In an effort to highlight how 5G will affect cybersecurity and the solutions undertaken to face cyber threats, Telecom Review spoke to Hongbeom Jeon, CTO and SEVP, KT who confirmed the need for higher levels of security with the advent of 5G.

5G is linked with security concerns expressed by all the components of the ICT ecosystem given the advancements this technology brings to the industry and how it will impact the lives of people. According to the CTO of Korea Telecom, security can be insured through the protection of the operator’s network as well as customers’ data.

In the interview, Hongbeom Jeon explained how the operator is developing technologies to protect its customers against any potential attack that can be significantly dangerous, and highlighted the need to focus on both the B2B and the B2C areas to ensure complete end-to-end protection. 

5G wireless technologies are promising faster speeds and greater reliability. However, there appears to be a growing consensus within the ICT ecosystem that there are a number of security concerns that need to be addressed before 5G networks are launched. As the CTO of a major operator, can you tell us what your views are on the security vulnerabilities and challenges of 5G?

In 5G, we are placing top priority on B2B business whereas B2C remained the focal point in the previous generation. The B2B business requires a higher level of security for use cases like smart factories, smart cities, smart hospitals that are not just limited to smartphones as in the B2C cases but with extra emphasis on mission critical 5G services. Therefore, we plan to protect information and the service by using our advanced technologies.

We are working closely with governments and standards bodies to elaborate the robust security specifications that will be adapted to our 5G infrastructure.

What does ‘secure’ mean to you? Is your 5G network ‘secure’ when you get approval from your government, or perhaps a governing body like the GSMA?

We have devised two strategic key directions for 5G security. The first is to protect our network infrastructure and the second is to keep our customers’ information safe. The standards bodies used to mainly focus on the protection of the operators’ network so it is efficient to protect our own network from security attacks. However, there is no perfect recommendation to protect our customer services, yet. We are now pulling immense resources in order to keep our customers’ information safer.

The security level for our customer service should be fortified three-fold: guaranteeing of service sustainability, keeping the customers’ information safe from hackers and protecting against hostile takeover of service control.

To attain such level of security, it is important to have governments and trusted organization like GSMA be engaged in establishing accreditation process for all to comply with.

We know that 5G is going to be a ‘key enabler’ for driverless vehicles and autonomous transportation. However, if those connections are not secure, then the risks will be immense. How do you determine your 5G network is verifiably secure? What tests and research will you conduct to ensure the network is bullet proof from potential threats? What’s the best way to achieve verifiability and transparency in this process?

One important use case of 5G is autonomous driving and its security plays a critical role in its success. If autonomous cars were hacked, catastrophic consequences could ensue because hackers can control the cars and wreak havoc. That is why, with 5G, we endeavor to find ways to protect our IoT devices to reinforce the safety of people using the services.

In fact, we are adopting networking slicing technology which enables us to provide a virtual independent private network to our customers. With the technology, they can separate their network from the public network and thus ward off potential cyberattacks.

In addition, we have created our own internal technology called GiGA Stealth to make our customers’ devices virtually invisible to hackers by masking the devices’ addressing.

Furthermore, we have resorted to quantum distribution technology which provides higher level of security than Quantum Random Number Generation for data protection and virtually all authentication. It is still at its early commercialization stage and we are developing the technology to insure our 5G security.

We are also looking into incorporation of latest AI technology into security solutions to successfully predict complex patterns of potential errors and take timely and proactive measure against future failures.

How long does the 5G network need to be secure for - and what category of threats is it tailored towards combating? Some industry experts believe that if we want 5G networks to be secure for more than three years, then we need more research. Do you subscribe to this viewpoint?

Ensuring complete protection from all kinds of attacks is a very daunting and challenging task. Hackers are constantly developing new technics and technologies to keep pace with the developments of networks and devices, that is why we have to match their intensity to gain any competitive edge in implementing more competent protection technologies. It is an ever-evolving battle between spears and shields.

I have mentioned the three technologies we have developed to upgrade security level of our customers. Until now, we have been able to effectively ensure protection and we are working on the quantum technology that will be commercialized in three years.

To speed up the efforts, we need all-around collaboration from device, service platform, application layer to provide complete E2E security package for 5G services.

In your expert opinion, what is the most complex and acute cybersecurity challenge for operators seeking to commercially deploy 5G networks? 

I elaborated a lot on the B2B protection but B2C protection is equally important because the mobile handsets include too many personal information that demands strong protection and if hacked, our customers’ information will be compromised.

As an operator, KT is geared up in good time for zooming in on high level security solution against various cyberattacks in 5G era to safeguard its customers’ devices in addition to its B2B customers.

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