What's the Big Deal
About 5G? Security Risks
to Consider

Posted on March 20, 2021

As the next generation in cellular technology, 5G will usher in a new era of faster speeds and convert essential technologies to mostly all-software networks. But what about 5G security risks? While 5G will allow consumers to download movies and games in mere seconds, there are some significant implications for businesses as well.


Along with faster download speeds, 5G will also reduce communication delays between devices with speeds averaging around 1.4Gbps, which is already faster than 4G’s peak speed of 1Gbps. The time it takes to transfer data from one point to another is known as latency. By reducing latency to near zero, 5G can improve communication between devices for businesses that use Internet of Things (IoT) technology.


By 2022 there will be 18 billion IoT devices, with 1.5 billion of them using cellular data. Along with higher speeds, 5G will expand emerging technologies like augmented reality and virtual reality, which will no longer require a WiFi connection.

Five 5G Security Risks to Watch For


Because of its ability to increase connectivity, 5G networks can lead to smart cities and autonomous vehicles in everyday life. But with 5G powering essential services like telecommunications, traffic control and emergency response, impacted networks could bring down critical infrastructure.


Here are five 5G security threats to be aware of:


1. Network Switching

Although 5G has become more available, telecommunications providers are still transitioning. Simply put: Not everyone has a reliable 5G signal. While 5G devices are compatible with 3G and 4G network infrastructures, switching to these connections can expose your device to the same vulnerabilities that 5G was designed to resolve.


Organizations that deploy 5G without planning for unreliable 5G connections can put their networks at risk for infiltration, which is precisely what 5G is supposed to prevent. Even after 5G reaches the public, we still have to rely on 4G (and perhaps even 2G and 3G) as cellular network operators expand their 5G infrastructure for more stable connections.


2. Hackable Smart Devices

Increased connectivity offers many benefits like convenience and faster data access. But these same advantages introduce newer 5G security risks. In 2017, a hacker took nearly 1 million users offline by targeting IoT devices like routers, surveillance cameras and baby monitors to carry out a distributed denial of service (DDoS) attack against a German telecom provider.


IoT devices are already being deployed in our infrastructure, from public safety and transportation to banks and hospitals. However, each smart device adds another possible point of entry that hackers can exploit. Instead of protecting a few on-premises devices, you must now consider what could happen if one IoT device in your network core is compromised.


3. Bandwidth Sharing

5G uses a much larger bandwidth, so 5G-enabled devices can operate much faster. This increased network capacity also allows millions of devices to connect to the same network, even in a small area.


But a larger bandwidth comes with an increased possibility of attack. Because 5G wavelengths have a much shorter range than 4G, cellular networks have to install more cell towers and antennas to establish a dependable 5G infrastructure. Adding these antennas creates many more physical targets for hackers.


These cell sites also use 5G’s “Dynamic Spectrum Sharing,” which allows multiple streams of information to share the same parts of the bandwidth, known as “slices.” Network administrators must also configure these slices, each with its own requirements and 5G security challenges, increasing the potential of a cybersecurity misstep.


4. Network Decentralization

5G’s high-speed capabilities come from moving networks from centralized hardware to software-defined networks. With virtualized, software-driven networks, 5G harnesses cloud technology to allow users to access data more quickly and easily.


But managing network functionality with software instead of hardware introduces new potential vulnerabilities. Hardware-oriented networks protect your system using on-premises equipment, which is nearly impossible to access without being onsite. Moving network management to software opens your system to the possibility of being breached by remote hackers, who can access systems from across the globe.


5. Network Hacking

Storing data offline can reduce your business’s risk of being breached by remote hackers. But with 5G, the software that oversees higher-level network functions is built on standard internet protocols, like HTTP and TLPS. These internet technologies are open and well known to attackers, who have created many tools to exploit these protocols’ vulnerabilities.


Because these systems are standardized globally, external actors can use these tools to infiltrate your system. Whether these actors are expert-level hackers working for foreign governments or individual criminals, your system could be vulnerable to remote attacks.

How to Protect Your Business from 5G Cybersecurity Risks


Integrating 5G networks into new areas makes these networks a tempting target for cybercrime, multiplying the potential damage and consequences of information security risks. Businesses can avoid these risks by establishing effective security capabilities.


More than just having the right equipment, your organization must also build procedures to ensure everyone on your team follows industry best practices. Here are three recommendations to defend your business from 5G security risks.


Invest in Cybersecurity

5G technology is more secure because it has better encryption than previous generations. But despite these added security protocols, we still rely on 4G, LTE and 3G networks with some well-known vulnerabilities, like DDoS attacks. These weak points can still impact 5G equipment, even with their enhanced security features.


With 5G on the horizon, it’s more important than ever to invest in cybersecurity for your company proactively. As the IT environment continues to change, small- to medium-sized businesses, which typically lack the resources and capacity for an in-house IT team, have become a favorite target for hackers.


If you rely on IoT devices and cloud technology, you should reassess your 5G cybersecurity strategy to ensure you can defend your network against new risks using 5G devices in your current infrastructure.


Use Machine Learning and AI

Businesses can leverage emerging technology like machine learning and artificial intelligence to better protect their networks from 5G security risks. AI-powered analytics can be programmed to analyze data like geographic information and engineering parameters to optimize your network as 5G expands bandwidth capacity.


Machine learning and AI can also supplement the cybersecurity of your IoT devices. You can configure algorithms to operate “on the edge” or directly within these smart devices for faster decision-making and real-time computation.


Implement Strong BYOD Policies

While BYOD policies offer significant savings in equipment costs for small businesses, they could increase your vulnerability to 5G security risks. As 5G becomes more widely available, your employees will likely start using 5G networks with their devices for personal and professional use.


Your business should require strict BYOD policies, such as multi-factor authentication (MFA), to ensure that only authorized users can access your shared files. This way, you can better protect your corporate data from getting into the wrong hands.

Partner with SugarShot: Your Friendly Neighborhood Cybersecurity Experts


To prepare your business for the adoption of 5G, you need to adapt your cybersecurity strategy to address potential 5G security risks. Outsourcing your cybersecurity to an IT security partner can help you reduce IT costs while maintaining operational continuity.


At SugarShot, we help businesses take control of their cybersecurity systems, software and monitoring so they can operate at peak levels and avoid downtime. Our dedicated team of experts can create a plan tailored to your business’s unique needs to defend you against 5G security risks.


Contact us today to learn more about our cybersecurity services.

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