Vinod Kumar, Associate Director of Tata Communications.
A major wave of change is coming to the wireless world. 5G mobile towers are cropping up in cities from Boston and Seattle to Dallas and Kansas City. This 5th generation wireless network touts a new level of speed and reliability. With the exponential growth of smart devices and the internet of things, current 4G networks are straining to meet bandwidth demand. 5G promises to deliver increased capacity and energy efficiency at a fraction of the cost.
However, the adoption of any new technology is always fraught with challenges. The transition to 5G will not happen at the press of a button. Initially, 5G will work in parallel to 4G networks as physical infrastructure is overhauled. Devices and network technology will need hardware upgrades to adapt to the new system. Eventually, 5G will be released as an all-software network that can be maintained like any other digital system today.
“The race to 5G is on, and America must win,” President Donald Trump said in April of 2019. And while politics and media have defined this race as whoever builds 5G the fastest, the tougher race is focused on retooling and securing this network. Because of software’s innate vulnerabilities, the ecosystem of 5G applications could pose a serious security risk, not just to individuals but also to the nation.
Let’s look at three key cyber security risks for 5G networks and what can be done to minimize them.
Risk Factor 1: Exponential Increase In Attack Surface
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A network’s attack surface is the total of access points that can be exploited by a hacker. 5G’s dynamic software-based systems have far more traffic routing points than the current hardware-based, centralized hub-and-spoke designs that 4G has. Multiple unregulated entry points to the network can allow hackers access to location tracking and even cellular reception for logged-in users. This new architecture also makes current cybersecurity practices redundant, opening up the network to dangerous attacks.
Risk Mitigation: Early Planning And Investment
5G technologies require a complete rehaul of network security, which isn’t possible without significant funding and executive support. This is a shared responsibility between both governments and 5G businesses. Government policies need to take into account where the market falls short and how it can be addressed. We need to invest now — before we’re caught with no sustainable cybersecurity plans in place.
Risk Factor 2: Nonexistent IoT Security Standards
Many IoT devices are being manufactured with minimal or non-existent cybersecurity measures. These devices are already being used by hackers as entry points to enterprise networks. We may soon live in a world where billions of everyday devices, from toothbrushes to coffee machines, could be connecting to the internet automatically. In the future, such unsecured IoT devices could easily allow for man-in-the-middle attacks. A cybercriminal could intercept and change sensitive communication over 5G.
Risk Mitigation: IoT Manufacturer Incentives And Consumer Education
Just like the FCC (Federal Communications Commission) grades radio systems, we should have a new regulatory body to oversee IoT devices. But it’s important to plan for a scenario where IoT manufacturers may still not comply with new regulatory frameworks. This especially holds true for low-end IoT brands, which just may not be able to afford the added cost of production when it comes to these changes. Incentives like market monopoly or logistics support for complying brands will be required to effectively regulate the IoT market.
Moreover, 5G security is only as strong as its weakest links. Despite regulation, a wide variation in security quality may still exist. Customer education on how to choose and use IoT devices safely will be crucial. For example, labeling standards may need to be introduced to indicate which devices are secure and which are not.
Risk Factor 3: Dynamic Spectrum Sharing Makes Network Partitioning Complex
Current 4G systems use network partition methods to limit cyber attacks. Networks are subdivided by hardware to prevent the existence of a single point of failure. If one node of the network is attacked, it can be “quarantined” to limit the attack, without ceding control of the whole network. On the other hand, 5G uses short-range, low-cost and small-cell physical antennas within the geographic area of coverage. Each antenna can become a single point of control. Botnet and denial of service (DDoS) type attacks can bring down whole portions of the network simply by overloading a single node.
Also, 5G uses dynamic spectrum sharing, a telecommunication system that breaks data packets into “slices.” Each slice from different, parallel communications is sent over the same bandwidth. Each slice thus contributes to its cyber risk degree.
Risk Mitigation: Artificial Intelligence And Machine Learning In Network Management
The dynamic nature of 5G’s network architecture requires a dynamic and fast-learning management system. Software-based and intelligent computing solutions are required for effective countermeasures. AI-powered cyber solutions will continue learning and updating themselves. AI and machine learning can serve as powerful tools for 5G cybersecurity.
Cybersecurity Best Practices For Adopting 5G Networks
If you plan to switch to 5G networks, here are some things you can do to protect data misuse and system tracking from your devices.
1. Use a VPN when connecting any device to the internet. You can do this by implementing VPN routers in your home or office.
2. Set up complex passwords for all personal devices. Change default passwords on any IoT devices you may have at home.
3. Update your computer, phone and other devices regularly. Set up and use antivirus software on critical devices.
With this, you should be well on your way to embracing 5G and the innovation it will bring to all industries.