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5G Offers Massive Benefits, But is it Secure?

March 23, 2020
Are 5G security concerns warranted? If so, what steps should manufacturers take?

5G provides manufacturers with a lot of exciting opportunities with improved bandwidth, speeds and consistency.  However, with the excitement comes some hesitation around the potential security issues as well. After all, the idea of exponentially expanding the number of devices on the network makes it a hot bed of opportunity for today's highly sophisticated hackers. 

When it comes to security,  Spirent, a West Sussex-based telecommunications testing company, sees three primary ways to look at 5G.

  • 5G is a Pandora’s box representing a massive security risk as software, network disaggregation, higher volumes of devices and cell sites, an influx of new vendors and open source trends exponentially. 
  • 5G is part of future national critical infrastructure and as such securing the supply chain is of national importance. 
  • 5G is potentially more secure than any previous network given that the underlying architecture is capable of incorporating a number of advanced security mechanisms.

"Let’s focus on the threat to industry," says Spirent Head of 5G Steve Douglas.. "As more factories and machines come online, IoT attacks become a risk factor, from device vulnerability and Botnet DDoS to malware, fraud and even rogue devices. Many Industry 4.0 use cases see devices connected to an edge network that essentially extends the telco or cloud network closer to where devices consume bandwidth."

According to Douglas, this new network location introduces man-in-the middle, packet injection and data breach security threats. Of course, as the networks themselves become software-based and multi-vendor, additional risks are presented. "The threats don’t end there but even just shining a spotlight on these vulnerabilities brings the magnitude of the overall risk into focus," he says. 

However, there is a flip side. After all, 5G is more powerful and capable than any network generation before it. "It has the potential to actually be more secure than any previous network due to the underlying architecture being capable of incorporating a number of advanced security mechanisms," says Douglas." For instance, right next to a 5G network slice that a manufacturer may be using to power new devices could be a slice designed to be more secure, act as a treatment center in event of an attack or even as a honeypot to capture traffic in the network to be analyzed. Further, new security features being built into the 5G standards from 3GPP provide a solid baseline for stronger security than seen in 4G." 

Steps to Staying Secure

Douglas tells IndustryWeek, manufacturers should always be validating 5G infrastructure and vendor software security, as well as the broader 5G supply chain. "Be sure that IoT devices in use have been security certified by an independent body," he says. "Verify network ability to handle 5G device weaknesses and continuously assess them with active monitoring via an approach like synthetic attack traffic generation. Essentially, analytics will be your best friend – use them to identify, quantify and respond to security, compliance and business risks."

Douglas recommends continuously war gaming network to discover weaknesses and future risks. "We also recommend not trying to go it alone. Great ideas and strategies are emerging constantly," he says. "Take a community-oriented approach to arm your organization with the resources and agility to react quickly to changing security dynamics."

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