An Overview of 5G Technology and Cybersecurity Concerns for the Future
As AT&T extends its 5G network to cover 250 million US citizens and Apple prepares to go exclusively 5G by 2022, it’s time to consider the implications of 5G technology.
While 5G promises enhanced speed and consistency, the “interoperable user interfaces” central to the 5G network “greatly expand the attack surface.” As a result, 5G presents a bigger target for foreign adversaries and cybercriminals to attack.
Before leaping on the 5G bandwagon, we need to understand the associated threats so we can prepare ourselves and our devices accordingly.
What Is 5G, and How Does it Differ From 4G Technology?
When 4G emerged in 2009, it offered speeds 10 times faster than the existing 3G technology, along with improved wireless capabilities and visual technologies. 5G takes these improvements even further and promises us low latency, higher peak data speeds, enhanced reliability, improved network capacity, and increased availability.
Unlike 4G, 5G is a unified platform and, as such, has “an extended capacity to enable next-generation user experiences.” 5G is expected to have a significant impact on every area of our lives and our economy. It could change every industry, making things like remote healthcare, precision agriculture, and safer transportation more achievable.
What Are the Benefits of 5G Technology?
For most people, the enhanced speeds promised by the fifth generation of wireless technology are the most attractive benefit, but it has plenty of other perks besides lightning-fast speeds. For one, 5G uses less power than 4G and will therefore extend your device’s battery life. It is also more stable than 4G and can support more devices without negatively impacting speed or connectivity.
The introduction of 5G technology will have a particularly significant impact on the following:
Internet of Things
With 5G technology promising a massive increase in connectivity, it could revolutionize the Internet of Things (IoT).
There are currently “more than 10 billion active IoT devices” worldwide, with another 127 devices connecting to the internet every second. It’s hardly surprising, then, that 4G is staggering under the weight of all these devices.
5G, on the other hand, provides an IoT-friendly ecosystem capable of supporting up to 100 times more connected devices than the 4G LTE network.
This increased capacity could mean significant improvements in intelligent cars, IoT-enabled healthcare devices, precision agriculture tools, smart manufacturing, and more.
5G is set to revolutionize cloud computing, giving service providers and consumers the benefits of a faster, more integrated service. As a result, cloud-based applications and services are likely to become both more efficient and more reliable.
By utilizing millimeter waves in the high-band spectrum, 5G can move more data which, for cloud applications, means more fuel. Cloud providers will be looking to expand their infrastructure so they can capture, transport, and process that data effectively.
5G technology has the capacity to change “the cloud computing landscape by adding new architectures and technologies.”
5G is likely to encourage the growth, application, and availability of both virtual and augmented reality. Unlike the existing 4G network, 5G can provide the connection speed and low latency needed for seamless augmented reality (AR) and virtual reality (VR) experiences.
As a result, we could see the use of VR expand dramatically, with the development of real-time collaboration experiences and the introduction of remote experts who can access a worker’s view via a pair of smart glasses, to name just two.
Other potential uses include life-like training experiences, guided maintenance and repairs, and VR-enabled online shopping experiences.
Experts envisage 5G technology working symbiotically with artificial intelligence (AI), with 5G enhancing the speed of other technologies and AI analyzing that data faster.
According to Sanyogita Shamsunder, the VP of 5G Ecosystems and Technology Innovation at Verizon, 5G could work in conjunction with AI to develop “realistic human representations that can interact with you in real-time.”
Is 5G Cybersecurity the Dark Side of This New Technology?
Despite the rumors abounding online, 5G won’t weaken your immune system or give you cancer, but it might give you a nasty malware infection. The more our online lives grow and become increasingly integrated with our real lives, so the threat to our privacy increases.
After all, a mobile phone used simply to send the odd text message is far less valuable to cybercriminals than one that contains your whole digital life.
Some of the most vulnerable aspects associated with cybersecurity and 5G include:
The 5G network is going to be huge, with more points of access and traffic routing points than ever before. If you think of it as a building, that means more doors and windows, and therefore more vulnerabilities. To safeguard the network, 5G cybersecurity theoretically needs to monitor and secure all those points of access. This decentralized architecture therefore increases the attack surface, giving cybercriminals more potential vulnerabilities to exploit.
The lag you find so frustrating when gaming or streaming is working in your favor in terms of security. The slower the traffic, the easier it is to monitor and subsequently block potential attacks. With 5G promising speeds of “up to 100 times faster than 4G,” cybersecurity teams may struggle to develop technology that can respond fast enough to cope.
Although 5G uses better encryption than any of the network generations that went before it, researchers have found a flaw that allows potential attackers to “intercept mobile traffic to spy on victims and even manipulate data.”
As advanced as 5G technology is, at the end of the day, it’s just a wireless transfer medium, which means any data traveling through it is susceptible to interception. That, in turn, means that all data will need to be sufficiently encrypted and protected using the same cybersecurity tools available on 4G.
Poor Device Security
As 5G technology rolls out, so the demand for smart devices will continue to grow. In response, manufacturers will start to develop more and more smart TVs, refrigerators, and coffee machines. Not all, however, will prioritize cybersecurity while doing so, so will end up creating “possible breach points” with every new device. Learn how to boost your IoT security here.
Are You Cyber-Ready for 5G Technology?
Although the introduction of 5G means a new set of potential cyber threats, many of the cybersecurity tools we used to safeguard ourselves on 4G, will similarly give us an extra layer of protection on 5G. Use the checklist below to assess your 5G cybersecurity readiness:
- I use one of the best password managers and ensure all my passwords contain random characters, upper and lower case letters, numbers, and symbols,
- I use a different password for every login,
- I have installed an antivirus program on all my devices,
- I prevent unauthorized access to your data and enjoy online anonymity by using a VPN,
- All my connected devices are up to date with security patches,
- I always delete old apps once I’ve stopped using them.
5G technology looks set to change our lives, mainly for the better. It promises the possibility of better VR experiences, less social media buffering, faster downloads, and an improved online environment for gamers.
Beyond the impact on our personal lives, it also looks set to transform healthcare, logistics, transport, agriculture, manufacturing, and customer support.
What 5G isn’t going to be is a panacea to all our cybersecurity woes. An increased network means a larger attack surface, while more IoT devices equate to more points of access.
Even the experts are only just getting to grips with how 5G and cybersecurity will interact and evolve. In the meantime, we’ll have to rely on the same cybersecurity tools and techniques we were using on 4G to keep us safe and protect our devices.
Isn’t it time you started getting your cybersecurity and 5G act together?