How Will 5G Impact Cybersecurity?by@zacamos
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How Will 5G Impact Cybersecurity?

by Zac AmosJuly 28th, 2023
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5G is faster and more flexible than 4G, but it carries cybersecurity risks. These include increased attack surfaces, the security vulnerabilities of IoT, GPRS tunneling protocols, connection to legacy networks, increased bandwidth, network function virtualization, reliance on software, and IMSI encryption weaknesses. However, there are advantages, including heightened responsiveness, encrypted traffic, and data segregation.
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5G can be an incredibly beneficial technology because it enhances communication and increases connection speeds. However, the same things making it useful may pose unique security risks. Its impact on cybersecurity could be widespread and significant.

What Is 5G?

Fifth-generation (5G) technology is the latest in wireless communications. It’s faster and more flexible than 4G, so many people are switching to it. In fact, experts project nearly 6 million people worldwide will use it by 2027.

Most use 5G to enhance their mobile capabilities, but it also has applications in various industries. It enables more Internet of Things (IoT) devices and provides high-speed connections. However, while it offers many operational benefits, it also can increase network vulnerabilities and give hackers new attack opportunities.

What Are the Cybersecurity Risks of 5G?

5G is relatively new, so some of its cybersecurity risks weren’t initially apparent. Many of them are possible because of the technology’s high speed and larger network capacity — the very reason most people adopt it.

1. Increased Attack Surfaces

5G’s network capacity is 100 times larger than that of 4G. Additionally, its latency is exponentially lower. The combination of these factors allows organizations to dramatically expand the number of IoT devices they use — meaning the cybersecurity risks they pose will also grow. Each creates a new attack surface for cybercriminals to target, increasing the chances for all kinds of attacks.

2. Security Vulnerabilities of IoT

5G enables the connection of billions of new IoT devices for personal and commercial use, which can drastically increase the chances of a cyber attack. A majority of their traffic is unencrypted, making most of them incredibly vulnerable to hacking.

The implementation of 5G only makes it easier for a hacker to compromise them, considering the connection speed will be much faster. The security vulnerabilities of 4G technology with a constant internet connection will likely become more apparent.

3. GPRS Tunneling Protocols

5G relies on general packet radio service (GPRS) tunneling protocol, making it vulnerable to the cybersecurity weaknesses of 4G networks. Such protocols don’t possess validation measures to confirm the authenticity of a user’s location, increasing the chance of spoofing. Although this security flaw isn’t unique to this generation, it now poses an increased threat.

4. Connection to Legacy Networks

The adoption of 5G cannot happen overnight, meaning most organizations will still utilize 4G during the transition. The necessary connection to legacy networks makes new technology vulnerable to old cybersecurity threats. Additionally, improper integration may cause security gaps, making it easier for hackers to infiltrate.

5. Increased Bandwidth

5G’s dynamic spectrum sharing capability uses multiple short-range antennas to transport data packets through “slices” in a process called network slicing. Basically, it allows for multiple separate networks to function parallel to one another. It poses a unique cybersecurity risk because it opens up new attack avenues for hackers.

Additionally, the bandwidth of 5G increased tenfold in comparison to 4G in regard to the number of potential network connections. Hackers can take advantage of the dramatic increase, considering they only need to they could launch a distributed denial-of-service (DDoS) attack on a single node to take over entire sections of the network.

6. Network Function Virtualization

5G’s slicing process relies on network function virtualization because it enables cloud operations. Unfortunately, that process makes testing challenging, significantly increasing the chance of DDoS and man-in-the-middle attacks. These risks will likely always be present since it’s fundamental to the technology.

7. Reliance on Software

While 4G relied heavily on hardware, the transition to 5G mostly utilizes software-defined network functions — which are famously easier to hack. Previously, it was possible to monitor and control high-traffic areas with ease. However, the digitization of this latest generation makes inspecting for unusual activity incredibly challenging.

The software complexities can also increase the chance of misconfigurations, increasing vulnerable entry points. While network penetration is a crucial concern, attackers are more likely to gain access to sensitive systems after initially utilizing minor weaknesses.

8. IMSI Encryption Weaknesses

An international mobile subscriber identity (IMSI) is a user’s long-term identifier. In a catching attack, a threat actor will attempt to collect this to locate and track a specific person. While preventative measures have existed since 2G, transitioning to the new generation creates a significant security gap.

Mobile devices using standard 5G security protocols cannot differentiate between a genuine and fake base station, increasing the chances of spoofing and impersonation. Such methods can reveal users’ IMSI and potentially determine their home network.

What Are the Cybersecurity Advantages of 5G?

Many of 5G’s cybersecurity risks stem from its relative newness. Additionally, professionals will likely be able to adapt to and minimize the vulnerabilities that come from foundational functions. Considering how they can also use its various features to their advantage, it may still be an effective technology.

1. Heightened Responsiveness

While the low latency and increased network capacity of 5G may allow hackers to work more effectively, it also enables cybersecurity professionals to deploy an arsenal of tools simultaneously.

Since it can support technology like artificial intelligence, cybersecurity experts can also digitize their monitoring and detection processes. Increased security capabilities will make defending against the possible rise in cyber attacks easier.

2. Encrypted Traffic

4G didn’t encrypt users’ unique identifiers, posing an array of cybersecurity risks. However, 5G’s optional authentication capabilities fix this issue. It authenticates the network’s endpoints and uses a certificate-based validation protocol to increase data confidentiality. It can enhance their privacy and potentially reduce man-in-the-middle attacks.

3. Data Segregation

While network slicing is not entirely secure, it can be more beneficial than harmful with proper utilization. Each “slice” can have unique security measures or logical topology, strengthening the entire system against attack. With careful implementation, professionals can optimize their resource use.

Additionally, slices can act as a partition, isolating sensitive data and applications from each other and better protecting them from threat actors. It’s essentially the same practice as network segmentation, so it can be incredibly beneficial if the operators take the right precautions.

The Overall Impact of 5G

While 5G provides users with high-speed connections and increases responsiveness, it also gives hackers more tools to compromise networks, IoT devices, and users’ IMSI. Professionals can rely on network slicing or better security measures to mitigate threats. However, there are still underlying issues stemming from foundational functions. Ultimately, they must take precautions and address each to secure everything properly.