Recently, there has been a lot of news coverage on the security threats we are likely to face when 5G networks are rolled out. Governments and other stakeholders are pointing at technology standards, suppliers of the equipment, etc. Given that there are many technical uncertainties with 5G technology there is a lot of debate but few definitive conclusions.
So, are all these discussions on 5G security just noise?
We think not!
The enormous capabilities of 5G technology will magnify whatever security issues exist in today’s (3G/4G) processes and systems and people’s habits. Due to recent discussions on 5G security, people are now waking up to the risks of 5G networks. Perhaps it is good for society to have an open debate and to raise awareness of the technology shortcomings rather than to blindly walk into adopting new technologies like 5G.
We examine the following:
Difference between today’s 3G/4G networks and 5G
What about the 5G networks lends itself to security concerns
What should be done to address security challenges?
1. What’s the difference between today’s 3G/4G networks and 5G?
4G networks offer faster speeds to users than 3G networks; in simple terms, while you don’t see much difference with voice and messaging, you do see it with video – with 3G we needed to download a video clip before viewing it whilst with 4G users are able to stream that video without downloading it first. The benefit to the user is increased convenience. Where users find convenience they increase usage – so, we’ve seen wide spread streaming of video on 4G.
Key 5G features are:
Much higher speeds – enable HD video and 4K video as well as real-time gaming between multiple payers
Low latency (delays) – support autonomous vehicles, workplace collaboration, etc
Massive connectivity – support drones for surveillance and logistics, connect sensors that will be embedded in any device we can imagine – these sensors produce a wide range of data and a large volume of data
So, the capability and potential of 5G networks are immense and far reaching. It can potentially transform the way we go about our lives from the time we wake up and go to work/school, to when we come home and entertain ourselves.
It should be noted that 5G network rollout also faces significant challenges (in availability of frequency spectrum, viable business case, need for transformation within telcos to exploit the capabilities of 5G networks, etc.) but that is beyond the scope of this article.
2. What about the 5G networks lends itself to security concerns?
Let’s reflect on the security threats we face today- identity theft, cyberattacks, data security breaches. We hear of these problems all too often. They are not new threats but they affect only pockets of users (in some cases the pockets are large)
Given that 5G has the potential to be all pervasive in our daily lives across work and leisure- for consumers, business and governments these security problems if they were to occur on 5G networks could have wide spread impact. Imagine the following:
Cyber-attack on autonomous vehicles leading city traffic to a halt or worse, a cascade of accidents
Data from sensors in our smart homes being stolen and manipulated against home owners
Medical clinics that are working with remote controlled health equipment are hacked and locked out of the equipment
So, to realise the potential of 5G the industry needs to focus on tackling security threats on 5G – this will not be easy.
3. What should be done to address security challenges?
Some say that the architecture of 5G networks lends itself to security problems. Given the range of possible security threats we think it is too simplistic to simply fix the problem by addressing the network architecture.
We believe all stakeholders – governments, telecoms industry, businesses and individual consumers – have a role in in addressing security challenges.
Industry needs to fix the technical standards; telco should deploy the most resilient 5G architecture and tools for intrusion detection and blocking, and deploy AI to detect threats not spotted by basic filters
Governments need to run education programs to make citizens and businesses aware of the threats
Businesses need to deploy robust processes and systems to protect data
Individuals need to do their part and take more responsibility in selectively sharing personal data
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