The biggest threat to modern society - and its not Covid

09 Sep, 2021 6 min read
Nigel Thorpe
Nigel Thorpe
Technical Director
5G robots began their first scouts around Singapore’s luxury neighbourhood Keppel Bay last month - a trend that will spread globally in the years to come.

These autonomous robots came in several forms, and were adapted specifically for a variety of duties that gave ground staff a chance to perform their duties via proxy, away from the hot tropical sun. This included monitoring water quality, garbage collection, and security surveillance. Thanks to the supercharged bandwidth afforded by the 5G, network lag and human error was weeded out and tasks were completed more efficiently.

These robots are our first glimpse of the possibilities of 5G. With over US$450 billion pumped into 5G hardware and software development, the South East Asian island-nation appears on track to fulfilling its goal of islandwide 5G coverage by 2025.

This means, a future where robots of all shapes and sizes perform all sorts of tasks in both public and private spaces is fast shaping into reality. But even though this hyper futuristic reality brings with it much promise, governments and urban planners are also on their toes against another threat that is constantly growing - cybercriminals.

Do we really have to be concerned about cybercriminals?

The short answer is - yes. The GSM Association estimates that there will be 25.2 billion IoT connections to 5G networks by 2025. This means that all sorts of devices from meal prepping fridges in smart homes to robot dogs that run errands will all be plugged into 5G networks to perform their duties. The problem is, all these devices installed within our homes, offices, and public spaces will serve as potential entry points for hackers to gain access into our systems. Once unauthorised access has been gained, hackers can potentially steal or delete troves of public information or control other 5G connected personal devices. 

Not only is securing our personal devices important for protecting public systems, smartphone attacks could also lock individuals out of many public facilities by proxy. This is especially since smartphones are increasingly becoming modern passports that grant individuals access to urban spaces. Certain enterprises have already phased out cash transactions altogether. With the proliferation of 5G technology expected to cover everything from supply chains to environment monitoring and even citizen mobility, getting locked out of a smartphone by malware can make day to day living nearly impossible. 

This threat is constantly growing as cybercriminals themselves increase in numbers and strength, nabbing over US$900 billion in revenue from companies worldwide in 2020. The sheer extent of resources amassed by cybercriminals has enabled them to recruit talented hackers and develop increasingly sophisticated malware. No one truly knows the full extent to which attacks on 5G networks could affect our lives until it actually happens. What we do know is that there is a constant need to constantly renew our defenses against an ever-evolving adversary. 

Case in point - The notorious iPhone malware Pegasus has been engineered such that it can infiltrate phones and take control of a user’s messages, emails, phone microphone and camera even without having a link clicked upon.  A recent report by Amnesty International uncovered a list of 50,000 leaked phone numbers that had been compromised by Pegasus. What’s more unnerving is that modern bugs like Pegasus are able to infect phones undetected, siphoning data away from a user’s phone for long periods before being rooted out.

When cyber attacks threaten lives and livelihoods

Elon Musk once asserted that humans are already cyborgs. Indeed, there could come a time when attacks on our personal devices could prove to be deadly. Covid-19 has shown us how the effects of pandemics can be compounded when overwhelmed hospitals are unable to bring the necessary treatment to patients in time. Cybercriminals are already starting to claim victims, with a woman at Duesseldorf University Clinic dying after an IT system failure caused her to be redirected to another hospital. 

Beyond the individual, industries at the national level are also at risk of being shut down or at least crippled at the hands of cybercriminals who are capable and determined enough. Some studies find more than eight in ten workers within data, media, finance, and real estate have remote work as their default work arrangement. Remote work may have buffered corporations from the effects of the pandemic, but cybersecurity is constantly threatening to dismantle the new work arrangement that societies have painstakingly set up.

This is especially so in cities that are primed for 5G development and where white collar jobs often make up a significant portion of generated capital. An attack on multinational corporations could have devastating effects on not just operations, but also long term reputation and how reliable companies are perceived to be.

Case in point - a week-long shutdown at Colonial Pipeline disrupted fuel supply to 50 million customers globally. In order for urban operations to run round the clock without skipping a beat, cybersecurity has to constantly be upgraded to combat ever-evolving cyber attacks.

No cause for alarm - but be aware and vigilant

The good news is that smart cities are not just a recent trend. Governments have been planning cybersecurity strategies in conjunction with smart cities way before the pandemic accelerated the development of new technologies. Nations and prominent cities are also recognising the interconnected nature of issues involving cyberspace, and are working together to come up with solutions that can help secure international 5G communications that will no doubt become mainstay in the near future.

In fact, the Cyber Security Agency of Singapore and the Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency (US) recently signed agreements to share information on cyber-security incidents and best practices in this increasingly critical field.

However, just as humanity dealt with the pandemic, the transition to 5G will require mass cooperation so that our interconnected systems and economies can remain safe for all to use. Even as governments do their part to ward off this modern threat, corporations should also contribute to building a safe global cyberspace by securing data safely. The difficulty lies in the growing number of reactive band-aid solutions on the market which makes it hard to tell what’s effective and what’s not.

Cybersecurity for Smart Cities with SecureAge

The difficulty is magnified by the fact that tribal knowledge about encryption is outdated. A lot has changed in the world of data security. Yes, there are endless file and folder encryption products on the market but the reality is, not all are created equal. The biggest problem is many of them establish security silos for “sensitive” data and deem everything else unimportant - in this day and age, all data is important. The other problem is, many encryption solutions only protect data that is in-storage, meaning data in-transit, and data in-use is left vulnerable - data needs to be protected all the time!

With SecureAge’s unique approach to data encryption, you no longer have to decide what to protect. We protect every file, in every place, all the time. We do this by thinking outside of the box and making encryption an inherent property of your Data. Unlike file and folder encryption products, we don’t rely on reactive systems or restrictive tools that impact usability. Find out more about how to choose the best encryption software, or get in touch to receive a demo. I’d love to show you more. 

Visit these articles if you’re interested to find out more about the changes in cybersecurity that are impacting two other areas of life: remote learning and telemedicine.

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