5G-Enhanced Surveillance: Will Intelligence Gathering Coincide with Security Concerns?

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3Q 2020 | IN-5898

During the past two quarters, China has embarked on a fervent race to greatly increase its 5G subscribers, with China Mobile alone quoting approximately 55 million 5G subscriptions at the end of May 2020, followed by its current plans to secure more than 200,000 base stations across all key Chinese regions. 5G is expected to greatly improve both consumer and commercial deployments along with vital Internet of Things (IoT) markets including industrial, smart cities, and connected vehicles worldwide. There is, however, one key security market that has attracted significantly more attention in the Asia-Pacific region, and particularly China, compared to other regions: 5G-enhanced surveillance, a powerful application for 5G cellular networks with its own unique set of challenges and opportunities.

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China Mobile's 5G Expansion

NEWS


During the past two quarters, China has embarked on a fervent race to greatly increase its 5G subscribers, with China Mobile alone quoting approximately 55 million 5G subscriptions at the end of May 2020, followed by its current plans to secure more than 200,000 base stations across all key Chinese regions. 5G is expected to greatly improve both consumer and commercial deployments along with vital Internet of Things (IoT) markets including industrial, smart cities, and connected vehicles worldwide. There is, however, one key security market that has attracted significantly more attention in the Asia-Pacific region, and particularly China, compared to other regions: 5G-enhanced surveillance, a powerful application for 5G cellular networks with its own unique set of challenges and opportunities.

Surveillance and 5G

IMPACT


Regional 5G infrastructure upgrades have already caused increased tensions between countries, and particularly between the United States and China, out of fear of network privacy concerns. Over the past five years there has been a tremendous demand and investment surge in surveillance initiatives worldwide, especially driven by China. China, which is also one of the key digital innovators for Artificial Intelligence (AI) technologies, has created a massive surveillance network aided by behavioral and facial recognition and is also spearheading 5G deployments worldwide, supplying countries with 5G equipment or playing a vital role in developing other countries’ 5G infrastructure with key Chinese companies like Huawei leading the way. Under the shadow of past and emerging U.S.-based sanctions against Chinese vendors, the battle for 5G privacy will not be easy. Strict guidelines need to be set regarding the type of data that can be captured, stored, and processed, while also making sure that cybersecurity technologies and access control protocols will be in place to prevent unlawful access to that information by other parties, such as private organizations or governmental entities.

5G has raised a number of concerns related to data security, vendor lockdown, and heavy reliance on suppliers. Some security vendors believe that it is also expected to pose threats to network availability and integrity and create brand new entry points for cyber-attackers to exploit, not to mention a veritable storm related to Distributed Denial of Service (DDoS) attacks that can escalate even more due to the sharp increase of data volume and bandwidth capabilities. Up until the present day, surveillance cameras have comprised a significant portion of the IoT devices leveraged by cyber-attackers to be used as botnets and as part of larger DDoS attacks. Aided by the sheer number of data requests, greatly amplified speed, and bandwidth latency decreases, one can only speculate about the devastating potential of 5G DDoS attacks.

5G to Transform Surveillance and Law Enforcement

RECOMMENDATIONS


Not all is doom and gloom, though; on a more positive note for the network side of things, 5G can radically transform smart city monitoring and surveillance operations, increasing the flow, quality, and reliability of all data streams. The use of Software-Defined Networking (SDN) in 5G will allow for network abstraction, enabling the surveillance infrastructure to become more dynamically programmable and offer some level of automation. In turn, this will help build a more sustainable foundation for more cybersecurity services (at least compared to the previous cellular iterations). Taken in tandem, these attributes will increase the level of scalability and security that is required to support the IoT technological evolution pertaining to smart cities, surveillance, and law enforcement monitoring applications. At this point in time, and contrary to past legacy technologies that had the Internet Protocol (IP) revolution “forced“ upon them, the industry as a whole has the opportunity to lay the foundation for a more secure and trusted cellular network that can serve the entire IoT landscape.

Further, the combination of 5G and AI will fundamentally change surveillance, law enforcement, homeland security, and military operations going forward. The current digitization demands are pushing for more internet-enabled surveillance investments for public safety, with direct applications in border control and anti-terrorism operations and key integrations in smart city environments, all of which can truly benefit from 5G. Additionally, the recent and still ongoing COVID-19 pandemic has catapulted these governmental monitoring initiatives to the top of the list, adding healthcare, infectious control protocols, and emergency response operations to the equation alongside real-time monitoring capabilities in order to protect populations. Newly 5G-enabled devices such as surveillance cameras, field agent bodycams, and mobile devices will be able to capture and send high-definition video feeds and identify targets from federal databases within seconds.

 

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