5G is going to be a transformative experience for anyone around the globe who uses the internet. The faster network technology is going to make access, download and processing speed infinitely better. Although some believe the technology will have the most profound impact on gamers or heavy streaming users, the benefits will be felt by anyone who has ever experienced network latency and in particular business users who rely on mobile apps to do their jobs. With all these benefits, however, come some serious risks and if cybersecurity measures do not keep up, the speed and power at which hacks can occur will be equally great.
When analyzing the areas at most risk, we take a look at how 5G networks are more vulnerable to cyberattacks than prior networks.
First, a 5G network is based on a fragmented design where there is no central point or hub in which all network activity flows into and out of. Prior network design was based on hub and spoke and if a network intrusion were to incur, the hub could serve as a choke point where cyber hygiene could be performed. In contrast, 5G design is based on a web of digital routers throughout a network that perform all the activity – there is no central choke point.
Second, the concept of virtual machines and how hardware has been replaced with software developed to mimic the way a piece of hardware would function, makes hacking and/or the spread of a virus more fluid once a network is breached. Current operating systems have built in safety mechanisms, which will need to be adjusted for the 5G environment.
Third, the network is controlled by software and early generation artificial intelligence so if a perpetrator is able to breach firewalls s/he will be able to access the network or select segments of it. Cybersecurity must keep up with the advances in software design and artificial intelligence to prevent bad actors from poking holes and wreaking havoc.
Fourth, there are more avenues for attack or more points throughout the network for a hacker to strike. Think about urban areas where there are antennas physically spread out. Theoretically each space between those antennas and the antennas themselves can be an area at risk. 5G employs dynamic spectrum sharing capability which means multiple streams of information share bandwidth in “slices”. Each slice comes with its own degree of cyber risk.
Fifth, IoT creates tremendous vulnerability. There are billions of devices that are or will be connected to the network. Consider the fields of public safety, the military, medical devices and transportation. If a hacker were to intrude on just one device, if effective security protocols are not in place, that hacker could then quickly take down many other devices or large segments of a network.
While there are significant risks associated with 5G deployment, it’s a network advancement that must happen because of the tremendous benefits it will have on economic and societal growth. Like any major industrial and technological advancement, however, safety and security concerns must be addressed. The first steps to establishing the appropriate cybersecurity measures for 5G is awareness of what the risks are, understanding how the technology works, and exercising best practices.