Man working on laptop showing hidden costs of 5G technologies

The Hidden Costs of Greater Connectivity

Everyone is looking out for the massive roll-out of 5G technology, even those who have their reservations.

5G technology is associated with benefits like increased connectivity, faster speeds, lower latency, and such. While the Internet of Things (IoT) is part and parcel of 5G Networks, as in the context of seamless connectivity, both are interdependent.

Because of its smaller range, 5G technology requires many antennas and base stations placed inside and outside of buildings to create a network. The answer lies in the use of countless devices inside and outside of our homes, offices, malls, etc.

Cameras, traffic lights, doorbells, light bulbs, and home appliances – virtually everything connected to the internet will have a role to play. If we reverse the scenario, 5G is the perfect answer to accomplish the IoT landscape.

Costs associated with 5G and Internet of Things (IoT) technologies

On the surface, the ideals surrounding the term “hyper-connectivity” may seem like a glimpse into the proverbial “technology-driven future.” But as with everything, it comes with its costs.

As per the International Data Corporation (IDC), findings indicate that over 60% of global GDP will become digitized by 2022. However, a rise in global spending on security solutions will follow close behind with an estimated cost of $120.7 billion by 2021.

The widespread adoption of countless IoT devices will inevitably expand the attack surface, creating far complex challenges for security professionals. However, It’s no more a thing of the future. Without us realizing, the process has already begun.

Today, 57.3% of the world’s population already has internet access, with an average adult American user spending 6 hours and 30 minutes online each day.

The number of active IoT devices already reached 26.66 billion in 2019, expected to hit 31 billion in 2020, as every second 127 new devices connect to the web.

If we were to categorize the associated risks with 5G and IoT technologies, we could divide them into two distinct areas of concern directly influencing the common user.

User privacy and online security

One of the biggest and most challenging concerns is the complete disruption of privacy protocols. Remember that 5G does not work like its forerunner technologies (4G, 3G, Wi-Fi). While 3G/4G/Wi-Fi are server-based, 5G is entirely cloud-based.

That means all that data you’re going to put out there will be in the cloud, which increases the likelihood of it being intercepted and sensitive data being stolen.

That’s why a report in The New York Times, termed IoT as a “weapon of mass disruption.” These devices will communicate everything entered through them or even said at homes, offices, etc. to the cloud networks.

Current data encryption and cybersecurity software, though quite useful for 4G and Wi-Fi, aren’t as advanced for 5G networks.

We have already seen many incidents of data breaches, and they are only escalating with time. Particularly, the Facebook data breach in September 2018 is still fresh in people’s minds.

A single vulnerability developed during a change to a video uploading feature exposed the private information of over 50 million Facebook accounts to attackers, including their private messages, photos, and public posts.

5G carries too many similar vulnerabilities, even to count. What that’d be to a person’s privacy is anyone’s guess. For instance, abusing the security gaps that allow International Mobile Subscriber Identity (IMSI) catching attacks, hackers can easily find out the identity of mobile subscribers. They can see the number of outgoing calls and text messages sent. Although the contents of the text message won’t be visible to them, they can still monitor the number of past and future calls.

Similarly, location tracking is another challenge with 5G technology. So much so that as soon as users connect to a 5G antenna, mobile networks can easily locate users. They can even pinpoint the building; a user is inside at that moment.

Location tracking becomes even more precise as the number of antennas increases inside and outside a building. This 5G capability can put users at the risk of semantic information attacks that use incorrect information to harm users, and many similar threats.

Add data collection by app developers to that mix, and we have another major concern. Almost all smartphone apps collect users’ personal information during installation.

How and where this information is stored and to what end, are questions that have hardly been answered. Once again, since the entire data goes to cloud-based storage, we have little faith in 5G operators being able to protect or control it in cloud environments.

Moreover, every country has its own standards for privacy measures and enforcement policies. User privacy is critically at risk when data is stored in the cloud of one country and then accessed in another.

Another similar risk links to a 5G protocol that allows 4G or 3G connections where 5G signal isn’t available or strong enough for reliable use.

When a 5G device transitions to a 4G/ 3G network, it’ll be immediately exposed to vulnerabilities that may not have been addressed for older technologies.

Health problems

The other chief area of concern is the health effects of 5G technology. To date, we have not seen any reliable information on this subject, but we already know how cellular technologies affect the health of mobile users.

Mobile phones connect to base stations via radiofrequency (RF) radiation. High RF radiation creates a thermal effect that raises body temperature.

On the other hand, a low level of RF radiation, particularly ionizing radiation (IR), is capable of modifying atoms or molecules in the body. Constant exposure can further lead to tissue damage and cause cancerous cells in a person.

If current cellular technologies can do that, think about how 5G can affect us – with countless antennas (IoT devices) connected to 5G networks, constantly emitting radiations all around us. It’s scary to think about how we can cope with that much radiation and what that would do to our brains and bodies.

Vision problems are another healthcare concern attached to the use of digital devices. How is it related? As we already know, increased connectivity will originate from better connectivity.

The use of digital devices for long hours causes strain to the eyes. But that’s not it. The use of digital devices is also known to affect your head, neck, and shoulders if you’re not careful about your posture while using different devices.

These days, people regularly complain about neck and shoulder aches or tightness. Your physiotherapist will always warn you about posture problems associated with mobile use, called ‘Smartphone Slouching.’

However, you may be able to overcome that by adjusting your screen use, being careful about your posture, and exercising regularly. What is more alarming is the stress connected with the abuse of online privacy and cyberbullying.

Private data, such as social media accounts, personal photos, or videos, is misused to harass, blackmail, or ridicule internet users.

Depending upon how severe this kind of manipulation is and how long it goes on, users can begin to feel let-down and threatened, show signs of anxiety, and even experience suicidal thoughts.

These are just some of the many concerns surrounding user privacy and network providers’ data protection capabilities. But we believe this is just scratching the surface. Only the future will unfold the true picture of the risks 5G and IoT technologies pose.

We’ll close by summing up our concerns in the words of Bruce Schneier, titled a “security guru” by The Economist,

“And we are living in a computerized world where attacks are easier to create than defenses against them. This is coming faster than we think… That has to change. We have to make moral, ethical, and political decisions about how these things should work and then put that into our code.”

Staff Writer at CPO Magazine