strategy, released in May 2020, outlines the DOD’s approach to implementing the U.S. National Strategy to Secure 5G issued in March 2020.

Among the key outcomes envisioned in the DOD’s 5G Strategy are protected and resilient 5G-enhanced mission capabilities that leverage ubiquitous connectivity. DOD also states it will develop and validate a zero-trust model for 5G.

Now is the time to plan not only for 5G but also for the technical measures required to mitigate the new cybersecurity risks that loom for federal agencies’ network infrastructures, applications, services and information, which will rely on 5G networks.

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