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5G Security: Risks and Solutions

Written by: University of Tulsa   •  Jan 22, 2024
Three People at Work, Two Using Smartphones and One Using a Tablet.

5G Security: Risks and Solutions

Wireless cellular networks have been available since 1979 when Nippon Telephone and Telegraph first introduced the technology to the people of Tokyo. Over the next 40 years, these networks grew more complex as they spread around the world, leading up to the introduction of 5G in 2019. 

While the newest iteration of wireless technology is undeniably faster and better in almost every way, 5G security concerns abound, and professionals are needed to develop, implement, and maintain these networks. A Master of Science in Cyber Security program can provide aspiring cybersecurity professionals with the skills and knowledge they need to protect the networks of the future. 

What Is 5G Technology?

Over the course of four decades and five generations of mobile networks, wireless cellular technology has become increasingly sophisticated and powerful. These five generations are known as 1G, 2G, 3G, 4G, and the modern 5G. 

  • 1G: The first generation, introduced in the late 1970s and early 1980s, allowed for early analog voice calls over cellular networks.
  • 2G: In the early 1990s, the second generation allowed for digital voice calls over cellular networks.
  • 3G: The third generation, in the early 2000s, allowed for mobile data, giving people access to the internet from virtually anywhere.
  • 4G: In the 2010s, the fourth generation of connectivity introduced modern mobile broadband, giving people access to high-speed data in the palm of their hands.

The fifth generation of wireless networks, or 5G, is more unified than any of the previous generations. It offers more connectivity and enables many user experiences thanks to its higher speeds, lower latency, and increased reliability, which is better than that of any network before it. It also has far greater capacity that can support the massive data needs of the Internet of Things (IoT) and will allow for the expected unprecedented growth of artificial intelligence (AI) applications across multiple devices and channels. 

How Is 5G Different From 4G?

The fourth generation network, or 4G, was the first to offer broadband services via cellular networks. In the 2010s, 4G technology took the world by storm and allowed people to download music, videos, and entire movies onto their mobile devices in just minutes. 

5G offers even faster connectivity than 4G, and up to 100 times more traffic capacity, lower latency, and a better spectrum. 5G was designed to not only improve upon 4G but to expand upon it by supporting complex communications and the IoT, which connects computers and people with appliances, homes, and other technologies. 

Mitigating Potential 5G Security Risks

While 5G makes transferring even large amounts of data over cellular networks easier and faster than ever before, some 5G security risks must be mitigated to keep these networks safe. Weak links in networks, less human intervention in communications, a virtualized network architecture, and hardware vulnerabilities are the four biggest concerns. 

5G networks consist of multiple links, and each link in the network can use different types of 5G security protocols. As such, the weakest link in the chain can ultimately become its downfall. For example, a distributed denial-of-service (DDoS) attack against one link in the 5G network can ultimately impact the rest of the network and the people who depend on it. 5G security protocols such as next-generation firewalls and security gateways are required to keep these networks safe. 

Automated Communications

Communications enabled by 5G technology require far less human intervention than ever before. This next-generation communication technology powers the IoT, which offers unparalleled connectivity and convenience. However, the lack of monitoring on these communications channels and devices opens the door for attacks against the technology’s infrastructure that could take longer to detect and remove. 

Each organization that relies on 5G for communications must do its part to ensure the safety and security of its network. Cybersecurity professionals are increasingly being called upon to design and implement 5G security measures for telecommunications providers as well as for organizations using private 5G networks. 

Virtualized Architecture

Virtualized network architecture, or the transference of hardware network functions into software, allows for faster communication among multiple pieces of hardware and software, but it comes with its own 5G security risks. Virtualization relies on software as a service (SaaS), and both virtualization and SaaS rely heavily on open source code. The sheer volume of software and the availability of its underlying code make it easier for hackers and criminals to find clever ways to shut down or overload networks. 

Careful monitoring of cloud-based systems and required audits have gone a long way toward keeping networks secure. Both the European Union and National Institute of Standards and Technology continue to put measures in place to boost 5G security despite the inherent risks created by virtualization. 

Hardware Vulnerabilities

As the IoT grows, more devices are utilizing 5G technology to connect to the internet. 5G links together computers, smartphones, smartwatches, tablets, and even home appliances like refrigerators, washing machines, cooktops, and the innocuous bathroom scale. Each of these pieces of hardware is a point of vulnerability that gives a potential criminal or hacker an opportunity to access and compromise data. Federal and global standards as well as regular audits and quality controls can go a long way toward securing these devices and their networks. 

Develop and Implement the Next Generation of Safeguards

According to Allied Market Research, the global 5G security market will reach $37.8 billion by 2031, and much of this growth will be driven by the demand for new protocols and safeguards to prevent malicious attacks. Cybersecurity professionals are increasingly focusing on 5G network security and preparing for 6G connectivity, which is slated to launch commercially sometime around 2030. The link between cybersecurity and AI also will continue to grow as AI technology becomes more complex. 

Earning an online Master of Science in Cyber Security degree from The University of Tulsa can give aspiring cybersecurity professionals the knowledge and skills they need to design and implement the next generation of 5G security safeguards to keep everyone’s electronic data safe. Discover how you can prepare to make 5G networks safer for current and future generations by enrolling in an advanced degree program. 

Recommended Readings

Information Security vs. Cybersecurity: What’s the Difference?

Cyber Threat Analyst Career Overview

8 Myths About Cybersecurity Careers

Sources:

Allied Market Research, 5G Security Market

CENGN, “Timeline From 1G to 5G: A Brief History on Cell Phones”

CISA, 5G Security and Resilience

Comparitech, “5G and Security: How Does 5G Work and What Are the Risks?”

Kaspersky, “Is 5G Technology Dangerous? Pros and Cons of 5G Network”

Qualcomm, Everything You Need to Know About 5G

TechRepublic, “The Risks of 5G Security”

TechTarget, “What Is 6G? Overview of 6G Networks and Technology”

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