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5G and Cybersecurity Risks in 2023 | #hacking | #cybersecurity | #infosec | #comptia | #pentest | #ransomware


The rollout of 5G networks has been surprisingly slow. As a concept, it was introduced in 2016, but it only became globally available in 2019. Four years later, the number of people with 5G-enabled devices is still small in most countries. 

It’s uncertain if the reason behind the sluggish adoption is affordability, the lack of necessity or the gross misinformation spread about it. However, an understandable criticism that can be launched against 5G is the potential cybersecurity risks users are exposed to. 

The following guide will outline the 5G cybersecurity risks users must be aware of in 2023 and how to protect against them. 

The Potential of 5G

When it comes to the 5G network, experts praise the advantages of high speed and low latency and all of the use cases it can be applied to. Another notable advantage is that 5G consumes power more optimally than its predecessors and offers higher data capacity. 

All these capabilities have the potential to enable IoT devices to be connected on scale that has not been seen before. This gives more households and consumers access to faster smart devices, allowing more smart buildings such as smart homes, campuses and cities.

However, 5G networks are complex. They are designed to process extensive quantities of different kinds of data, so they must be managed using complex software. 

The designers of 5G networks have learned that the most efficient way to auto-scale and properly handle 5G load is through AI and machine learning models. Unfortunately, this approach introduces a new attack surface for bad actors. 

The Attack Surfaces of 5G Networks

The sophisticated software that manages 5G networks has the potential to present blind spot in cybersecurity. It can be the main point of entry for many bad actors. They can try to penetrate 5G’s software to hijack and manipulate the network, although it isn’t the only vulnerability or attack type that consumers and operators should be concerned with. 

Because of how 5G networks are built and operated, they are harder to secure than their predecessors. They have more attack surfaces, which can be exploited in the following ways: 

Data Poisoning

Machine learning algorithms allow computer systems to discern patterns, enabling them to make autonomous decisions and forecasts based on the supplied information. The use of machine learning technologies has been growing rapidly, with the industry expected to be nearly 10x its market size in the next seven years. Most models are developed using exemplar data, also called training data, which can be “poisoned” by cybercriminals. 

Data poisoning is form of adversarial machine learning where bad actors attempt to force a machine learning or AI system into making errors. By introducing corrupted or inaccurate training data, they can create security blind spots that allow them to escape detection and fly under the radar. 

To prevent data poisoning in machine learning models, organizations can use outlier detection techniques that involve input validation, rate limiting, regression testing, manual moderation and statistical techniques. 

Man-in-The-Middle Attacks

One of the biggest advantages of 5G frequencies is that they can contain larger bandwidths than previous standards. But this feature usually comes at the cost of coverage, as data travels a shorter distance in a 5G network than in a 4G or 3G network. 

Network providers typically address this limitation by installing small cells and Femtocells (nodes) in different spots in single covered area. For instance, this can be a lamp post or on the side of a building. 

Unfortunately, the installation of these nodes expands the number of potential attack surfaces for bad actors. If a cybercriminal were to compromise any of these small cells, they could perform what is known as a man-in-the-middle attack, allowing them to access network traffic and manipulate data movement. 

Unfortunately, many operators leave these devices unsecured, so they remain one of the biggest 5G cybersecurity risks of 2023. Network providers must encrypt these nodes and the data traffic that travels through them. This is the only reliable way to fight against bad actors attempting to launch man-in-the-middle attacks. 

Exploiting Connected Device Vulnerabilities

With the influx of cheap IoT devices, many aren’t designed or manufactured with security in mind. We’ve seen how low-end smart devices can expose consumers to cybersecurity threats, and they can also compromise 5G networks. 

As more people adopt IoT technology, it will create more entry points and make tracking the origin of threat vectors harder. Much of the mitigation of these types of attacks lies on the shoulders of consumers. 

Mitigating the Risks of 5G Devices

Often, device users tend to procrastinate when updating their device software. These updates generally feature security updates, which help manufacturers secure and patch their devices against newly found vulnerabilities. Thus, consumers are highly encouraged to ensure that their 5G-connected devices are up to date. 

It’s also a good idea to add an antivirus or firewall to your device’s security stack where applicable. Furthermore—and more importantly—consumers are encouraged to purchase from verified suppliers, brands and manufacturers. While they may be little more expensive, this practice increases the likelihood that your chosen device is secure against the latest attacks.

If you’re running a business that uses 5G, you must ensure that your internal network and the software that connects to it are secure. For instance, local medical clinics such as dental or optometry businesses will often rely on direct communication software to stay in touch with patients, but they must ensure they are using services that will keep patient data confidential. 

One way dental clinics can ensure the safety of their patients and networks is to use dental software that comes with security features such as encryption and multifactor authentication. Essentially, users must consider their devices as nodes in their 5G network. A compromised device can affect the entire network, so consumers need to remain informed and vigilant.   

Conclusion

It’s been almost half a decade since the release of 5G, but for most, it still feels like a relatively new technology. The vast majority of people in the world don’t possess devices with 5G capabilities, so it’s hard to predict what vulnerabilities will emerge when 5G adoption reaches critical mass. That said, data poisoning, man-in-the-middle attacks and exploiting vulnerabilities of connected devices are some of the ways bad actors can target 5G networks. 

These potential threats should not dissuade consumers from taking advantage of the many benefits the technology offers. However, as a consumer or 5G business user, you must always maintain proper cybersecurity hygiene to ensure you have any operator blind spots covered. 

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