Turning the network into a sensor: How the Philippines can cope with 5G era security threats

By Srinivas Bhattiprolu, Senior Director, Solutions for Asia Pacific and Japan, Nokia Software

As we edge closer to Industry 4.0, one of the technologies anticipated to feature is 5G, which can form the basis for intelligent, “human-critical” networks that combine high data-rate, instantaneous communications with low-latency network performance and massive connectivity. In the Philippines, this will power new applications for everything from applying the internet of things (IoT) to automate traditional industries like agriculture to smart homes and the digitization of government services.

New security protocols needed for next-gen cyber threats

The more we depend on networks, the more we need to ensure their protection. Next-generation networks will need to be more secure than any that has come before. Instead of being applied to network services after the fact, security will need to be built in from the start — with the entire network acting as one giant, unified sensor to keep infrastructure and services safe.

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This also means that attacks to 5G security infrastructure may carry more serious consequences. In a country where at least 37% of Filipinos use the internet and over 100 million have mobile cellular subscriptions, cybersecurity is a serious issue; for enterprises, attacks may cause some $3.5 billion in economic losses.

Beyond the money, cybersecurity attacks can be more serious due to the proliferation of personal data, which was what happened with a fast-food chain’s website in 2018. In the 5G era, cybercrime will move from computers to mobiles, IoT, and devices — meaning that all new devices that connect into an operator’s network will present new vulnerability points.

Security must keep up with network services

With 5G, there will be more networks doing more complex things and delivering more kinds of services than we are used to. “Slicing” will become the norm: virtualization that allows network resources to be shared with third parties, with guaranteed quality of service (QoS) and isolation. Having end-to-end slices that terminate in private networks will increase the attack surface that service providers need to protect.

Providers also need to fundamentally shift how they think about security. Today’s network services tend not to change once they’ve been designed, typically operating in isolation from each other. They are static and siloed but sliced-based 5G network services will be incredibly dynamic, responding to evolving conditions in real-time.

Analytics and automation are vital

Flexible, adaptive, end-to-end security in a 5G scenario requires visibility from the device up through the network and into the cloud. Without the ability to collect, correlate, and analyze data from end to end, security threats could easily be missed. With 5G, the entire network becomes a sensor, drawing data from various systems and devices to provide a comprehensive, real-time view for maximum security.

5G security operations also need to be predictive and automated. That means using machine learning, multidimensional analytics, and threat intelligence to correlate data from multiple domains and sources, catch anomalies, provide contextual intelligence about threats, weigh business risks, and enact mitigation steps.
Analytics are important because many threats are designed to stay undetected for as long as possible, under the radar of the network security operation center or hiding in the information noise of minor, relatively harmless attacks. Machine learning and artificial intelligence (AI) can discover these kinds of “lurking” malicious activities and trigger counter-measures.

Embedding security in the network

With 5G, the network will not have conventional boundaries; it will be an open ecosystem in which all kinds of unmanaged third-party devices are connected.

Strong security should be provided within the network to protect data and infrastructure. Integrated security workflow automation and orchestration are key to this, transitioning from static defenses to adaptive, accurate threat responses.

These security capabilities add up to a set of required applications: active monitoring and workflow orchestration, privileged access management and analytics of user behavior, certification and management of digital identities of network entities, machine learning of traffic patterns for threat detection, automated incident responses, and more.

Designing for security

Service providers seeking to monetize from new 5G use cases want to engage the market and monetize the investments they are making in their networks to deliver on the new 5G use cases. As they do, they will need end-to-end security performance — at scale, from the edge to the core — to defend against advanced, persistent threats. The new 5G security approach integrates and automates 5G network security by treating the entire network as a sensor. Data taken from existing systems is used to give a much greater level of information.

For that, security must be provided at four key layers:

At the base level, security must be in place for the service network and the cloud infrastructure. Moving up the stack, the entire infrastructure — spanning software, virtual machines, hardware, and devices — also needs to be “trustable.” Automated security management and orchestration provide frictionless security across these dynamically changing elements, and all sensitive data must be secure, providing access control, privacy and regulatory compliance.

Finally, to proactively detect and respond to security threats, security-related intelligence must be shared across all the parts of the network — among suppliers, partners, and customers.

Getting the implementation right

With the Philippine government’s National Cybersecurity Plan 2022, which emphasizes the security of critical ICT infrastructures, we will need to be more agile in dealing with cyberthreats to prepare for new technologies such as 5G, which could roll out as early as next year. There needs to be a greater commitment toward providing a robust 5G infrastructure resilient enough for new services. If the right security protocols are implemented, 5G can help transform the lives of Philippine businesses and the people whether it is enhancing productivity and safety in hazardous industries such as mining or implementing smart city solutions and disaster relief efforts to improving societal welfare.