5G is the newest iteration of wireless currently in the initial deployment phases. The Ericsson Mobility Report estimates that, globally, half of all mobile subscriptions will be 5G by 2027. 5G offers lightning-fast speeds, lower latency than 4G, and promises to revolutionize connectivity—making an IoT world a reality. However, it also has some cybersecurity risks that enterprises need to address before it becomes mainstream for business use.
The following covers cybersecurity risks in detail and explains how IT professionals can mitigate them when deploying 5G networks in an enterprise environment.
5G Cybersecurity Threats
There are four main risks that enterprises face while transitioning to 5G.
Exposing IoT devices to threat actors
The exponential development of IoT systems has been fueled by consumer electronics, business, network appliances, and industrial IoT (IIoT) devices. 5G technology will enhance certain IoT functions, leading to the proliferation of IoT devices and a security problem that individuals and organizations are unprepared to defend.
Because the design prioritizes simplicity of usage and connectivity, IoT devices are notoriously vulnerable. Every week, new flaws are being found in IoT systems, whether it’s a misconfiguration, lack of security, or delayed patching. According to one study by Forescout Research, there were 33 IoT vulnerabilities in 2020 impacting four open-source TCP/IP stacks (FNET, uIP, Nut/Net, and PicoTCP). Forescount noted that these stacks are the foundational connectivity components of millions of devices globally.
Attackers can leverage 5G’s increased connectivity to launch network assaults faster than ever before. For example, hackers can take advantage of vulnerabilities and quickly spread malware through IoT networks, disrupt supply chains, or use a swarm of routers as an IoT botnet to launch a distributed denial of service (DDoS) attack.
Also read: The Impact of 5G on Cloud Computing
A limited pool of security experts
Security experts are not keeping pace with the expansion of new technology, including cloud, AI, and IoT. According to the 2021 (ISC)² Cybersecurity Workforce Study, there is a cybersecurity workforce gap of 2.72 million cybersecurity professionals. And while many organizations are turning to security automation and machine learning solutions to help fill that gap, they won’t cover all areas of risk.
This lack of human resources has already caused problems for businesses trying to adopt or expand their use of fifth-generation networks. In addition, as companies rush to deploy these new technologies—often without proper planning or expertise—they’re exposing themselves to vulnerabilities that threat actors can exploit.
Vulnerabilities in private wireless networks
The ability to create private wireless networks via “network slicing” is one of 5G’s advantages that businesses are certain to exploit. By combining virtualized and independent logical network segments on a physical network, organizations may isolate client verticals’ network segments.
The problem is that network slicing adds complexity to the overall network, leading to poor implementation. For example, in networks where administrators operate several slices, including dedicated and shared functions, there could be a mapping deficiency between the application and transport layers. Once an attacker gains access to the 5G Service-Based Architecture, they can easily access data and launch DDoS attacks on other slices.
In addition, when numerous nodes are placed in unsecured network edge locations, CUPS (Control/User Plane Separation) may be vulnerable to data session interception. DDoS attacks using poorly secured IoT devices may overwhelm network resources through massive machine type communication systems.
A mobile computing environment means greater exposure for enterprises and organizations if weak points are not addressed. For example, many data breaches are likely to occur at the network edge where employees access cloud applications because of inadequate security controls around remote devices and wireless networks.
The increasing use of bring your own device (BYOD) policies also places more risk on enterprise infrastructure. Personal phones create new entry points for hackers looking to steal sensitive information via malware apps installed by business partners or other third-party apps.
IT professionals can mitigate many of these vulnerabilities by taking a proactive approach to cybersecurity and creating secure end-to-end networks that protect data from the edge to the cloud. This security strategy will reduce risk, making it harder for hackers to get through enterprise defenses undetected and reduce costs associated with potential fines and lost business due to cyberattacks.
5G Cybersecurity Threat Mitigation
5G was designed with enhanced security features such as:
- It protects base station spoofing and international mobile subscriber identity (IMSI) catchers, which eavesdrop on communications and track users’ movements
- Identity and access management that is more complex
- TLS protection for the mobile core as well as the new service-based architecture, which conceals the mobile core topology
- Extensible Authentication Protocol (EAP) support allows several authentication methods, including certificates and public-key encryption
- Mandatory user plane integrity protection
- Better security for roaming home network authentication control
However, with a lot at stake, IT professionals serious about 5G need to take the following actions to combat these threats.
A holistic approach to cybersecurity
Cybersecurity can no longer be simply another IT function. Enterprises must empower their chief information security officer to report directly to the CEO and Board. In addition, a holistic cybersecurity strategy must include people, processes, and technology.
Organizations need to have visibility into all devices on the network, including unmanaged or personal devices brought onto the network by employees. A vulnerability management program is critical for identifying and remediating known vulnerabilities promptly. Patch management programs are also essential for keeping systems up-to-date with the latest security patches.
To protect against unknown threats, organizations should deploy an intrusion detection and prevention system (IDS/IPS) at the edge of their networks. An IDS/IPS can detect malicious activity before reaching sensitive data centers or corporate networks.
Close the expertise gap
While many IT professionals understand the importance of cybersecurity, they may not have the expertise to deploy and manage the necessary 5G security controls. To combat the cybersecurity skills gap, organizations should consider retraining their current workforce and/or hiring new employees with the required skills.
End-to-end cybersecurity view
Too often, enterprises focus on securing specific systems or applications without having a holistic view of the entire network. Instead, a comprehensive cybersecurity strategy requires an end-to-end view of all devices and systems connected to the network. This includes understanding how these devices are interconnected and what data is accessed and processed by each device.
Supply chain risk management
Enterprises must also be aware of the potential risk from their hardware suppliers. As noted by Forescout Research, suppliers are the new attack surface for enterprise security teams.
Organizations should develop a strategy for assessing supplier risk and establish controls to mitigate those risks. This might include conducting due diligence on potential suppliers, including a review of their cybersecurity posture as well as implementing measures such as vulnerability scanning and penetration testing.
To take full advantage of the benefits of fifth-generation wireless technology while mitigating the associated cybersecurity risks, IT professionals need to be aware of the threats and take proactive steps to secure their networks.