5G: An Opportunity for Good and Bad Actors

As 5G rollouts continue, it's time for organizations to think about the implications of this powerful technology with regard to cybersecurity and risk.


As 5G rollouts continue, it is time for organizations to think about the implications of this powerful technology with regard to cybersecurity/risk. Each major technological shift, like the move to 5G, creates new opportunities, but they also bring a new myriad of challenges. Being willing and able to embrace the opportunities and address the challenges 5G presents is critical. Many organizations are willing to think through potential opportunities, but few are willing to contemplate the threats. The challenge will be defending critical assets in a highly scalable, high-bandwidth world that has democratized access; i.e. you don’t – or won’t – need a wire pulled from your home (or the park where you are sitting) to access information remotely.

The Emergence of 5G

First, let’s break down what 5G really is. 5G brings the broadband we experience every day in the sanctuary of our own homes through WiFi to our mobile devices – from anywhere the service is offered. It’s not just that you can now access technology (and applications) anytime, anywhere, but now developers can actually build new applications over 5G. This is a fundamental reversal when compared to previous evolutions where wired broadband-enabled developers to write code using personal computers for people with mobile devices.

The question is: what does it mean? The answer will likely be mobile evolution unlike anything that we have seen before.

Consider this: Previously, developers wrote software on laptops or personal computers for people using mobile devices. Entire frameworks were built around the screen width and space of a mobile computing device. Those frameworks will continue but fade.

You can argue that the touch-based personal computer was an outcropping of people using mobile devices, and the ease of touching a screen – rather than a mouse – was simpler. The democratization of mobile computing devices and the evolution of high-speed bandwidth from service providers have not gone unnoticed by groups that develop software. In fact, Apple has frameworks like Objective C and Swift for iOS developers, while Google supports a variety of other frameworks to enable Android developers.

The result is that a step function change in bandwidth, afforded by the emergence of 5G, will democratize ultra-high-speed bandwidth for everyone who has a smartphone. This will enable people who primarily access the network only on a smartphone to do what they want to do on the web at a much higher speed.

Opportunistic Threat Actors

What does cybersecurity have to do with the emergence of 5G?


As any other major technological shift demonstrates, dated cybersecurity frameworks and infrastructure that is incompatible with new technologies like 5G place defenders two steps behind bad actors. In fact, these older frameworks often jeopardize and limit the growth of organizations because they were designed to address a specific problem at a specific time – but they weren’t developed to scale alongside a growing business.

In layman’s terms, bad actors have taken notice of the growing threat vectors presented by 5G. There are now hacking tools that can run from mobile devices, in the same way that we have tools that enable hackers to use personal computers and laptops to probe and find a soft spot in an application.

So, the opportunity is massive, but the threats are also growing – what is an organization to do? The answer cuts two ways:

    • Embrace the opportunity. Organizations that embrace change tend to come through major transitions stronger than their peers, and there’s no denying the opportunity here.
    • Consider the threat matrix. In the same way that technology has afforded companies opportunities to rethink their relationship with customers, bad actors will leverage 5G to rethink their MO.

This is not the time to fall back on yesterday’s technology to solve tomorrow’s problems. Clunky, network-based security solutions won’t be able to keep up in a 5G world – they just can’t scale at the rate 5G will require. Adaptive and scalable solutions will be key for cybersecurity teams to stay ahead of the evolving threat matrix.

The bottom line is that 5G presents a huge opportunity for everyone – good and bad actors alike. The question is, how do organizations adapt and embrace change? Ultimately, adaptability will determine their relevance in the near and distant future. So as 5G rollouts rapidly continue, it’s time for organizations to prioritize an adaptive cybersecurity posture today, to better defend their customers, employees, and critical business assets against emerging threat vectors and new technologies tomorrow.

Matt Glenn

As senior vice president of Product Management, Matt is responsible for Illumio’s product lines and product strategy.

As senior vice president of Product Management, Matt is responsible for Illumio’s product lines and product strategy.