5G networks are fast emerging as reality, bringing with them lower latencies and blazing connectivity that promise to transform how people live, work and play.
But for all the advantages 5G brings, enhanced cybersecurity is not one of them. On the contrary, for those building 5G networks and the applications that can leverage them, cybersecurity has been more of an afterthought than anything else.
“5G has really just carried over the same issues that were prevalent with 4G networks, so they’re not safe,” said Sem Ponnambalam, president and co-founder of cybersecurity provider Xahive, in an interview with PYMNTS. “Over 95% of 5G apps that have been developed are not cyber-secure, so it’s a huge problem.”
The problem application developers have is they’re forced to be reactive as opposed to proactive. Cybersecurity is and has always been a kind of cat-and-mouse game, with attackers finding some vulnerability and racing to exploit it before the company that falls victim can move to plug that hole, only for the attackers to move on to some other bug or exploit.
Ponnambalam said developers will likely forever be playing catch-up.
“Unfortunately, cybercriminals and state actors are always well ahead of what the average company is doing and producing,” she said.
Cybercriminals seem to be getting smarter too, said Digital Shadows CEO and Founder Alastair Paterson. He explained that one of the most popular tactics they employ these days is to create fake apps that look and feel as if they’re official apps created by popular brands, primarily to try to convince people to giving up their personal data.
“Outside of the major app stores, there are hundreds of smaller app stores where we’ve seen impersonating apps going up,” he said. “Unfortunately, consumers are downloading them, and those apps are misleading them, harvesting their data and attacking them in other ways. So, it’s not just the official apps, but the unofficial apps that worry us.”
Paterson recalled that one of his company’s clients, a popular U.K.-based coffee shop chain, came across a fake application that was targeting its customers. The app, which copied its logo perfectly, looked highly polished and appeared official in every way, was offering customers a free coffee in the coffee shops. All they had to do to receive a voucher was to fill in some personal information in a form, including their Facebook login.
“Then all these people started showing up in their stores saying ‘Hey, where’s my free coffee?’” Paterson said. “It was the first they knew of it.”
Another popular cybercrime tactic that keeps hitting the headlines is ransomware, and although people are becoming more aware of it, it’s not something that we’re any closer to solving.
“It’s not going to disappear,” Paterson said. “If you look at the amount of money some of these groups have made, they’re probably better funded than the security teams that are trying to defend against them. There’s really no silver bullet for it either, so I can only see it increasing.”
With the bad actors being as rich and as smart as they are, it is essential for the good actors, like Xahive and Digital Shadows, to establish themselves in a market that not only has access to a substantial client base, but also the talent they need to be able to combat them. Both companies ultimately settled in London, a place that has rapidly emerged as a hotbed for technology startups over the past decade.
Paterson said London is a great place for a startup to be, not only because it’s home to so many skilled workers, but also because of the funding environment, which he said is often much cheaper than the San Francisco Bay area in terms of costs.
“You’ve got a significant client base to target within the city itself, and if you’re looking for, say, a customer success person who speaks German, you can probably find one in London,” Paterson said. “There’s not many places in the world where you can hire lots of different people from different cultures and backgrounds with multiple languages and skillsets, not to the same extent. So, London is really a fantastic launchpad for us into other regions.”
Xahive began its life in Canada before moving to the U.S., but when the time came for the company to establish a European presence, Ponnambalam said there was only ever one option.
“London just made sense for us because in terms of national security, the U.S., Canada and the U.K. all work together,” she said. “We’re really interested in expanding to Europe, and so London was really just the natural fit.”