Security Risks In 5G Mobile

5G is a shorthand term that stands for the fifth generation of wireless cellular networks. With 5G networks, billions of devices and the Internet of Things (IoT) are interconnectible, leading to use cases like smart cities, AR/VR on mobile networks, remote medicine and much more. 

The potential applications are widely considered to be almost without limit. However, the massive potential and almost unlimited connectivity bring many challenges, not least are the security capabilities which are a critical element for 5G's success. The baseline is that 5G networks are not secure by design.

Firms setting up private 5G networks must design and install appropriate tools to encrypt sensitive message traffic, block IT attacks against x86-based servers, and protect OT protocols and equipment from tampering. The US National Security Agency (NSA) has now issued a report outlining the cyber security threats related to mobile broadband 5G network slicing. 

Network slicing allows operators to bring together several network attributes or components, potentially across multiple operators, which support specific applications or services for 5G users.

While efficient for delivering services, 5G network slicing casts a wide threat net that includes potential weak points in policy and standards, the supply chain as well as other issues. "Although network slicing is not solely unique to 5G, it is a critical component because 5G specifications call for network slicing as a fundamental component and therefore require network operators to adopt security practices that can mitigate threats like those described in this paper," according to the NSA report. 

Potential threats include denial of service (DoS), man-in-the-middle (MitM) attacks, and configuration attacks, it added.

The NSA, along with the Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency (CISA), assembled members of the public and private sectors to address 5G slicing security concerns. The 5G cyber security report looks toward how the architecture will play a role in enabling emerging technologies, including autonomous vehicles, and how to secure it. With these additions and changes, however, new security risks and additional attack surfaces must be addressed.

5G Security Risks 

Increased attack surface:   With millions and even billions more connected devices, 5G makes it possible for larger and more dangerous attacks. Current and future vulnerabilities of the existing internet infrastructure are only exacerbated. The risk of more sophisticated botnets, privacy violations, and faster data extraction can escalate with 5G.

More IoT, more problems:   IoT devices are inherently insecure; security is often not built-in by design. Each insecure IoT device on an organization’s networks represents another potential hole that an attacker can expose.

Decreased network visibility:   With 5G, our networks will only expand and become more usable by mobile users and devices. This means much more network traffic to manage. But without a robust wide area network (WAN) security solution like Secure Access Service Edge (SASE) in place, companies may not be able to gain the network traffic visibility required to identify abnormalities or attacks.

Increased supply chain and software vulnerabilities:   Currently and for the foreseeable future, 5G supply chains are limited. Vulnerabilities exist, particularly as devices are rushed to market, increasing the potential for faulty and insecure components. 

Data collection:   This is another major concern for 5G users. Virtually all smartphone applications require users' personal information before or during installation. 

App and software developers rarely mention how and where that data is stored and what it is going to be used for. 5G networks have no physical boundaries and use cloud-based data storage.  Consequently, 5G operators cannot protect or control user data stored in cloud environments. 

As each country has different levels of privacy measures and enforcement, user privacy is seriously challenged if and when the data is stored in the cloud of a different country.  Compared to traditional mobile networks, 5G is also more reliant on software, which elevates the risk of exploitation of the network infrastructure.

NSA:     Trend Micro:        Nokia:      Kaspersky:      ATT:       Dark Reading

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