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Why 5G Security and Interoperability must not be optional extras

5G Security and Interoperability challenges 3G and 4G networks explored

In previous publications we talked about Network Slicing and industry demands for 5G as well as the different 5G architecture possibilities. In this blog I will elaborate on 5G Security and Interoperability challenges with existing networks (3G/4G).

The brave new world of 5G ecosystems

5G is much more than just a new technology that offers more bandwidth. With 5G comes an entire new world of ecosystems, such as:

Smart Cities: cities where information technology and the Internet of Things (IoT) are used to control and manage the smooth running of the city. The goal here is to increase quality of life by organising the city more efficiently and lowering the barrier between civilians and the government.
Smart Homes: Integrating different techniques such as home automation, sensors, WiFi and smartphones into a household, to improve the quality and efficiency of tasks at home.

Smart Homes: Integrating different techniques such as home automation, sensors, WiFi and smartphones into a household, to improve the quality and efficiency of daily tasks related to your home.

Smart Health: Healthcare applications are endless and can be divided into different categories such as Prevention, Monitoring, First Aid and Hospitals. For example, wearables and insulin pumps make sure our most valuable health issues are being monitored and that the blood sugar levels of diabetes patients are kept stable, for example. At the same time there will be sensors and digital filing systems that support and ease the working life of doctors and nurses.

Smart Workplace: The digital workplace in 2020 has no limits. Applications and information have to be available from any place, via any device, at any time. Information should be easily exchangeable between departments so people can work more efficiently and quickly.

Continuous rise of users and connections

According to the GSMA there are currently almost 5,2 billion unique mobile users, which is expected to grow to 5,8 billion users by 2025. When it comes to IoT there currently are 9,3 billion connections, which are expected to grow to 25 billion connections by 2025. This means that with the introduction of 5G, the total amount of connections, users and the number of innovative applications will increase dramatically. More attention to the security of this growing landscape is thus required.

Security By Design and its implications for 5G

Security already is a hot topic today and this will not change with 5G. 5G connectivity will be of major importance for several sectors, such as transport, healthcare, energy, industry and many more. For most of these applications, we will make use of network slicing and virtualisation. It will be a big challenge to maintain a high level of security when at the same time the chances of being confronted with a cyber attack are increasing.

That’s why “Security By Design" will have to be applied. This means that from deployment onwards, people will have to think about how security measures should work for each domain. At the same time, the first virtualised networks are now live, but not to the same extent as they will be with 5G. Security by Design allows us to control the security of these networks before they are used on a larger scale and complexity increases.

5G interoperability with LTE and 3G

Similar to the roll out of 4G, national 5G coverage will take a few years to become a reality. This means that we face a major challenge: to ensure that the handover between related technologies runs smoothly, without impacting the services provided. Think of a 5G-ready self-driving car: when leaving the city, it could lose its 5G connection when it has to switch to 4G. This could lead to serious and dangerous situations. For this reason, all scenarios must be considered and the necessary infrastructure available to make continuous and seamless communication between technologies possible. I will discuss these use cases and how the challenges can be tackled in a later blog.

Protection wherever you may roam...

5G services should not only be offered to the home network, but must also be available when a customer or device leaves the home network. In this case, an operator must primarily take into account the security of the roaming interfaces. In the 5G Core architecture, the emphasis is on security, such as the compulsory use of TLS as a transport layer. But we cannot ignore the fact that the use of an internet-based HTTP protocol in the 5G Core is a threat. The HTTP protocol is widely used online and has been for decades. Hackers know the bits and bytes of this protocol. This means they can and will organise to perform advanced attacks.

Most telecom networks are ‘closed networks’. They’ve been built on trust between operators, and are therefore probably not enough to handle advanced attacks from outside of the network. This means that it is extremely important for operators to protect the edge of their network as soon as they want to activate roaming for their customers.

Security and superior service from day one

The challenges in 5G are comparable to those in 4G, although security  for 5G use cases more critical than ever before. Operators must ensure that the signaling function, such as SCP and SEPP, protects their 5G Core from which they need to offer a live service from day one. This will help them build a future proof 5G network, offering customers optimised services and above all: safety.

Ditri Trio - December 9 2019

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Ditri Trio
Mobile Solutions Architect

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