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The Connected Future | 5G Deployment challenges open the gateway to Hackers

Posted | Updated by Insights team:
Dr. Evangelo Damigos; PhD | Head of Digital Futures Research Desk
  • Connected Intelligence
  • AI
  • Sustainable Growth and Tech Trends
  • 5G


Publication | Update:
Mar 2020

The Connected Future | 5G Deployment challenges open the gateway to Hackers

The 5G benefits, like greater speeds and increased operational efficiencies, lead to more innovations and a significant change in how we do business.

But 5G also creates new opportunities for hackers.

According to Ericsson research, from a user perspective, 5G is inherently different to any of the previous mobile generations. Machine-type communication, enabled by 5G, is widely anticipated to become the strategic difference and unique selling point of 5G in the long run. 5G networks will serve as critical infrastructures to facilitate the digitization, automation and connectivity to machines, robots and transport solutions etc. Thus, there is significant value at stake and, so too, a significantly different tolerance for risk

Gartner Survey Reveals Two-Thirds of Organizations Intend to Deploy 5G by 2020

Gartner predicts that 66% of organizations will take advantage of these benefits and adopt 5G by 2020 — with 59% of them planning to use 5G to support the Internet of Things across their business. 

Sixty-six percent of organizations have plans to deploy 5G by 2020, according to a new 5G use case and adoption survey by Gartner. Organizations expect 5G networks to be mainly used for Internet of Things (IoT) communications and video, with operational efficiency being the key driver.

To fully exploit 5G, a new network topology is required, including new network elements such as edge computing, core network slicing and radio network densification. “In the short to medium term, organizations wanting to leverage 5G for use cases such as IoT communications, video, control and automation, fixed wireless access and high-performance edge analytics cannot fully rely on 5G public infrastructure for delivery,” added Mr. Fabre.

Status of 5G Deployment

“In terms of 5G adoption, end-user organizations have clear demands and expectations for 5G use cases,” said Sylvain Fabre, senior research director at Gartner. “However, one major issue that 5G users face is the lack of readiness of Communications Service Providers (Csps). Their 5G networks are not available or capable enough for the needs of organizations.”

Gartner predicts that, by 2022, half of the CSPs that have completed commercial 5G deployments will fail to monetize their back-end technology infrastructure investments, due to systems not fully meeting 5G use case requirements. “Most CSPs will only achieve a complete end-to-end 5G infrastructure on their public networks during the 2025-to-2030 time frame — as they focus on 5G radio first, then core slicing and edge computing,” said Mr. Fabre.

Mr. Fabre added that this is because CSPs’ 5G public networks plans vary significantly in timing and scope. CSPs will initially focus on consumer broadband services, which may delay investments in edge computing and core slicing, which are much more relevant and valuable to 5G projects.

Gartner advises that, to meet the demands of businesses, technology product managers planning 5G infrastructure solutions should focus on 5G networks that offer not only 5G radio but also core slicing and edge computing infrastructure and services for private networks. CSPs alone may not fully satisfy the short-to-midterm demands of organizations that are keen to deploy 5G quickly.

“Private networks for enterprises will be the most direct option for businesses that want to benefit from 5G capabilities early on,” said Mr. Fabre. “These networks may be offered not only by CSPs but also directly by infrastructure vendors — and not just by the traditional large vendors of infrastructure, but also by suppliers with cloud and software backgrounds.”

Already, manufacturers including Nokia, Samsung, and Cisco have either started developing 5G enterprise solutions or have publicly announced plans to do so.

In the enterprise, full deployment of private 5G networks will take time, as it requires significant investments to upgrade legacy network infrastructures, observers say. In the meantime, there are instances of devices in the workplace already operating on a 5G network.

But using IoT devices without a private 5G network or adequate technical knowledge could put organizations' and their employees' privacy at risk.

"You absolutely have to have [5G security] on your radar right now," said Monique Becenti, channel and product specialist at cybersecurity provider SiteLock. It's also critical to have security measures in place for personal data.

"If you're using a mobile device for banking transactions you're leaving that susceptible to an attacker intercepting that data,'' she said. "With 5G, our main concern is with IoT  innovations."

Often, developers face pressure to get software quickly to market so critical testing could be missed, Becenti said. "With 5G this isn't any different--especially in a market where security may not be top of mind."

She pointed out that the IoT devices market isn't regulated and therefore not required to meet certain security requirements, despite cyberattacks like the Mirai botnet in 2016 and 2018. "Devices are open right now and susceptible … so there are more potential entry points for attackers" that are scanning for open ports in the devices' software so they can deploy malicious bots and scripts.

Telecom provider Ericsson concurred, saying that it is imperative that IoT devices are secure from the start to protect personal data, business-sensitive information, and critical infrastructure. 

5G expands cyber risks

There are five ways in which 5G networks are more susceptible to cyberattacks than their predecessors, according to the 2019 Brookings report, Why 5G requires new approaches to cybersecurity.

  1. The network has moved away from centralized, hardware-based switching to distributed, software-defined digital routing. Previous networks were hub-and-spoke designs in which everything came to hardware choke points where cyber hygiene could be practiced. In the 5G software defined network, however, that activity is pushed outward to a web of digital routers throughout the network, thus denying the potential for chokepoint inspection and control.
  2. 5G further complicates its cyber vulnerability by virtualizing in software higher-level network functions formerly performed by physical appliances. These activities are based on the common language of Internet Protocol and well-known operating systems. Whether used by nation-states or criminal actors, these standardized building block protocols and systems have proven to be valuable tools for those seeking to do ill.
  3. Even if it were possible to lock down the software vulnerabilities within the network, the network is also being managed by software—often early generation artificial intelligence—that itself can be vulnerable. An attacker that gains control of the software managing the networks can also control the network.
  4. The dramatic expansion of bandwidth that makes 5G possible creates additional avenues of attack. Physically, low-cost, short range, small-cell antennas deployed throughout urban areas become new hard targets. Functionally, these cell sites will use 5G’s Dynamic Spectrum Sharing capability in which multiple streams of information share the bandwidth in so-called “slices”—each slice with its own varying degree of cyber risk. When software allows the functions of the network to shift dynamically, cyber protection must also be dynamic rather than relying on a uniform lowest common denominator solution.
  5. Finally, of course, is the vulnerability created by attaching tens of billions of hackable smart devices (actually, little computers) to the network colloquially referred to as IoT. Plans are underway for a diverse and seemingly inexhaustible list of IoT-enabled activities, ranging from public safety things, to battlefield things, to medical things, to transportation things—all of which are both wonderful and uniquely vulnerable. In July, for instance, Microsoft reported that Russian hackers had penetrated run-of-the-mill IoT devices to gain access to networks. From there, hackers discovered further insecure IoT devices into which they could plant exploitation software.

To be sure, the new capabilities that will be made possible by applications on 5G networks hold tremendous promise, the Brookings report said. While the emphasis is on the connected future, at the same time there must be a strong focus on the security of those connections, devices, and applications, the report said.

Top Use Cases for 5G

IoT communications remains the most popular target use case for 5G, with 59 percent of the organizations surveyed expecting 5G-capable networks to be widely used for this purpose. The next most popular use case is video, which was chosen by 53 percent of the respondents.

“The figure for IoT communications is surprising, given that other proven and cost-effective alternatives, such as Narrowband IoT over 4G and low-power wide-area solutions, already exist for wireless IoT connectivity,” said Mr. Fabre. “However, 5G is uniquely positioned to deliver a high density of connected endpoints — up to 1 million sensors per square kilometer.”

“Additionally, 5G will potentially suit other subcategories of IoT that require very low latency. With regard to video, the use cases will be varied. From video analytics to collaboration, 5G’s speed and low latency will be well suited to supporting 4K and 8K HD video content,” added Mr. Fabre.

From the 5G network point of view, trust in IoT devices is based on trustworthiness of the device's hardware, software, and configuration, as well as the applications running on it, Ericsson said. It will also be defined by how well network operators and those who manage IoT devices govern: 

  • Identities and data
  • Security and privacy
  • Actor compliance with agreed security policies, end-to-end

For their part, businesses can enhance security by ensuring patches are applied in the form of software updates, Bencenti said. "They should also be properly testing these devices in QA [quality assurance] testing before they go to market, and ensure they close any open ports that lead to exposed entry points."

The lack of regulations for 5G security, "is why these attacks happen day in and day out" and is also the reason, "2019 was considered the worst year for cybercrime,'' Bencenti said.

"To build 5G on top of a weak cybersecurity foundation is to build on sand," the report said. "This is not just a matter of the safety of network users, it is a matter of national security."

"If nothing is done to regulate security behind this nothing will get better,'' she said. "So we can only communicate with consumers to tell them what best practices" they should follow, such as choosing strong, unique passwords and being aware of their cybersecurity posture.

 

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