The Reality and Risks of 5G Deployment

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As a technology standard for broadband cellular networks, it is reasonable to think of 5G as a hardware-based entity. However, much of 5G architecture and networking mechanics rely on software components. In fact, the focal point of 5G is the coming together of precision-engineered pieces of software code.

The formation of 5G in and of itself is a complex procedure, as is the wider deployment of it to the world’s increasing population of Internet of Things (IoT) smart devices and the planet’s user base of consumer-grade mobile connected devices.

The Need for Forward and Backward Compatibility in 5G Development

A major consideration at this point is the need to develop 5G in a way that is both forward and backward compatible. This is the opinion of Adam Weinberg, CTO & co-founder of FirstPoint Mobile Guard, an Israel-based cyber cellular protection specialist.

Weinberg says this forward and backward compatibility mandate must be combined with an effort by progressive DevOps teams that insist upon following industry protocols. This will streamline operations and ensure obvious vulnerabilities are addressed at the beginning.

“Where developers need to be diligent is ensuring that they understand how the devices will be communicating with the networks to minimize the chance of creating a larger attack surface,” said Weinberg. “The complexity of 5G means that enterprises need to have comprehensive tools to manage, control, and secure their 5G cellular-connected assets to ensure reliable, secure, and stable connectivity.”

What we can take from this “toolset necessity” message is a call to action for developers themselves. Code gurus of all disciplines approaching 5G will need to work hand-in-hand with cybersecurity teams to ensure all code enables easy management and achieves a robust security rating before it resides in enterprise IoT devices at the network level.

Also read: The Future of Fixed 5G Networks is Now

Considering 5G Vulnerabilities and Risks

Obviously there are many different types of attacks that could manifest themselves within a 5G infrastructure, all of which could have a disruptive effect upon mission-critical supply chains or, in the case of life-critical systems, risk lives.

According to the FirstPoint Mobile guard team, device manipulation is a concern in 5G development. As developer-architects now code the 5G technologies our new networks will be based upon, there is potentially a new stream of opportunities to exploit network loopholes and access control functions. As this is what botnets initially look for, it’s a risk that needs to be considered for the future of 5G.

“Thinking about how 5G systems development will need to be cognizant of data channel rerouting attacks is another prudent (if not essential) act we need to consider here,” said Weinberg. “Attackers can uncover and tamper sensitive information by altering the path of the data on its way to or from the attacked device in the 5G cellular network.”

In short, developers need to work closely with the network engineers who will be managing the IoT devices to ensure the network itself has additional security protection.

Also read: IoT Faces New Cybersecurity Threats

Location-Tracking Frustrations with 5G Networks

Using the mobile network, attackers can utilize a powerful tracking capability to remotely track any mobile device anywhere on the globe. As a software-based network, 5G doesn’t always know with whom it is communicating with. So as a result, Weinberg says developers need to ensure their eSIM and SIM-based devices have the space to add applets on the card.

In addition, these powerful tracking capabilities leave devices vulnerable to information theft. Mobile cell phones with GPS, camera, microphone, and/or screenshot features allow for real-time intelligence gathering when active. This enables attackers to gain access to private or business data on the device through applications, stolen credentials, and more via malware and social engineering.

When building specialized devices for the 5G era, Weinberg and team say, with the possibility of information theft at front of mind, the software code itself must work at the user interface-level to allow easy on-off capabilities and to provide greater control.

“These types of attacks play upon the inherent vulnerabilities of the 5G network. Having a comprehensive solution that can recognize anomalies such as this is critical,” said Weinberg.

Also read: 5G and New Enterprise Security Threats

The Future of 5G Technologies in Key Industries

While industry vendor claims for 5G are optimistically upbeat, nobody is quite sure how real world application use cases will evolve.

In some cases, telecommunication futurists and commentators have suggested that a 5G network, at least in these early stages, will only function about as well as a good 4G network. And many talk about the application of 5G as a key enabler for autonomous driving and other connectivity considerations related to the automotive industry.

The justification for this suggestion is that, in practical terms, the networks up until now have been really good at allowing users to send emails, post pictures to social media platforms, and even stream videos and online cloud games. But for autonomous driving ubiquity, there needs to be a network-level order of magnitude upgrade, which is what 5G is supposed to represent.

Other key industries likely to benefit alongside automotive include retail, manufacturing, and logistics, all of which are verticals where machines, goods, production lines, and market swings move quickly. If an environment is ripe for the application of biometrics, wearable telemetry, and augmented reality, then it will logically be a good low-latency deployment target for 5G technologies.

Read next: The Role 5G Can Play in Global Sustainability Efforts

Adrian Bridgwater
Adrian Bridgwater
Adrian Bridgwater is a technology journalist with three decades of press experience. Primarily he works as a news analysis writer dedicated to a software application development ‘beat’; but, in a fluid media world, he is also an analyst, technology evangelist, and content consultant. As the previously narrow discipline of programming now extends across a wider transept of the enterprise IT landscape, his own editorial purview has also broadened. He has spent much of the last 10 years also focusing on open source, data analytics and intelligence, cloud computing, mobile devices, and data management.

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