Protecting the new generation of 5G-based applications against advanced cyber-attacks
How fast is your Internet connection right now? No matter what speeds you’re currently getting, they’re just a fraction of the up to 10 gigabits per second promised by 5G. That’s over 100 times faster than 4G on today’s mobile phones, and 10x more than even the fastest fibre home broadband service offered currently – it’s actually quick enough to download a 4K HD movie in a matter of seconds. 5G will also be characterized by ultra-low latency, which opens the door to a new era of instantaneous, always-on connectivity between systems. All these qualities enable a huge range of applications, services and devices that are intended to make our lives easier, more efficient, healthier and safer.
These applications span autonomous vehicles, telemedicine, smart agriculture, smart manufacturing and more. Tens of billions of devices will be connected via 5G, enabling real-time monitoring of everything from the location of your pet cat, to control of wearable medical devices. Cars and trucks will be able to communicate with each other for real-time navigation and accident avoidance. Telemedicine and remote surgery will become more widespread. Automation and wider use of robots will become commonplace across industries. It’s predicted that the industrial revolution enabled by 5G will support an additional $12 trillion in global economic output over the next 15 years.
The stakes are high, so it’s no surprise that businesses and governments globally are racing to deploy 5G networks and solutions that will deliver new capabilities and unlock innovation. However, there is a catch. The totally connected world promised by 5G also gives criminals and nation-state hackers endless opportunities to launch cyber-attacks and cause disruption, damage or even deaths, by targeting that pervasive connectivity.
5G – a risky business?
Concerns over 5G security are not exaggerated, especially if we consider the types of damaging attacks and exploits we’ve seen over the past three years, even before the introduction of 5G networks:
- A recent ransomware attack on a German hospital knocked offline its admission and patient records systems and resulted in the death of a patient.
- Earlier this year, an Israeli water treatment plant was hacked, with the aim of mixing extra chlorine into drinking water to make it toxic.
- The massive Mirai botnet has infected over a million IoT devices, enabling it to be used as a ‘death star’ DDoS weapon, capable of taking almost any Internet service offline
- Hackers showed how connected cars can be taken over remotely and control taken from the driver.
- Serious vulnerabilities have been found in domestic IoT devices, such as Alexa and even smart lightbulbs that would allow hackers to spy on users or control other home devices.
Malware, online identity theft, data breaches and other cyber-attacks against enterprises, critical infrastructure, healthcare organizations and consumers are now so commonplace that we’re no longer surprised by them. And adding billions more devices with super-fast, always-on connectivity to our online world will create further, unprecedented risks of disruption of the network and cloud infrastructures, the applications running on them, and the devices themselves on a scale that we have never seen before – which is a scenario that we must avoid.
Meeting 5G’s security challenges
So what are the specific security challenges that 5G networks and devices introduce? While 5G’s stronger encryption of data and better verification of network users are improvements over 4G technology, it also introduces new risks. The security challenges are in two main areas:
- Lack of access control and threat visibility – 5G networks are distributed and devices are directly connected to the internet through the service provider. As 5G devices roll out in offices, factories and hospitals, the risk of data breaches and attacks increases sharply as communications to and from these devices will bypass the corporate network and its security controls. Similarly, employees using 5G mobile devices to access cloud-based corporate resources will increase the risk of breaches and data losses.
- Easily accessible, vulnerable devices – tens of billions of smart devices will be connected to 5G networks, and only a tiny fraction of these have any security features beyond a password. The examples mentioned earlier show how easily these devices can be compromised and used for snooping, or for launching attacks. What’s more, a recent Check Point survey showed that 90% of organizations have unapproved, shadow IoT devices on their networks, in many cases connected without the IT or security teams’ knowledge.
The result is that, while 5G will revolutionize connectivity and communications, it is also more vulnerable to attacks compared to the existing networks. So the question is, how do organizations go about securing their 5G deployments to protect themselves against these new vulnerabilities, breaches and attacks, at both network and device level?
What’s needed is a different approach to security. As 5G will connect users and applications across mobiles, endpoints, networks, cloud and IoT, it’s essential to have advanced threat prevention to protect all of these types of asset, wherever they are located. This demands a consolidated security architecture that works across all platforms, and uses unified threat intelligence at every enforcement point to prevent both known and unknown threats from penetrating the network fabric. This ensures consistent security, while being fully scalable to cope with the massive bandwidth enabled by 5G.
And what about the billions of IoT devices on 5G networks? These devices will span industries including medical, industrial, smart buildings, automotive and more. Given this huge volume and variety of products – many of which will have extremely limited or zero security capabilities – organizations need an easy way to deploy and manage security on any type of device.
One of the best, innovative approaches is to use micro-scale plugins that can work on any device or operating system in any environment. These micro software agents control every attribute that goes to and from the device on the 5G network, and connect to the consolidated security architecture to enforce protection.
In summary, 5G will make the world more connected, with the promise of huge benefits across industry, agriculture, health and social care, and more. But that connectivity is also an open invitation to hackers and criminals to try and cause disruption for their own benefit. Therefore, organizations need to deploy agile protections that can keep pace with the capabilities of 5G networks, to help them safely realize the full potential of a 5G-enabled future.