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— 3 Reasons to Remain Vigilant, and 4 Ways to Protect Your Network

As the 5th generation of wireless technology, 5G standalone (SA) promises to revolutionize connectivity with unprecedented speed, low latency, and the capacity to support a vast number of connected devices. But along with these advancements, it introduces a new landscape of security challenges.

With 5G SA networks, the 3GPP has invested a lot of effort to secure communications. For example, they’ve developed a trust model with elevated home controls that enable a user’s device to inform its home network which visited network it’s connecting to, thanks to new network functions, like Security Edge Protection Proxy (SEPP) and Authentication Server Function (AUSF). Plus, security features have been specifically crafted to address the vulnerabilities and shortcomings of older network architectures, and concepts such as mutual authentication, zero-trust, and transport-level encryption form the foundation of 5G standardization.

These advancements are fundamental to achieving a fully operational 5G SA core network, but does this mean we’ve solved every security challenge? Unfortunately, not. Understanding and addressing new and evolving security implications is essential if we want to harness the full potential of 5G SA. After all, without the 5G SA core, the advanced capabilities and security features of 5G cannot be fully utilized.

Despite the number of robust security measures already in place, it's essential to understand that 5G still does not offer complete, built-in security. Here are three areas of primary concern:

1. Network protocols are open & easy to exploit

In 5G networks, the interaction of all network elements takes place via the HTTP/2 protocol. The broad applicability and openness of HTTP/2 allows communication service providers (CSPs) to use it for deploying a wide range of services, but this comes at a cost. The closed nature of legacy telecom protocols acted as a sort of entry barrier to attackers. Open protocols like HTTP/2 create pathways for potential attackers to develop tools for exploiting vulnerabilities. There are many techniques to search for these vulnerabilities, but there are also many tools available for easy exploitation.

Attackers who may have been discouraged by complex telecom-specific protocols will be more inclined to target 5G networks because they are built on technologies they already know how to hack. This means telecom operators will now have to struggle with the wider range of threats already facing Internet systems. Also, with so many new vendors developing 5G network elements and solutions, it’s likely that they may introduce a defective product prone to vulnerabilities due to their lack of telecom domain knowledge.

2. Lack of cybersecurity knowledge

As 5G technology continues to revolutionize telecommunications, the industry faces a critical challenge: a lack of knowledge and expertise in cybersecurity among telecom professionals. This gap can have far-reaching consequences, compromising the integrity and security of 5G networks. With the introduction of network slicing, virtualization, and a service-based architecture, specialized knowledge in areas beyond traditional telecom expertise is required, such as cloud security and software-defined networking (SDN). Historically, the telecom industry has prioritized network reliability and availability over security. This has led to a skills gap, where professionals are highly skilled in maintaining network uptime, but less adept at identifying and mitigating cyber threats.

3. Incorrectly configured equipment

Penetration testing studies indicate that 70% of network systems have ‘high severity’ vulnerabilities due to configuration flaws. Operators often struggle with the complexity of node configurations and network hardening. Misconfigured systems can create entry points for attackers, expanding an organization's attack surface and leading to unauthorized access, data breaches, and other security incidents. For example, with network slicing, CSPs now need to configure multiple network slices, each with its own complexity and service requirements. This can significantly impact security, as the configuration burden and the number of parameters increase, so does the likelihood of a security slipup.

4 Steps for Creating a More Complete Security Picture

While significant security advancements have been made in recent years, additional steps are necessary to ensure comprehensive protection:

1. Continuously Monitoring and Updating: Security in 5G networks requires ongoing vigilance, including regular updates and patches to address emerging threats and vulnerabilities.

2. Industry Collaboration and Standards Compliance: CSPs must collaborate with industry partners and vendors and adhere to established security standards to maintain a high level of security.

3. Expertise and Training: Developing expertise in 5G security and providing continuous training for personnel are critical to managing and mitigating cybersecurity risks effectively.

4. Engaging with Cybersecurity Experts: Partnering with cybersecurity firms and experts can help telecom companies strengthen their defenses. These partnerships can provide access to the latest threat intelligence, security technologies, and best practices.

In conclusion, the transition to 5G SA technology brings about remarkable advancements, but as cyber threats continue to evolve, it’s imperative to implement and continuously update security measures. By prioritizing security, we can fully harness the transformative potential of 5G SA, fostering innovation and progress while mitigating risks and vulnerabilities.

Security - The First Line of Defense

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