5G is the fifth generation of the wireless technology series that is expected to resolve different performance issues of its predecessors (1G/2G/3G/4G), such as speed, bandwidth, and latency gaps. When we talk about connectivity, we consider speed as the prime feature. The 1G and 2G are almost obsolete and discontinued due to a very low data rate (2.4kpbs and 50kbps respectively). The 3G is alive in some shape as a legacy and fallback communication standard of 4G. The average download speed of a 3G network is 2mbps for stationary and 380kbps for moving objects like vehicles. The 4G technology has played a revolutionary role in communication technology by introducing a speed of 10mbps for in-motion and up to 100mpbs for stationary devices. Although the current communication infrastructure in many countries is running quite nicely on 4G, the technological hulks have geared up to introduce the 5G technology to provide better speed, bandwidth, and latency. The 5G technology is projected to provide a peak data rate of up to 20Gbps. One promising feature of 5G technology is its ability to handle a large number of connected devices simultaneously. The 4G technology offers a 5-20MHz bandwidth for communication devices which often creates congestion problems (thus slowing down the network speed) when too many devices concurrently try to connect to a 4G network. Another problem for 4G technology is the production and induction of billions of IoT devices in almost every sector of life. The 5G technology on the other hand can better handle the bandwidth issues with a 100X increase in a traffic management capacity. Another important feature of 5G technology is its low latency. The latency can be defined as the data transfer delay between the source and destination. The average latency rate of the existing wireless technologies is 30-150 milliseconds. The 5G technology can make the networks more responsive by reducing the latency rate to below 10 milliseconds.
5G CYBERSECURITY CONCERNS
Many countries including the United States, China, and Europe have started the 5G trials before the worldwide deployment of the technology. Despite the promising features of 5G, there are certain security concerns explained below that must be addressed before fully rolling out the 5G mantra. Otherwise, it could be a great disaster for countries with poor Cybersecurity hygiene.
DE-CENTRALIZED TRAFFIC ROUTING
One of the security tradeoffs of 5G technology is its distributed approach to digital routing. The existing networks use the hardware-centric, centralized switching mechanism for traffic routing. This centralized routing approach gives more control over traffic, thus making it easier to implement the Cybersecurity checks. On the other hand, the 5G network uses a decentralized software-centric traffic routing approach which makes it difficult to exercise the data security measures.
NETWORK MONITORING ISSUES
The existing bandwidth is a blessing in disguise for the network monitoring teams since it is easier for them to track the users’ activities in real-time and take necessary actions where required. The 5G technology can become a nightmare for the security professionals in this context; the high speed and bandwidth may create problems for the experts to track the user activities in real-time.
THE IoT BOTTLENECK
One of the anticipated uses of 5G technology is in the field of IoT. The 5G is supposed to provide the hassle-free connectivity to the IoT devices that are produced in billions to become an integral part of our routine life. Security is one of the major drawbacks of IoT devices due to the lack of computational resources, security policies, and global IoT security standards. Thus more functional IoT devices mean more entry points and backdoors for hackers to break into Cybersecurity.
SUPPLY CHAIN ISSUE
The supply chain is another department that can create Cybersecurity challenges for the users. Although the 5G is being rolled out for the first time, it is termed as non-standalone evolutionary technology due to borrowed infrastructure from its predecessors. Different vendors are in the process of making dedicated equipment for 5G networks to be used in the future. However, it is difficult to accurately assess the security of the hardware developed by vendors located in different locations.
NETWORK SWITCHING CONCERNS
The 5G is comparatively a short-range technology; that means it may experience a lot of switching to 4G and 3G channels in areas with 5G coverage problems. Many security experts think that 5G may inherit the vulnerabilities of 4G and 3G networks whenever there is a fallback or network switching between 5G and older generations.
CLASH OF TECHNOLOGIES
Although 5G is going to be the next ruling wireless technology, it is highly likely that not all organizations shift to the 5G technology in the beginning. Some organizations may stick with their current 4G network despite the availability of the 5G architecture. Such commitments can create technical and security problems for the ancestor technologies. For example, adversaries with 5G facilities can launch a 100X severe DOS attack on a 4G network without any extraordinary efforts.
SOFTWARE VIRTUALIZATION VULNERABILITIES
The traditional 3G/4G technologies use the hardware equipment to control the network functions. The 5G relies on software and virtual equipment to enhance its functionalities. The software can be remotely accessed by the adversaries to threaten the 5G network security. Another problem with the software infrastructure is the delayed diagnosis and rectification of the vulnerabilities. Keeping up with the latest software updates from the vendors and instant deployment of the patches is a tough ask.
The cellular market has very few vendors like Nokia, Huawei, Ericsson, and ZTE who can provide a complete range of 5G-equipment. Such limitation makes it easier for hackers to focus on specific hardware and software vulnerabilities. The vendor-specific vulnerabilities can create a global panic since the vulnerabilities can be exploited from anywhere in the world. The F5 BIG IP hack is a recent example in the context where vendor-specific networking equipment was found vulnerable to Remote Code Execution (RCE) attack and globally exploitable by the hackers.
The 5G is today’s buzzword that may take time to enter from the evolutionary to revolutionary phase. Despite many promising features, the 5G technology has some serious security concerns. These security issues must be addressed well before the worldwide induction of technology. The 5G is not only a next-generation technology but also a multi-billion dollar industry. The developed countries must join hands to work for secure 5G technology rather than focusing on capturing the 5G market.