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Securing your 5G edge computing architecture for business success

Author: Phil Muncaster

Many technologies are touted as transformational, but some fall far short of that promise. Combining mobile edge computing and 5G could open up a whole new world of digital innovation—but because this specialized computing environment comes with a distinct set of advantages and challenges, it pays to build in security from the start.

By 2022, the number of connected devices in use will be more than triple the global population—5G is expected to support more than one million devices per square kilometer. As the threat landscape expands, securing the edge is no longer just a consideration.

What is 5G edge?

Next-generation 5G networks offer dramatically reduced latency to mobile devices, and connection speeds at least 10 times faster than 4G networks. The transformative element of 5G connectivity is that it can significantly increase the density of supported devices in a specific area—well-built 4G networks typically support about 4,000 devices per square kilometer, while 5G networks should someday handle something closer to one million devices per square kilometer.

Add edge computing to the mix, and a company has the tools they need to analyze, store and process data closer to the customer. When the customer needs that data, it's sent across 5G networks to their mobile device, smart home gadget, connected car or industrial IoT endpoint. By moving more of the processing off of the end-point devices, the overall network (from end-point devices through the mobile access network to the edge compute environment) is made faster, more efficient and much more agile than earlier technology architectures. As the Federal Communications Commission explains, edge computing "offers a future with near real-time, back-and-forth connections," and it's particularly useful for high-performance applications, such as Industry 4.0, IoT and video streaming.

"Edge technologies make it feel like every device is a supercomputer," the FCC says. "Digital processes become lightning fast. Critical data is processed at the edge of the network."

New risk considerations

Any area of computing that is accompanied by a radical increase in end point devices creates new risks for IT organizations: Two-thirds of UK and US IT teams consider the growth in IoT endpoints, which are massively enabled by 5G and Edge compute, a growing risk to corporate security. To ensure that your projects don't hit a cybersecurity roadblock, you must account for the unique challenges and advantages inherent to these environments.

Because 5G should eventually support unprecedented numbers of connected devices in a determined area, businesses have to think about how they can secure their environment against threats to all of those endpoints. The edge's decentralized model combined with a massive increase of connected devices within a square kilometer could involve a blend of diverse nodes and devices, each with its own distinct configuration requirements and vulnerabilities. This broader distribution of devices and nodes adds a measure of complexity to a firms security landscape; one that demands a thoughtful and robust security posture.

"Choose edge computing security solutions that are centrally managed (ideally cloud-based) and provide for tightly controlled administrative access and updates," says Gartner.Additionally, Gartner says that you should "Ensure that edge computing hardware, software, applications and networking are hardened and as small as possible, reducing the surface area for attack."2

Securing the future

So what does this mean for your 5G edge deployments? You'll need to focus on following best practices for securing your data and network. A few key recommendations can get you started:

  • Require a strong, unique password and multifactor authentication for every edge device
  • Ensure that every node and device is regularly patched and up to date
  • Encrypt in-transit data to protect traffic flowing through the 5G edge
  • Encrypt at-rest data and ensure that its encryption key is stored separately
  • Ensure end-to-end encryption of all data
  • Deploy application-layer firewalls to empower administrators to block suspicious traffic
  • Follow industry best practices for specialized data, including HIPPA and PCI compliance
  • Monitor networks to spot any unusual behavior at edge nodes

The 5G edge is already here. In the coming years, it should enable greater collaboration in virtual planes, near real-time data analysis and more transformative opportunities for businesses to become truly agile. Effective security won't block innovation—it will enable it. With the right approach, you'll get the peace of mind you need to accelerate the time to value across all of your organization's 5G edge projects.

Learn how to unlock innovation with Verizon 5G Edge.

1 Gartner, How to Overcome Four Major Challenges in Edge Computing, Thomas Bittman, et.al., November, 2019.
2 Ibid.