The improvements 5G enables play around us for very good reasons. As good as 5G is, however, adopters of 5G technology must continue to be vigilant toward security vulnerably–particularly as the first generation of 5G is rolling out.
5G is an amazing evolution in wireless capability. During the 1G and 2G years, we were giddy to cut the phone cord and enjoy our voice calls on the move. As our appetite for mobile computing grew, so did our appetite for mobile data. 3G and 4G evolutions delivered moving data and computing power for our smartphones and applications. Still, even with 4G LTE, we used our mobile internet connectivity at one speed–as fast as we could go. Never mind that our growing and insatiable need for data was choking some parts of our networks while other parts were hardly used. What we now need is a system that matches different applications and uses cases to the best means and connectivity available.
Enter 5G, delivering an optimized pathway specially tailored to each application ranging from autonomous vehicles to telemedicine and swarms of package delivery drones. With updates in frequency bands, faster electronics, software-defined networks, and new security features; 5G delivers 100 times the speed, lower latency, higher reliability, and significantly higher device densities. Soon, your mobile smartphone will be faster than ever, but more importantly, applications traditionally relegated to hardline connectivity can be dependably and securely wireless.
The 5G evolution enables a revolution in wireless capability for applications, and here are a few examples. Today, self-driving cars can make it slowly down the street by themselves, but millions of cars at high-speed need very reliable mobile connectivity to communicate with cars and traffic systems around them. 5G delivers that connectivity. Surgeons can’t be everywhere, particularly in hazardous situations, but telesurgery robots operated by a remote might one day be. This requires very low latency and precise control – 5G is the enabler. Our aircraft become high-speed communications hubs in the sky thanks to the connectivity 5G enables, and thousands of unpiloted aerial vehicles (UAVs) deliver packages in hours or minutes. 5G provides nationwide connectivity for these UAVs.
With each generation of wireless connectivity, we’ve been greeted with new security threats and vulnerabilities. 4G LTE was a major step in the right security direction, but there were still concerning issues. Rogue base stations could intercept calls, jamming could wipe out connectivity for blocks, mobile devices could connect with and attack other mobile devices, digital voice over LTE (VOLTE) was susceptible to intercept, streaming media content providers could be ransomed, and architectured private networks were vulnerable to compromise and denial of service attacks.
Some are surprised that these 4G threats still exist within the first installations of 5G. The initial 5G systems we have today (called 5G Non-Stand Alone, or 5G NSA) use the existing 4G cores that still contain many of these vulnerabilities. Second, 5G enables a private institution or business to construct their own private enterprise network. Security on these private enterprise networks can be optimized to individual companies and application developers - some not as security savvy as national wireless carriers. Finally, 5G enables an exponential growth in the number of connected physical devices list smart cars, industrial production machinery, and our household appliances; not just cell phones or mobile tablets. The number and variety of device and application developers is accordingly growing. While major cell phone manufacturers have thorough security development procedures, small startup businesses often lack the same resources to design, develop, test, and deliver devices and apps with adequate security. Another way to phrase this is that the threat surface of the 5G system grows significantly even though the 5G ecosystem provides greater power to reduce this vulnerability.