The double-edged sword that is 5G: How charities can harness its potential while remaining secure

Iain Shearman, Managing Director at KCOM NNS

The double-edged sword that is 5G: How charities can harness its potential while remaining secure
Ian Shearman, KCOM.
Photograph credit: Sean Spencer/Hull News

The 5G network has the power to redefine a broad range of industries. This is because the proliferation of mobile devices has transformed the way people and organisations connect and communicate; from helping Tesla put a car into space right through to how charities enlist volunteers for local activities.

The fifth-generation network is providing more than just faster internet on the move, as previous iterations have done. It’s the first mobile technology generation that will support, by design, connectivity between things as well as people, by enabling the delivery of more data, more reliably, prompting faster interaction. The technology is ideally placed to address some of the major socio-economic issues of our time, which puts charities and non-government organisations (NGOs) right at the heart of the conversation.

5G hitting the right notes

Already, we’re seeing glimpses of how 5G technology and charities can combine to deliver meaningful impact. Last month critically acclaimed musician and songwriter Jamie Cullum led the world’s first 5G music lesson from a piano in London, playing live with amateur musicians in Bristol and Birmingham using the latest network technology. The event, organised by charity Music for All demonstrated how technology can remove barriers to learning. And that’s just the tip of the iceberg. The advent of 5G will fast-track the mainstream consumption of virtual reality, augmented reality, the Internet of Things (IoT), automation and robotics and drones, with the potential to reprogramme every facet of our society.

But for all the welcome changes 5G will usher in, there will be challenges. 5G is likely to bring a new era of security threats simply because it is an immature and insufficiently tested set of technologies. This, coupled with the movement of and access to of vastly larger quantities of data than are currently available, makes it a perfect storm for the world’s cybercriminals. Enabled by 5G, the number of IoT devices alone is expected to rise from 7 billion today to 21.5 billion by 2025, according to IoT Analytics. This will enlarge the attack surface for such devices to an unimaginable size, and the capacity for cryptojacking and other compromises is likely to increase exponentially.

Attack on charity

For charities, whose existence relies on the ability to be fully operational, as well as trusted implicitly, this ‘new normal’ represents a perilous situation. Few businesses can afford – or are prepared – to be on shutdown and foot the recovery cost of a cyberattack, but there is an increased sensitivity with charities – every penny needs to work hard while delivering impact where it is most required and often around the clock.

The Cyber Security Breaches Survey, an annual report by The Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport, found the average cost of all breaches or attacks identified in the last 12 months by a charity is £9,470. But costs of a breach vary with organisations quoting figures between £300 and £100,000 depending on the severity. What we know is hackers don’t discriminate and an attack with any level of financial implication could be crippling. Thankfully, the same report also found that cybersecurity is now being seen as a high priority in 94% of charities with an income over £500,000.

No silver bullet solution

There is no silver bullet solution for the security challenges 5G is going to bring but what’s certain is that the technology will usher in entirely new models for how things get done. Yet, for all the razzamataz, a core principle of IT management remains – the adoption of 5G must be built on a solid foundation of IT strategy and network security. Doing so will require combining new technology with legacy infrastructures, which isn’t always easy to do, especially when 5G will magnify any existing insecurity or chink in the armour.

Although essential, technology is only a part of the solution for charities. Creating an effective workplace security culture is also a top priority. The reality is that humans are the weakest link in any organisation and while computers will do as we programme them to, humans do not, which makes the need for a security framework even more crucial. According to Verizon, human error is the root cause of close to one in five data breaches and while almost three-quarters of attacks are perpetrated from outside an organisation, more than a quarter involve insiders.

This means processes, procedures and policies for IoT, and protections must scale-up accordingly. By thinking strategically, and placing security considerations as core to the overall strategy, charities and NGOs will be well-placed to mitigate some of the major risks 5G will bring.

About KCOM

KCOM is one of the UK’s oldest communications services companies, dating back to 1904. We’ve always been proud of being different. Our founders were pioneers and innovators in the field of telephony and today we emulate their spirit by helping our customers harness the power of technology.

We operate in three key markets: Enterprises, National Network Services and, business and consumers across Hull and East Yorkshire. We’re all focused on one key thing, delivering best in class technology solutions to improve our customer experience. For our business customers, we deliver flexible, futureproofed technologies that meet real commercial needs. We listen to and learn from our customers to help them navigate through the convergence of IT and communications with straightforward solutions and sound advice, designed to translate into a competitive edge.