Mobile network infrastructure has evolved at a rapid pace over the last few years and the next branch on that evolutionary tree is already being rolled out. That branch is 5G which will enable a better end-to-end mobile environment that will further enable our already connected society. Current use cases have already shown that 5G is significantly faster, expands the Internet of Things, and promotes greater user mobility. However, all is not perfect as the rollout of 5G will bring along with it a boat full of security concerns.
Much of the debate surrounding 5G has been politically dominated by the US and Chinese relations. This has resulted in much of the security debate been overshadowed by headlines and less about cybersecurity concerns. On such concern is that 5G inherits many, if not all, of the vulnerabilities seen in current LTE network infrastructure. In many ways, 5G security concerns are still holdovers of what corporations and governments have failed to address adequately. These vulnerabilities include the exposure of private information, such as user data, via the signaling systems and protocols as well as various denial of service (DoS) attacks. Signaling systems have improved but hackers are still able to take advantage of even the newest iterations.
Scope of compromise
As was briefly discussed above many 5G security concerns are holdovers from previous mobile network infrastructures. Another concern needing to be discussed urgently is the scope of the potential security compromise 5G may enable. It is one of the advantages of 5G that it enables the sustaining is a far larger number of connections, which in turn will allow for a far greater number of Internet of Things (IoT) devices to connect to the infrastructure. Some estimates show that up to 20 billion IoT devices will be online by 2025.
This is in itself a security concern, as more devices mean more scope for attacks especially in DoS attacks where the IoT is often abused by hackers to create bots to carry out denial of service attacks. Botnets have seen increased use over the last couple of years, often seen performing record-breaking attacks in the number of bots used. As 5G is essentially bolted on to existing network infrastructure this problem does not disappear. Rather, as the scope increases so should the security. IoT’s security track record has left much to be desired in recent years, this place a greater emphasis on getting it right with 5G.
A shift in mindset
Often security, particularly mobile infrastructure security, has been viewed as an end process. What LTE networks have taught security analysts is that mobile infrastructures cannot be viewed in the same light as before. Rather than looking to secure endpoints, for example, the entire network needs to be secured. This does pose new challenges, however, 5G as a technology has some added bonuses that may help solve the security issues listed above.
While the scope for carrying out attacks on a 5G network may prove to be far greater, the technology also enables for better directionality of the network. This, in turn, could allow for faster detection of threats that will result in faster turnaround times in neutralizing and mitigating attacks. Another method that 5G technology enables to improve security is network slicing. This process involves the dividing of the network into specific portions. These portions can then be designated for specific uses and custom security solutions applied to the slice. This may add problems relating to over-complication but may provide a more secure network moving forward.
Not all doom and gloom
5G will better enable businesses to turn profits in an age defined by been permanently connected, as well as a whole host of new developments. Like with any form of information technology security of the network needs to be discussed and acted upon which will require telecoms providers and device manufacturers to work with one another to create and follow a set of standards. Collaborations are already underway which will help secure the rollout of 5G globally.