By: Juniman Kasman
5G has long been touted as inherently safer than its cellular predecessors, and it is. But that doesn’t mean it’s impregnable. The fact that 5G networks are much more software-based than previous cellular networks creates strengths and weaknesses. On the one hand, their software base makes 5G networks highly customizable and improves speed, capacity and responsiveness. On the flip side, the software that activates 5G technology leaves it vulnerable in several disturbing ways. And that’s where the real challenges and threats of 5G security come in.
Hackers are well aware of these vulnerabilities and eagerly exploit them as 5G networks continue to unfold and communications service providers (CSPs) are in the crosshairs. The Annual Nexusguard Threat Report 2020 showed that CSPs, especially Internet service providers (ISPs), were among the top targets for hackers last year, facing more attacks than other industries. Not only have threats multiplied, but they have also become increasingly complex and sophisticated.
In a world where we live, work, learn and more online, 5G security is essential. Here’s an overview of the risks CSPs face and the steps they can take to protect their networks and customers.
Some of the security risks arise from the nature of 5G technology. While 4G and earlier networks rely on a finite number of hardware touchpoints to route traffic, 5G networks use countless software-based dynamic routing points that are difficult to monitor and secure. In addition, in 5G, many applications are run in software or in the cloud. This makes apps, as well as customer data, easy prey.
Another major vulnerability of 5G networks is the proliferation of endpoints. The Internet of Things (IoT) generates billions of smart devices connected to the Internet, such as car infotainment systems, smart watches, thermostats, speakers, baby monitors and even refrigerators, for to name a few. Many more such devices are in development or hit the market as the IoT rushes to capitalize on the speed and capacity of 5G. The problem is that many emerging IoT devices, especially the lower-end ones, often lack meaningful security features. They are the proverbial weak link, providing vectors in the network that hackers can easily exploit to launch attacks against CSP clients.
The problem is compounded by the fact that device makers aren’t the only ones neglecting safety. Many CSPs do not invest enough in services related to security applications. According to The data From the Global System for Mobile Communications Association (GSMA), 48% of mobile network operators say they lack the knowledge and tools to mitigate 5G network vulnerabilities. Lack of knowledge, device vulnerabilities and increasingly complex attacks create a complex 5G security environment.
Cybercriminals use various types of attacks against CSPs, including Distributed Denial of Service (DDoS) attacks. In some cases, DDoS attacks targeting customers of a cloud service provider can bring down the entire network. Other complex attacks are on the rise, including sophisticated bit-and-piece attacks, which trickle down unwanted traffic over a large IP pool to cripple the target, and other cloud-based attacks. UDP that can flood target networks with traffic. They can overcome (evade) threshold-based and host-based detection / mitigation countermeasures that are widely applied to a CSP network. Other threats include short, small-scale attacks known as “invisible killers” and extortion and ransom DDoS (RDDoS) attacks that take advantage of the rise in anonymous crypto payments. One of the most worrying issues is the growing threat