Innovation required in digital security to ensure UK’s future 5G network is safe

Connected and autonomous vehicles, virtual reality gaming on the go, and mobile download speeds of a gigabyte a second could all be within reach in the next five years – but a new technical report has highlighted the need for innovation and for the UK to rethink its mobile security strategy for the country to reap the benefits of 5G.

The report makes four significant security-based recommendations that the authors believe will protect the UK’s future vital infrastructure and safeguard the country’s position as a leader in 5G technologies.

The report was produced as part of the UK’s 5G Testbed and Trials programme– a government initiative to ensure that the UK is at the forefront of the coming 5G revolution. Three of the six 5G testbeds contributed to the report, along with the University of Surrey’s 5G Innovation Centre. The three testbeds were AutoAir, which is testing transport use cases; 5G RuralFirst, which is testing the use of 5G to enhance rural communities, and the Worcestershire 5G Testbed, which is testing industrial use cases of 5G.

The team of 5G experts believe the UK needs to innovate to create a new way to predict and pre-validate 5G network connections, leveraging mobile AI based autonomous network technologies – from mobile phones and smart industrial machines, to health monitoring devices and smart home consumer devices. The networks need to quickly and efficiently recognise these devices and confirm that they are secure without compromising user experience and performance. The paper also recommends:

  • a cross-layered process that will allow end-to-end security for critical services such as the transport and logistics, health and social care, industry 4.0 and rural connectivity solutions
  • An organisation that is tasked to help monitor and encourage good security-by-design practice, and set out and document an approach to designing secure 5G networks, applications and services
  • further testing of standards and security capability using existing UK test beds.

Regius Professor Rahim Tafazolli, Founding Director of the 5G Innovation Centre at the University of Surrey, said: “We are expecting the first 5G enabled services to come to market next year and we are already doing significant work across the UK test beds – the benefits of being prepared for what 5G offers are clear for all to see.”

“Performance risk in such a complex network means that we need to reconsider many of our digital security processes. We believe that with the sound recommendations made in this paper, the UK will be in a good position to continue our leadership position in 5G innovation, development and deployment.”

Peter Claydon, AutoAir Project Director, said: “Since the age of 2G, mobile networks have been some of the most secure things on the planet, helped by the fact that each one is controlled by a single network operator. 5G opens up mobile networks, allowing network operators to provide ‘slices’ of their networks to customers. Also, customers’ data can be offloaded and processed at the edge of the network, without going through the secure network core. This report is a timely reminder of the security challenges that these new features raise.”

 Mark Stansfeld, Chairman of the Worcestershire 5G Consortium said: “The Worcestershire 5G Testbed is part of the national drive to achieve Industry 4.0 and revive British industry by using 5G to improve national output. We’re privileged to work alongside partners such as 5GIC and AWTG in the common pursuit to create a more connected, creative and dynamic economy. As part of this, we’re working with QinetiQ to advance cyber security application and provide assurances on the ‘security by design’ for the 5G network.”

 Robert Driver, Head of UK5G, said: “When UK5G was launched back in April at BT Tower, the term ‘purposeful innovation’ – coined by Tim Whitley of BT – perfectly described the aims of the 5G programme. Purposeful innovation is at the heart of the pioneering work being carried out by the 5G trials being conducted across the UK funded by the DCMS, and involving close collaboration between many organisations.  This technical paper, led by the University of Surrey 5G Innovation Centre, includes three of the DCMS funded Phase 1 trials, and is a great example of such strong collaboration.

“The paper highlights the challenges and inevitable trade-offs between cost, security and performance in the development and deployment of 5G. In a new environment of multiple use cases, each with different performance requirements, along with the expected introduction of new market players, alignment and cooperation between parties will be essential.  Systems need to be ‘secure by design’ and new approaches, including the use of Artificial Intelligence (AI) will be required.”

If you would like more information on the 5G projects in the UK, visit the UK5G website here.