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As Malaysia Gives Green Light to 5G, Is the Country Prepared for the Security Challenges?

AFP reported that the pandemic has created a “perfect storm for cyber attacks”, with millions of Malaysians working in unfamiliar, less secure environments and eager for information about the coronavirus and new organisational policies being implemented. In 2021 alone, Malaysia saw a total of 4,615 cybersecurity incidents reported to the Cyber999 Help Centre, managed by CyberSecurity Malaysia.

With 5G and its many applications looming over the horizon, we can expect new cyber threats to emerge over the next few years.

Nokia believes that a new security approach is required to prevent 5G security vulnerabilities from becoming a widescale problem that may affect many verticals and industries. This requires the integration and automation of the 5G network so that the entire network can be treated as a sensor – with data taken from existing systems used to provide a much greater level of information.

Response to threats or security issues can then be achieved through automated workflows. Essentially, this approach is able to detect an anomaly and suggest a way to fix it based on standard or customised playbooks.

According to Daniel Jaeger, Head of Southeast Asia at Nokia, “The playbook provides the steps, procedures or processes that a security analyst performs – today, these would be done manually. Extensive automation frees up a security operations team to focus on priority threat investigations. A major step in building out the new 5G security approach is a security assessment to help identify gaps between existing security capabilities and 5G security requirements.”

How Secure is 5G?

Nokia is one of the 5G leaders, claims Jaeger, as today, more than 220 operators globally trust Nokia’s 5G and build their networks based on Nokia’s technology and services. And recently, Nokia confirmed its participation in Digital Nasional Bhd’s (DNB) 5G infrastructure tender. But, with the upcoming launch of 5G, people are wondering: “How secure is 5G?”

In comparison to 2G, 3G and 4G, there is a fundamental change in 5G. All these new services are more business relevant for enterprises and require more protection. Although 5G, in general, is more secure than the predecessors’ standards, there are four key security requirements for Communications Service Providers (CSP) to succeed with 5G services – adaptability, integration, automation and rapidity.

The first requirement calls for 5G security to be adaptable to meet the increasingly sophisticated techniques of cyber attackers. Hackers often dynamically tweak their attacks in real-time or near real-time, so CSPs’ defences must be at least as adaptive to respond just as quickly.

Secondly, a cybersecurity platform must integrate all the different security tools and systems in a CSP’s armoury, all of which generate a huge number and variety of alarms. A centralised single view to orchestrate the entire security environment, supported by data analytics to pick out the real threats from false alerts, will reduce the time it takes to respond and begin the fight back against a hacker.

Automation is vital to increase the speed of response and to tackle the growing workload facing security teams. Manual processes cannot be scaled up to meet the rise in threats that will inevitably accompany the growth in 5G business.

“Which brings me to the fourth requirement – rapidity. One of the most important success factors in security is reducing the dwell time – that is the length of time a hacker goes undetected should they breach first-line security to gain access to the network. The longer they have, the more chances they get to hunt around the network for valuable data they can steal. With adaptability, analytics, machine-learning, orchestration and automation, a hacker’s dwell time can be cut by 80 per cent,” explained Daniel.

As Malaysia embarks on the advancement towards the Fourth Industrial Revolution, the 5G rollout will enhance operating processes and the way we work. Yet, alongside these innovative advancements, security concerns escalate in tandem. This makes it imperative for competent measures and systems to be in place. Malaysian policymakers recognise these risks and have commissioned the Malaysia Cybersecurity Strategy 2020 – 2024.

Daniel further explained, “There is a growing cyber threat that has been plaguing the country in recent years, the National Cyber Control and Command Centre (NC4) during the announcement of the Movement Control Order (MCO) succeeded in detecting and containing several cyber attacks.”

“Based on this, Nokia is aligned with the MCSS in our commitment to strengthen the security of networks. As we move into the era of 5G, CSPs are gaining great potential to win new revenue by offering valuable and innovative 5G services. Their success depends partly on their ability to build ‘digital trust’; ensuring end customers and enterprises have confidence that their data and private details are secure on 5G networks,” he continued.

Is Malaysia Ready for 5G?

Malaysia is on the way to an exciting journey into a connected digital age. According to the Malaysia Telecom Operators Country Intelligence Report, the telecommunication services industry is predicted to grow between 2020-2025 at a CAGR of 2.5%, driven by increasing service revenues from fixed broadband, mobile data and pay-TV segments.

Over the last few years, Nokia has been actively involved in Malaysia’s 5G ambitions and are committed to delivering 5G that will unlock economic growth for Malaysians to benefit from. Nokia was part of a 5G Task Force of service providers, business associations, communications equipment vendors, the Malaysian Communications and Multimedia Commission (MCMC), ministries, and academia. On the task force, Nokia actively collaborated with the working group that focused on spectrum management, allocation, as well as strategy and approach for rollouts.

In addition, Nokia is also playing a strong role in Malaysia’s fibre technology. Most recently, Nokia, together with Allo, an Information and Communications Technology service provider, announced the deployment of a gigabit fibre network in the southern states and East Coast of Malaysia. With this, Malaysians can enjoy a high-speed broadband network and applications that require high capacity.

Now, we have not seen a lot of 5G implementation in industries just yet. However, based on Nokia’s success in 5G-enabled markets such as Australia, Japan and South Korea, they know that there is increasing demand and proven success in industrial use-cases. The research from Nokia indicates that 5G-enabled industries have the potential to deliver USD $8 trillion in value to the global economy by 2030, driving sustainable economic growth and defining the next decade of innovation. According to GSMA, Asia Pacific is on track to become the world’s largest 5G region by 2025; operators are to invest over USD $400 billion on their networks between 2020 to 2025, of which the vast majority will be spent on 5G deployments.

For Nokia, they see tremendous opportunity for use in eight key areas; video surveillance and analytics, eHealth services, fixed wireless access, machine remote control, immersive experiences, cloud robotics and process automation, smart stadiums and connected vehicles.

“Malaysia’s 5G revolution will transition the nation from one that “uses networks” to one that “runs on networks”.  5G will connect everyone to everything. It will combine with other key disruptors — the cloud, robotics, AI and machine-learning — to digitally transform even the most physical aspects of our lives,” said Daniel.

Taking cues from success in markets worldwide, Nokia has earned the trust and developed technologies to combat security threats originating from malicious individuals. And Daniel believes that Nokia has the capacity to implement solutions that can complement a nationwide security effort.

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