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The Future of 5G

April 18, 2019

In the past decades, the telecommunications industry has seen massive changes. We’ve gone from first mobile phone to 4G LTE, and we’re now getting ready to enter a new era of intelligent connectivity, the era of 5G networks.

What is 5G, exactly?

5G represents the next generation of broadband connection. It promises 100 to 1,000 times the speed of 4G LTE, low latency, and more reliable connections on smartphones and other devices.

“You’ll be able to download a full-length feature movie in a matter of seconds as 5G evolves,” says Ted Rappaport, director of NYU Wireless, a research center at NYU’s Polytechnic School of Engineering. In fact, according to Rappaport, we can expect to see speeds of “10 gigabits per second or more, with one to several hundreds of megabits per second at the edge of the cell (site).”

But the higher speeds of 5G networking will do more than to facilitate faster movie downloads. Thanks to its low latency, we will also have quicker access to data in the cloud as well as the ability to run virtual reality applications on standalone headsets.

However, the hype surrounding its release has given rise to questions regarding its application, benefits, and of course, security. With rollouts of 5G networks already in place, what should we expect in the following months?

According to Techradar.com, Samsung, the world’s largest mobile phone manufacturer, has already started the mass production of 5G modem and radio chipsets.

“Samsung has been an innovator in mobile communication technologies with a strong portfolio of market-proven solutions, and we are well-prepared to extend our leadership into 5G,” says Inyup Kang, president of System LSI Business at Samsung.

“Our multi-mode solutions […] will together enable powerful yet energy-efficient 5G performance along with the network versatility that allows users to stay connected wherever they are.”

It’s also been reported that Samsung’s competitor, Apple, has been unable to launch a 5G version of the iPhone due to unmet deadlines for the development of Intel’s XMM 8160 5G modem chip.

But mobile companies aren’t the only ones gearing up for the 5G race; Verizon rolled out its Verizon Home 5G service in October last year in multiple cities across the U.S., including Houston, Indianapolis, Los Angeles, and Sacramento. According to a press release issued by the company, we can expect Verizon’s 5G mobility network to go live by the end of the year.

What are the security risks?

As 5G promises to connect everything from self-driving cars to home appliances and industrial machines, it will also open the door to new security vulnerabilities.

While this exciting new technology does have the ability to improve efficiencies at every level, its potential to connect considerably more devices is considered by some dangerous. Researchers have already uncovered flaws in 5G’s security protocol that might allow cybercriminals to intercept communications and steal private information.

For enterprises, “the connective power of 5G means a greater number of network endpoints, resulting in more possible openings through which an attacker may penetrate the network. Once compromised, these openings can be exploited at a new speed and scale“.

The research paper 5G Security: Analysis of Threats and Solutions also explores the basic challenges in 5G highlighted by Next Generation Mobile Networks (NGMN), shedding light on the security gaps that could pose a threat unless properly addressed:

Security of radio interfaces: Radio interface encryption keys sent over insecure channels.

User plane integrity: No cryptographic integrity protection for the user data plane.

Mandated security in the network: Service-driven constraints on the security architecture leading to the optional use of security measures.

Roaming security: User-security parameters are not updated with roaming from one operator network to another, leading to security compromises with roaming.

Denial of Service (DoS) attacks on the infrastructure: Visible nature of network control elements, and unencrypted control channels.

So, can 5G be made secure?

The short answer is yes. Communications can be made secure with the help of cryptography, which ensures that all the data that flows across different systems and through virtual networks is protected—including from the companies that own and run the hardware.

“If you do it correctly, you will actually have a more robust network,” says professor Muriel Médard, who leads the Network Coding and Reliable Communications Group at MIT.