5 vulnerabilities sparked by the shift to 5G networks

Filip Chytrý 5 Oct 2020

Although there's a lot of buzz around the benefits of 5G, it's also important to highlight vulnerabilities that come along with them

Protecting 5G users begins with protecting 5G networks. The shift to 5G will include a complete change in our current networks from classical hardware networks to virtual, software-defined networks.

As our digital world advances to the new 5G network, we will see it become connected in almost every way imaginable -- actors in all industries will begin to integrate and become reliant on each other. A vital component to ensuring the success of this shift will be to address how we secure the 5G network and the myriad of devices and applications that will come out of it. We can all agree that there is a lot of buzz around the tremendous benefits the new network will bring to its users, however, there needs to be equal confidence in anticipating the danger of new cyber threats coming from 5G as well. 

Further reading:
Here's what you need to know about the 5G revolution
What's new in 5G network architecture?

Here are 5 ways in which the shift to 5G networks can (and will) spark new vulnerabilities:

  1. In a 5G world, the network infrastructure will change from a centralized, hardware-based network to a decentralized, virtual network, or software-defined network (SDN). In the generation prior to 5G, networks contained physical choke points where security checks can be deployed. In a software-defined network, virtualized network functions (VNF) take place at the virtual network edge one security breach in a certain part of the network could compromise the security of the entire network.

  2. Network functions controlled by software in 5G networks utilize the common language of Internet Protocol and operating systems cybercriminals can take advantage of these well-known languages to perform malicious activities.

  3. Not only does the software-defined network pose potential risks for the network, but the software network can also be managed by software, which creates an extra layer of security risks. If a cybercriminal gains access to the software managing the networks, then they have gained access to the actual network itself as well. 

  4. The 5G network will require a large number of physical short-range cell towers to be deployed through cities these cell towers will become new physical targets for hackers to hack into. Additionally, these cell towers will have Dynamic Spectrum Sharing (DSS), which allow for specific slices of the network to be utilized for data to be passed through, or “network slicing”. From a threat perspective, this would mean that each slice can be attacked independently, and will require a cybersecurity solution to be dynamically deployed as well.  

  5. The most important and obvious vulnerability will be the proliferation of connected endpoints, commonly referred to as IoT (Internet of Things) devices, enabled by 5G networks. The types of applications these devices serve ranges from helping you to switching the lights on or off to keep your home safe. Connected devices will continue to become more interconnected than ever before smart door locks, smart thermostats and smart cars pose threats to physical safety should they be hacked by an actor with malicious intent. Connected endpoints will be crucial to secure as  cybercriminals may access the greater network through compromised endpoints to discover and infiltrate additional parts of the network, including additional connected IoT devices.

While the new capabilities brought on by 5G networks are extremely promising, their significance will require us to shine a spotlight on how we plan to ensure those capabilities are not maliciously exploited. To build these new networks, devices and applications using a soft cybersecurity foundation puts the safety and privacy of users and the networks themselves at serious risk.

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