5G – The Security Challenges and how to make sense of it all?
The Tenants of 5G
There are two facts that we face today - First, amongst all the demands that we see in the world today, the highest is of faster data. The major drivers are Businesses and people transitioning to the digital bandwagon, the speed, bandwidth and latency expected by the devices, and systems demanding autonomous processing. Second - 4G is not able to cope up with the existing expectations.
Enter 5G to manage the expectation for the always-on and high speed data. Largely speaking, 5G is not an independent technology but a suite of technologies built on top of 4G and thus it is not a simple replacement. The technologies being introduced are expanding the horizons of 4G.
The basic solutions comprise of the following components -
• Millimetre Waves - As the existing spectrum chokes, the aim is to add higher frequency spectrum. The added bands will improve the bandwidth of communication.
• Smaller Cells - Higher the frequency, lesser will be the distance travelled. Thus millimetre waves will navigate at roughly line-of-sight and will not be able to navigate through buildings etc. You must have realised this when you use Bluetooth as it uses a still higher RF spectrum. Smaller cells means more complexity in the network and more hand-offs of a moving user.
• Increased MIMO (Multiple Inputs Multiple Outputs) - Presently, the two communications (transmission and reception) are switched. 5G would include more number of antennas on the base stations and will result in reduced latency and higher spectrum efficiency.
• Beam forming - Majority of the modems at home use Beam forming technology. This process is also used in traffic signalling for cellular base stations. For implementation in 5G scenario, it would help in conserving energy by not transmitting in all directions but focussing low energy beams where the handset or the user is. MIMO and Beam forming will be used together for better throughput.
• Full Duplex - will permit transceivers to send and receive information at the same time.
Security concerns in the new paradigm
We can see that we are adding a large amount of complexity in the newer model of operations. At a lower level, we are not changing the core security concerns of 4G, but adding a new suite of concerns in the bucket. Breaking down the security architecture between technology and operations, let us review the threats that each would pose.
The operational threats would include 1. Standardisation of the technologies, 2. Network Design and Configuration, and, 3. Network Deployment and operation. In fact the 3GPP group is working on the technologies that would suffice with the requirements provided in the IMT-2020 Standard.
From technology standpoint, we are increasing the complexities in the system. They are increasing in the number of touchpoints / handshakes being done at the various network levels viz. Radio access network, Core network and foreign network levels. Also the communication within service planes will see increased complexity for the same reasons. Another aspect that 5G brings in is an all-software networks and flavours of virtualization, which are nothing but applications having their own share of SDLC based vulnerabilities.
One of the primary outcome of 5G implementation is coming of age of IOT devices and high end automation like cars etc. These vulnerabilities, if not checked will result in catastrophic damages.