Why 5G private mobile networks and cybersecurity must go hand in hand


While some extraordinary progress has been made in realising the exciting vision of the fourth industrial revolution, many see the emergence of 5G as the catalyst that will bring about further change. 5G has the potential to accelerate the adoption of the internet of things (IoT) and Industry 4.0, and drive further innovation.

However, if businesses are to harness the digital transformation capabilities that 5G will bring to Industry 4.0, governments, mobile network operators and organisations need to build a complete 5G infrastructure and services.

But this takes time and money. To illustrate the point, the GSMA, representing the interests of mobile operators worldwide, says 5G networks are likely to cover one third of the world’s population by 2025, yet only a handful of nations have so far created public 5G mobile networks.

Industrial giants build their own private 5G networks

With public 5G networks developing at a slow pace, many industrial leaders, such as Mercedes, Rio Tinto, Port of Rotterdam and Siemens, have taken matters into their own hands. They have all created their own private mobile networks, which rely on 4G and 5G technology.

But why? Ronen Shpirer, director of solutions marketing at Fortinet, a global leader in network and cybersecurity solutions, says first-movers investing in 4G and 5G private mobile networks “do so for a number of very good reasons”.

He explains, “Mobility, coverage, quality of service, ultra-low latency, service continuity and very high reliability are some of the main capabilities a private mobile network can provide. These are all critical requirements that can enhance and revolutionise automation, safety and innovation in industry. Finally, companies choose to invest in private 4G and 5G networks because they provide them with better control and privacy.”

Private mobile networks: managing exposure to cyber-risk

However, Shpirer has concerns that companies with private mobile networks may be “lulled into a false sense of security” regarding cyber-risks and threats, which he says “are becoming more and more sophisticated and are increasing year on year”.

With your own mobile network, logically you’d think security becomes less of an issue; actually, the opposite is true

Shpirer says: “The phrase ‘private 5G network’ is a little misleading. With your own mobile network, logically you’d think security becomes less of an issue; actually, the opposite is true.”

Complex markets call for a more nuanced security solution

A company looking to build its own private mobile network may involve a myriad of different architectures and actors to create and manage it. “This complicates the understanding and deployment of the appropriate cybersecurity controls needed to protect the private network,” he says.

“Essentially, whoever builds and manages the network for the enterprise must understand what that organisation is trying to achieve, the specific use-cases and the unique security implications for each individual scenario. Failure to do so not only exposes the private mobile network to cyberthreats and increased risk, but also the company. You might as well leave the gates to the factory unlocked at night. It’s the same result.”

Fortinet providing cybersecurity expertise for 5G

It is for this reason that hundreds of organisations each year seek out the help of Fortinet.

Fortinet’s leading-edge products provide enterprises and mobile operators with security, visibility and control, protecting enterprises deploying private 4G and 5G mobile networks against both internal and external cyber-risks. These include, but are not limited to, protection from IoT-originated threats such as signalling storms, infected or malfunctioning devices and IoT bots,  internet, and insider and third party-originated threats and attacks.

Take an industrial manufacturer that has invested heavily in AI-driven automation and robotics and relies on the IoT.

Shpirer explains: “Imagine the IoT devices as physical extensions of a brain, which is the IoT platform and its applications, and relies upon input from the IoT devices to takes decisions that are then distributed to different parts of the factory floor and production process.

‘You don’t need hackers to infiltrate the system to confuse the brain. A bad upgrade or configuration to a set of connected machines or production lines, for example, could cause problems and cause delays, inefficiencies and even safety problems. On the other hand, if professional hackers use the private mobile network to exploit vulnerabilities in the system, the consequences for the plant could be a lot worse.”

5G cybersecurity platform

Fortinet enables enterprises and mobile network operators to protect private mobile networks infrastructure, services and the enterprise using it.

FortiGate protects the private mobile network and the enterprise against IoT and internet-originated threats, while FortiWeb protects the IoT platform’s industrial applications and their application programming interfaces from attacks.

But perhaps it is the solution’s adaptability and inter-operability that really sets it apart. Shpirer explains: “The platform is hugely flexible to support a wide range of private mobile network architectures and use-cases. It can be deployed and managed by both
the enterprise and the mobile network operator.”

While extremely robust, the platform’s multi-faceted capabilities extend to security visibility and encompass other services that transcend the private mobile network and its use-cases.

“The security platform technology is very versatile and can be implemented as physical, virtual or in a container form factor. Put all these individual components together and you get a fairly unique, automated and integrated cybersecurity solution for private mobile networks and the enterprises using it,” says Shpirer.

Embedding a new culture of cybersecurity

In addition to Fortinet’s malleability, Shpirer says the advent of 5G and an increased security threat landscape is “motivating both service providers and enterprises to pre-emptively secure their environment, including their customers”.

He adds: “Fortinet is best positioned to provide leading telecommunications companies and industrial organisations with unique cybersecurity solutions, all of which have been validated by industry-leading third parties, including Gartner and NSS Labs.”

With more than 680 patents, 465,000 customers and continued growth that beats market estimates, more and more enterprises and service providers are embracing Fortinet’s leading-edge cybersecurity solutions for 5G. Without a robust security infrastructure in place, they know that the growth of their 5G private networks could be stymied, and with it the promise of dynamic and lasting growth.

For more information please visit secure.fortinet.com/5GPrivateNetworks