There are lots of thing we are being told to watch out for over the coming months so for those at the helm of IT across organisations of all shapes and sizes, what should they really be thinking about? We take a look at five different topics that should keep the IT C-suite busy as we head into 2019.
5G – can reality match the hype?
It’s been on the cusp of the horizon for a few years now, but 2019 is probably – probably – the year that 5G-enabled smartphone mark their first proper entrance. Most of the biggest Android houses in the business have begun to confirm 5G-ready handsets. For example, the Samsung Galaxy S10, Huawei P30, and OnePlus 7 are all scheduled for launch next year. It’s reasonably safe to assume then that by the end of 2019, 5G is going to be well and truly here.
So far, so familiar. The story that hasn’t been told, however, is that the much-hyped speed improvements are unlikely to make as much of a different to users as some have been promising. Firstly, there’s the simple idea that as soon as capacity improvements are made (in this case, speed), you can bet that developers will quickly move to maximise it. Apps will start by offering certain features that require faster speeds which, as 5G becomes more pervasive, will eventually become a standard piece of functionality – eating up all the gains in speed enhancements. This also happened with 4G. Once high speed connections were widely available, apps like Facebook (autoplay video) and Instagram (Stories) became gradually more and more demanding of bandwidth. Ultimately, from the users’ perspective what will initially seem like lightning fast connectivity will soon become the same-old ‘why won’t this damn thing load?’ once apps start relying on that speed to do whatever it is they do.
The second factor compounding this problem is that for all the greatness of 5G, almost all of its upgrade potential is centred on raw speed. In terms of mobile user experience, it’s actually the reliability of the connection that makes the most significant impact. To make 5G a reality, it’s going to require the installation of millions of ‘stations’ (essentially antennae sending out the 5G signal) all across the country. These signals can only travel up to about 100 metres, so reaching a point of consistently fast connections is going to take years of investment. Once users realise that they’re still going to have to switch between 3G, 4G, WiFi hotspots (it’s in the carrier’s interest to use these) and, of course, 5G, there’s a good chance that the delivery of 5G is going to fall well short of expectations.
Is your biggest security threat your own employees?
There’s a common misconception in mobile security, which is that many security leaders fear rogue apps or mobile malware as the biggest threat putting their fleets at risk. In fact, the app store is probably the wrong place to start looking. The industry has been obsessed with apps for so long now, that it’s almost impossible to imagine a threat originating anywhere else. The reality is that Apple, Google and the others have invested all kinds of resource into making this a much less likely risk than in desktop computing, with their closed ecosystems and tightly controlled content delivery systems.
So where will the threat come from? The chances are it will either be network-related - it’s much easier to compromise a single WiFi connection than it is to bypass iOS security systems - or that it will be another type of compromise altogether: the user. Phishing, for example, is shifting away from email and towards mobile at an alarming pace. Hackers don’t have to build a malicious version of Messenger or WhatsApp and get users to download it anymore; all they have to do is trick users into giving away credentials by manipulating users on legitimate platforms. I believe that it’s this kind of exploit that lead to a major mobile security event. It’s just that most people seem to be looking in the wrong place for it.
Big data - less is more?
Big data is the perfect word for buzzword bingo, and now that every company in the world is claiming to offer it it’s likely that 2019 becomes the year of data fatigue. Access to reams and reams of data is no longer a challenge for most organisations. Data is beyond plentiful; it’s a deluge.
A few years back everyone was talking about how Big Data would transform enterprises large and small. So, whatever happened? For lots of companies that bit on the Big Data apple, they discovered that their teams were soon submerged in reports and spreadsheets, and in the dashboard of more tools and products that provided yet more access to data.
Amidst that myriad of data there are important insights to be gained, it’s just that finding them can be hard work. In 2019, we’ll see a shift from analysts and business leaders actually demanding less. It’s now on technology companies to find a way to address this. Rather than throw everything they have at their users, vendors must find smart ways to surface only the data that matters, helping customers move from the ‘what’ to the ‘so what’ much faster.
BYOD - was it was a huge mistake?
The threat of social engineering on mobile is especially difficult to address because it targets people who have legitimate access to the network. Bring your own device (BYOD) and the cloud have made the traditional network perimeter obsolete. This makes it much more difficult for IT teams to track where company data is going and who is using it.
In the age of flexible working, a BYOD policy has been popular in certain sectors. With employees using their own personal devices (mobile phones and laptops) to go about their everyday work, many organisations have adopted BYOD as a way to cut the expense of purchasing devices for all employees. But have these savings put businesses at risk?
The weakest link in an organisation’s security is its endpoint devices. Laptops, mobile phones and other ‘field’ devices are a lucrative target for cyber criminals, and pose a far greater risk than corporate-owned devices operating on corporate-owned networks. As more organisations come to this conclusion, there’s undoubtedly a shift that has already begun back towards as more traditional, corporate-assigned approach to mobile.
So what now for those companies that have already opted for BYOD strategies? Every organisation must decide what their tolerance for risk is. Companies in certain sectors might think that the threat of mobile security and data loss incidents is not (yet) great enough to go through the ordeal of bringing BYO in-house, but there has undoubtedly been a trend in the more risk-averse sectors taking that route. One of the more effective ways I’ve seen it done is for an ‘mobile expenses paid’ perk to be replaced with a ‘employee-provided smartphone’ perk – when framed in that light, end-users tend to be more receptive to the idea. As soon as employees realize they either have to start using a corporate-assigned device, or start paying their own phone bills, then that transition becomes a little less painful.
Unsecured IoT will be the next big attack vector
The Internet of Things (IoT) has greatly changed the way we view, use and interact with smart devices, both in the consumer world and, increasingly, in the business world. Internet-connected virtual assistants, appliances, security systems and much more can all communicate and coordinate with each other, allowing for automation and streamlining of boring and time-consuming activities. However, for all the conveniences that IoT devices afford us, security remains a major concern.
Anything that's connected to the internet has the potential to be hacked and misused. Very worrying when you consider the amount of personal data that IoT devices collect and use. Must IoT devices run a primitive OS and offer little or no protection against attacks. Exploiting either the device itself or the network it runs on may be enough to gain credentials (even ‘smart’ ovens now require a login!). Those credentials could well be there start of a much more sophisticated and damaging attack on the enterprise – and 2019 could well be the year we see a high profile attack of this nature.
Collectively, these predictions are set against a backdrop of an increasingly connected world. There’s no need for scaremongering, but there certainly are reasons to be careful when embracing the latest technology trends. As we crawl deeper down this one-way rabbit hole of interconnectivity, it’s important we take the time to stop and think: is this the path we want to take?
Joel Windels, VP Global Marketing, NetMotion Software
Image source: Shutterstock/violetkaipa