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Private 5G networks provide secure foundation for Industry 4.0

Feb. 15, 2024
Industrial operations used Ethernet and specialized wired protocols until Wi-Fi became the standard. But thanks to recent advancements in cellular technology and regulations, private 4G/5G networks have become an option to support and protect critical business applications.

The Industry 4.0 revolution is spurring digital transformation and modernization initiatives across the manufacturing, logistics, and commercial sectors. Industrial organizations in pursuit of game-changing efficiency and productivity gains are making substantial investments in robotics, deploying IoT sensors throughout their facilities, and putting devices in the hands of every production-line and warehouse worker.

A recent ABI Research survey of U.S. manufacturers revealed that data privacy and security are the biggest challenges and the top priority for digital transformation investments. The shift to Industry 4.0 is creating a perfect storm of cybersecurity risk fueled by three factors:

  • The expanding OT/IT footprint increases the attack surface and complexity.
  • The increasing rate and sophistication of cyberattacks on critical infrastructure.
  • The transition to wireless as the foundation of industrial networks.

While the first two factors are important, discussed here is how organizations can fortify their network infrastructure to protect their critical data.

See also: AI coupled with 5G improves industrial network operations

Until recently, industrial operations used a mix of Ethernet and specialized wired protocols. As facilities across the supply chain evolve to meet skyrocketing demands, their digitalization efforts require the flexibility, mobility, and scalability of wireless networks.

In many cases, Wi-Fi has become the standard way to connect enterprise applications and devices—from PCs and phones to ERP and payroll systems. However, Wi-Fi was not built for the demands of industrial automation.

In addition to performance shortcomings in factories, warehouses and outdoors, the use of unlicensed spectrum makes Wi-Fi networks notoriously vulnerable to cybersecurity attacks.

Once a Wi-Fi network is breached, cybercriminals can easily infiltrate other parts of the IT infrastructure and expose valuable business and customer data.

Thanks to recent advancements in cellular technology and regulations, private 4G/5G networks have become a resilient and cost-effective way to support the most critical business applications.

These aren’t the same 5G networks used for mobile voice service. Private 5G networks are custom-built in a facility for exclusive enterprise use. They are ideal for business-critical applications that require the utmost in security, reliability and low-latency.

See also: Podcast: Cybersecurity landscape and SEC rules for 2024

See also: New SEC Reporting Requirements and Your Cyber Defenses

For enterprises looking to automate their operations, private 5G networks can be a powerful weapon in the cybersecurity war. While nothing can provide 100% protection, private 5G offers a multilayered approach to alleviate risks and limit the impact of potential breaches.

Key aspects that make private 5G networks a more secure foundation for industrial automation:

Deployed on-site: Private 5G networks are built on-premises, where they are owned and controlled by the customer. Data remains behind an enterprise firewall and never intersects with public networks. It should be noted that “private networks” touted by mobile operators offer lower levels of security because data travels over shared public infrastructure that is outside of customer control.

See also: Optimizing production through HMI and controller integration

Standardized 4G/5G security protocols: Cellular networks are inherently more secure than Wi-Fi, thanks to device authentication, data encryption, and SIM-based access control, which bring additional layers of cybersecurity to an enterprise environment. Private 5G networks also use a new band of managed, licensed spectrum known as Citizens Broadband Radio Service (CBRS), which was specifically set aside to provide American businesses with robust and secure broadband.

Zero-trust design and isolation: When choosing a private network provider, design matters. Leading security agencies recommend zero-trust strategies to define granular access control and traffic policies for every device. For even greater protection, private 5G traffic can be isolated from other networks, which minimizes the potential impact of malicious activity targeting other parts of the enterprise infrastructure.

See also: Reducing remote site downtime through better network monitoring

5G “as a Service” management: For organizations without cellular experts, a new breed of managed service provider has emerged to simplify private 5G adoption. Offering 24x7x365 network monitoring services, 5GaaS providers can be another line of cyber defenses—monitoring traffic patterns, conducting vulnerability scans, and triggering response plans when they detect new threats and irregularities.

In the race to revolutionize manufacturing and increase supply chain resiliency, industrial organizations need to consider all types of risk—including the network that runs their most critical applications.

Cybersecurity threats aren’t going away, but they don’t have to delay progress toward Industry 4.0. Those who want the gold standard in connectivity are choosing private 5G to protect their infrastructure investments and protect their valuable data.

About the Author

John Olsen

John Olsen is the COO and CISO at Betacom, which offers managed private wireless services to industrial enterprises. As a 25-year veteran of the IT industry, Olsen has led IT transformation and innovation as CIO/CTO at companies such as MetroPCS, NEC, Supreme Lending, InnoTech, and Goodman Networks. He also chaired the CIO Forum for the Dallas Chamber of Commerce for five years.