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5G will require tougher security protocols

​5G will make greater use of virtualization and enable the Internet of Things, opening itself up to a wider range of attack surfaces. Stakeholders will have to work together to deliver a secure service

First published on February 21, 2018

​The arrival of 5G will enable many sectors, including automotive and healthcare, to leverage the Internet of Things to deliver product and service innovations. But how secure will they be?

5G will of course deliver faster networks, but also the development of intelligent networks that are increasingly decentralized and able to react to the needs of individual users. This is a completely new way to securely manage access to data over multi-access edge networks.

These networks feature multiple cloud-based IT environments that exist at the edge of a cellular network, and which allow mobile network operators to deliver services closer to their customers, reducing network congestion and improving the performance of applications.

As 5G networks proliferate, the channels for potential attack will also expand. "With 5G, the security landscape changes. The move to edge data centers will require a different approach to security," says Paul Bradley, Head of 5G Strategy and Partnerships at Gemalto.

Virtualization heightens security needs

A core component of the networks forming the foundation of 5G is open flexibility. 5G is not being built as a standalone radio network technology, but rather as an open platform enabling digital transformation. It does this by providing ubiquitous connectivity in converging licensed and unlicensed radio technologies such as LTE, NB-IoT, and Wi-Fi with its new high-speed cellular radio options.

In addition, functionality shifts from hardware to software. This means that many of today's hardware servers will be replaced with virtual servers that can be thought of as building blocks that can be grouped together to deliver specific services.

With more use of virtualization in particular, security protocols will have to improve. They must detect anomalies, stop malware and include intelligent DNS to prevent incidents such as the Mirai botnet attacks last year. With the IoT exponentially increasing the potential access points for malicious code to enter networks, IoT security becomes vital.

Multi-stakeholder approach to security

In its 5G security whitepaper, mobile operator Ericsson explains: "A multi-stakeholder approach involving operators, vendors, regulators, policymakers and representatives of 5G users …is fundamental to the security baseline of trustworthy, cost-efficient and manageable 5G networks. Pre-standardization consensus building, such as joint research by the different stakeholders, will be important."

Clearly, the threat landscape is about to radically change. The open and integrated nature of 5G requires a new kind of dynamic security that reacts second-to-second as the network is accessed by users and devices.

"Mobile operators cannot afford to let security weaknesses undermine the compelling benefits of 5G and virtualized networks," says Bradley. "We are partnering with a major industry player to provide actors deploying cloud-based virtualized networks with all the tools necessary to address the dangers posed by network disruption or data breaches in the next phase of our connected world."​ 

TAGGED IN 5g; mobile; connectivity; internet of things