Device security for mobile workforces in the 5G age

SOTI Inc. Australia

By Michael Dyson, Managing Director, Australia & New Zealand, SOTI
Wednesday, 19 June, 2019

Device security for mobile workforces in the 5G age

As 5G takes hold, it will be vital for enterprises to ensure that mobile devices are properly managed to avoid costly data breaches.

While the recent launch of devices such as the Samsung Galaxy S10 handset and Telstra’s new 5G modem are attracting a lot of attention due to the multimedia capabilities 5G networks will offer consumers, Australian mobile workers will both benefited and be challenged.

The emergency services, transport and mining sectors all have large, remote workforces that require mobile technologies to complete common tasks. These workers are constantly on the move and need reliable, real-time access to critical information. Whereas in the past, many mobile workers had to use two-way radios as their main communication tool, today there is a heavy push towards using smartphones and other mobile devices with the ability to display maps, directions and stream critical information in real time. For mobile workers, the launch of 5G with its faster download and upload capabilities will bring about real operational benefits, delivering a more seamless work experience and communication with headquarters or the office.

While undoubtedly mobile workers will be some of the biggest beneficiaries of the rollout of 5G, it is alarming to note that today’s mobile devices for the enterprise are fundamentally undermanaged. Research conducted by VDC Research recently revealed that only one in five organisations claims to have complete visibility into the performance of mobile technology used by their frontline mobile workforce.

While it is true that no matter the network, an unmanaged device that becomes compromised or lost is a major issue, 5G will enable the transfer of data faster than ever before, making it more crucial than ever for organisations to ensure all their mobile devices are properly managed and secured.

Avoiding downtime with low latency

The arrival of 5G in the Australian market will deliver extraordinary benefits for mobile workers. The enhanced video streaming capabilities will more efficiently enable employees to attend virtual meetings, provide visual updates and direct remote teams. Real-time anytime/anywhere collaboration will be made possible, better supporting augmented reality applications to connect and enable a decentralised workforce.

It is anticipated that in the future, 5G will deliver connectivity speeds approximately 20 times faster than 4G, with low latency capabilities to support mobile workers that require near-real-time access to rapidly changing data. On a 4G network, large increases in data usage in a specific location — such as local residents live streaming TV news onto their phones for updates on a bushfire threatening the area — can directly affect the amount of bandwidth available, potentially resulting in vital emergency worker communications arriving late or incomplete, due to network congestion. 5G networks will virtually eliminate these issues by delivering ultra-low latency rates of under a millisecond, limiting the likelihood of bandwidth maximisation affecting critical communications.

And in IoT settings, 5G will support greater collaboration between both people and devices. The new network’s speed and low latency will provide the vital communications infrastructure needed for smart city applications, including monitoring traffic flow, water usage, pollution levels, energy grid performance and waste collection.

Data security on every device

Organisations are aware of the need to secure critical private information. The price of data breaches is real, costing businesses not only through compensation to affected individuals and paying fines, but also through lost business revenue resulting from diminished confidence in an organisation’s ability to protect sensitive information. However, while local businesses and public bodies increasingly understand the importance of securing data on their devices, what is commonly overlooked is that that same sensitive information can often be shared with contractors who may not have the proper security standards in place on their own devices.

Sensitive information — such as financial, medical and client information — might be protected through a mobile device management (MDM) solution within one organisation, but then that information might be shared with a contractor (such as an electrical contractor servicing a customer for a utility provider) who has an unmanaged device. This means that an organisation could send private information to a contractor, whose own mobile device is not secure, and the sender wouldn’t know or have any control over what the receiver does with that information.

Office of the Australian Information Commissioner research shows that human error is the second-largest source of data breaches following malicious or criminal attacks. In fact, sending personal information to the wrong recipient via email (31%), unintended release or publication of personal information (28%) and loss of paperwork or storage device (16%) were among the top three most common human errors.

For example, if patient information is sent to a contract home-care nurse who downloads it ahead of visiting an elderly patient at their residence and then accidentally sends that patient data to someone else, the person who originally sent the data could be liable for the data breach. With 5G devices, it will be much quicker to download that data and for it to be sent off before the worker can fix their error. The same could be true if the device is lost or stolen and private data is not secured and the wrong person gets hold of the mobile device, allowing them to share its data very quickly with a 5G network before the device can be shut down remotely, if at all.

Data that is transmitted to mobile devices must be managed by the companies sending it to workers to ensure the information will be secure when it is received, otherwise they have no guarantee of where this data goes and what will be done with it, nor will they be able to prevent breaches caused through human error.

Another security concern that could arise from new 5G capabilities is that the network and devices’ higher data rates could increase the risk of large-scale, debilitating distributed denial-of-service (DDoS) attacks. Given that DDOS attacks direct data towards a targeted piece of IT infrastructure by connecting and utilising multiple devices, inundating the IT infrastructure to the point it fails, higher data rates resulting from 5G have the potential to make such future attacks more effective.

Implementing an integrated enterprise mobility management (EMM) solution can simplify the security and management of mobile devices and IoT endpoints for business-critical mobility. Having an EMM solution in place can remotely wipe data from compromised devices and shut them down, along with preventing any sensitive information from being sent to unauthorised persons or even allowing a screenshot to be taken. Through a single, easy-to-use interface, an integrated mobility strategy featuring an EMM solution enables organisations to have full control over a variety of mobile devices across multiple operating systems while securing confidential company data.

Preparing for 5G

With a potentially large number of 5G devices coming into the workforce, emergency services, transport and mining sectors are set to benefit from enhanced connectivity that will support their work in remote areas. However, organisations will need to ensure these new devices are secure, given that mobile workers often require access to sensitive customer, employee or business information. Data breaches can be very costly for businesses and public sector bodies in numerous ways, so it is crucial to have proper enterprise mobility management systems in place to prevent downtime of mobile devices, and ensure data is secured on all 5G devices used by mobile workers — both company and personal.

Image credit: © b

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