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In a modern world of advanced technologies, our life is literally impossible without cellular telecommunications. Today, smartphones and wireless broadband Internet are common things for everybody. And recently, all developments and innovations in cellular technology are not about the availability of mobile connectivity but about bringing it to a whole new quality level and enhancing mobile services to the maximum. Thus, in contrast to the current 3G and 4G cellular networks focused on maintaining connectivity and flawless mobile data transfer, the latest 5G technology is aimed at significantly improving the network performance and providing a variety of new experiences for the users.

5G Technology: Mobile Network Redefined

5G is the fifth generation of telecommunication networks. Yet, in practice, it is much more than simply the next version of mobile communications following 3G and 4G. While all previous systems were, in general, based on improving the latest technology, 5G is entirely different and is driven by a different approach. What stands behind the 5G technology is the need to establish ubiquitous connectivity for diverse applications and specific uses that go beyond mobile devices. 

5G architecture is built around software-defined systems and cloud technologies to deliver much faster data processing and flexible connectivity. By using shorter frequencies and moving data processing to the network edge closer to the users, 5G technology adds bandwidth and offers times higher speeds and much more reliable connections. To put it more simply, 5G network targets to provide user access anytime, anywhere, and at a top-level. 

Distinguished by impressively higher data transfer rates, lower latency, increased bandwidth, and different type of architecture, the 5G networks are suitable for a multitude of use cases that can be broadly grouped into three main types: 

  • Improved and enhanced mobile broadband that will ensure exceptionally fast download speed for regular smartphone users.
  • Super-reliable communication for specific applications and areas (such as remote control vehicles, medical wearables, etc.) that need consistent no-gap connection.
  • Internet of Things (IoT) or machine-to-machine communication, where billions of different Internet-enabled devices will be able to connect and share data in a web-like environment.

Moving to 5G: Risks and Consequences

Ushering in a new era of mobile network performance and opening a whole lot of new opportunities, the 5G technology also brings a number of security issues. Much more complex than previous generations of networks, the 5G systems are more vulnerable to different sorts of attacks. Thus, cybersecurity is one of the major concerns related to 5G networks roll-out. To better understand the problem scale, let’s look into the potential security risks of 5G technology in more detail.

Third-party vendors 

Relying on software, cloud-based technologies, and virtualization rather than hardware, 5G networks are more sensitive to malware. Much dependent on 3rd party software developers, this type of mobile networks is at a higher risk or security issues due to a wide attack surface and possible poor software designs providing more points for threat actors to attack the whole system. They could integrate backdoors into the products to compromise data confidentiality and integrity as well as maliciously impact critical system components. Besides, since the core network functions engaging data authentication and routing will be mainly performed in the cloud and depend on artificial intelligence (AI), the attackers can exploit algorithms of AI-enabled systems. For example, intentionally submitting tons of wrong data may influence the AI decision making. And such activity will be tough to detect.

Critical network points 

A specific 5G network infrastructure makes the differentiation between the core and the edge functions of the network less clear. It will be more challenging to distinguish critical network points. Thus, some core functions will be shifted to the edge making some parts of the network more sensible to intrusion.

Internet of Things 

Giving a massive rise of IoT and creating a web-like environment to connect numerous IoT devices will indisputably unleash an array of new perspectives for different industries, including the automotive industry, hospital systems, city infrastructure, entertainment sector, and more. At the same time, it will also provide a larger surface for cyber-attacks. The more devices are linked to the network, the higher the risk of authentication problems, identity thefts, and unauthorized access. The enormous amount of data gathered by IoT devices and stored in the cloud instead of local servers is also more exposed to security risks. Other IoT-related hazards include DDoS attacks and proximity service intrusions.

Multiple-Input Multiple-Output (MIMO) 

To operate correctly and be able to simultaneously transfer more data, 5G networks will apply MIMO technology. Using multiple input and output points increases the risk of data interception and even disruption.

Dependenceе on a single supplier 

Another concern with a high potential for security risks is a dependence on a single supplier. Some equipment vendors might integrate brand-specific interfaces into their technologies, thus, limiting the system interoperability and forcing the user either stay with the same supplier or replace the system.

National-level risks 

One more supplier-related threat is a so-called national-level risk. It’s the likelihood of interference by other countries and espionage via an individual supplier. Thus, for example, Huawei, the world's largest producer of telecom equipment, was banned in Australia in 2018 and is currently under restriction in the US due to the company relations with the Chinese government and possible assistance in intelligence work. 

Conclusion   

All things considered, the biggest debate about 5G is about security and holding the technology control inside the country. The above-mentioned threats are undoubtedly significant and cannot be neglected; however, the new opportunities and digital innovations spurred by 5G networks still outweigh the risks. Besides, nothing is as bad as it looks and those 5G security risks can be gradually mitigated. The key is to reassess current cybersecurity policies while taking into account the vulnerabilities and weaknesses in the 5G network infrastructure. Though many security recommendations are the same as for the existing mobile networks. By choosing the right strategy and establishing a whole new security framework, the countries will be able to rip the benefits offered by 5G and minimize the related risks.

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Tags: 5G, networks, security

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