You must have heard about the 5G internet race between all the major carriers. Soon, the lightning-fast 5G internet will replace the current 4G LTE. However, it’s still a few years ahead of us for 5G to be deployed globally. Nonetheless, it already starts to completely transform the entire online experience.
“We can do great things with 5G. The technology supports personalised medicines, precision agriculture, and energy grids that can integrate all kinds of renewable energy. This will make a positive difference. But only if we can make our networks secure.” – Margrethe Vestager, Executive Vice-President for a Europe Fit for the Digital Age
The transformation of the online world raises questions concerning cybersecurity. Will it be safer? What aspects will make it safer? What issues pose potential threats, and how big are they? However, before discussing cybersecurity in the upcoming era of the 5G internet, let’s define it and discuss the benefits and possibilities it will bring us.
What is 5G internet?
It’s the newest generation of wireless technology. The fifth-generation wireless internet is designed to increase the speed and responsiveness of wireless broadband. The previous generation (4G LTE connection) works as the foundation for this new superfast internet.
Like different wireless connections, 5G and 4G LTE operate on the radio spectrum. Still, the big difference between other mobile internet connections and this new fast internet is that it runs on three different spectrum bands.
3 spectrum bands:
- Low-band spectrum – It provides excellent coverage as well as wall penetration capabilities. However, its downside is its speed limit, as it will not exceed 100 megabits per second (Mbps).
- Mid-band spectrum – In this band, peak speeds go much higher than in the low-band, as they can reach 1Gbps, and it comes with the shorter response time. However, there is significantly lower wall penetration ability.
- High-band spectrum – This is referred to as millimetre wave (mmWave) technology and provides the highest performance. It has extremely high speeds, peaking at 10Gbps and exceptionally short response time. Unfortunately, these assets come with considerable drawbacks. It has notably reduced geographical scope and much worse wall penetration capabilities.
5G signals will be transmitted via large numbers of small cell stations in contrast to 4G LTE that requires large, high-power cell towers and transmits signals over longer distances. This change in the way of signal transmitting is crucial because of the mmWave spectrum. The mmWave is the high-band spectrum described above. The thing is, that it can only travel brief distances.
Benefits of 5G internet:
- Improved broadband – in the experimental trials, 5G has reached speeds up to 1000Mbps. However, these were done in a controlled environment. In the upcoming years, predicted speeds are estimated to be a little lower. Nonetheless, it will still enable downloading an entire movie in just a few seconds or watching high-quality videos without them buffering.
- Decreased latency – (the time in which your device needs to communicate with the wireless network and transfer data to another device) This new technology has incomparably lower response time than all the previous generations did. Latency should be 4 milliseconds in perfect conditions. This improves the everyday use of the wireless connection. Additionally, it guarantees uninterrupted operation when a dependable connection is crucial (significant business operations, large transactions, informing about any major decisions).
- Increased number of connected devices – with this new wireless connection, the density of connected devices in a region can be much higher than with current technology. It is estimated that with 5G, there could be 1 million devices with access to the wireless internet per square kilometre.
- Smaller costs – 5G requires less necessary infrastructure to provide wireless connection; thus, the prices of installation and maintenance are significantly reduced. It means that many more areas will be able to have constant access to a dependable, high-quality internet source because of its affordability.
- Lower energy use – the fifth-generation connection uses a lesser amount of energy than any previous wireless internet.
The following assessment of risks is based on a report on EU coordinated risk assessment on cybersecurity in Fifth Generation (5G) networks published by the Member States in January 2020.
“With worldwide 5G revenues estimated at €225 billion in 2025, 5G technologies and services are a key asset for Europe to compete in the global market, and its cybersecurity is crucial for ensuring the strategic autonomy of the Union.” – Press release by the European Commission
It is predicted that cybersecurity could be improved when 5G is introduced due to new functions that can be applied only to this latest generation of wireless connection. One of such being a stricter authentication process in the radio interface. However, this advantage is not an integral part of 5G, meaning that it will improve the security only when applied by an operator.
The network surface will transform, and this means that vital security controls will need to be moved (in perspective to previous wireless connection options). That will be necessary to cover appropriately the entire area that is exposed to security breaches and cyber-attacks.
Assessment of 5G cybersecurity risks
Before 5G internet is widely accessible, it is crucial to analyse the extent of threats concerning cybersecurity. When vast volumes of data are stored on the internet, matters touching the security of private, confidential information are extensive and cannot be neglected. Most serious threats concern the compromise of confidentiality, availability, and integrity.
Threats of 5G internet
There are some differences in possible threats concerning security between 5G and current networks due to their different structures and appliances. One of the more significant differences between risks threatening 5G and existing networks relates to the nature and intensity of potential impacts of such threats.
In particular, greater reliance on economic and societal functions on 5G networks could greatly worsen the possible adverse effects of disturbances. Furthermore, the integrity of new networks will be questioned because of existing and increasing expectations regarding privacy and confidentiality.
4 threats targeting 5G networks:
- Spying of data in the 5G network
- Local or global 5G network disruption
- Alteration of the data in the 5G network
- Damages or changes of digital infrastructures or information systems through the 5G networks
Severity of threats
The relevance of the threats in the 5G infrastructure has been determined by analysing two parameters. Firstly, the resources of potential threats. This means that the estimation of the capabilities of potential attackers. Second, the analysis of their intention to perform attacks, which is defined as motivation.
5 factors that specify the relevance of threats to 5G connection:
- quantity and type of users that have been affected
- the kind of information that has been breached
- the amount of time of the event before detection
- the type of services impacted (public security, emergency services, health, governmental activities, electricity, etc.)
- the extent of damage or economic losses
It will take some time before 5G is up and running smoothly, nonetheless when it is, it will truly change our everyday lives. Major carriers are committing their entire energy to build out 5G networks. However, before it stretches across the whole of Europe, it will probably be a few more years. Though it is important to note that depending on the carrier, there will be a different 5G implementation strategy. This means that 5G wireless experience will be utterly dependent on the chosen carrier.
To sum up, the points referring to the cybersecurity of 5G, as with any enormous breakthrough we will need to adequately adjust to completely new internet infrastructure. As with existing wireless networks, there will always be cyberattacks and security breaches. However, because of the vast differences between them, there is a needed transformation. The security controls that are to be implemented into 5G infrastructure must be adjusted to new requirements to ensure its security.
All in all, it’s impossible to predict the exact threats that will arise when 5G will become widely accessible, but adequate preparations are in progress. Hopefully, in a few years, we will not only be able to use high-speed and widely available internet but also use it with top-notch security systems.