The International Multi Track Conference on Sciences, Engineering & Technical Innovations, The CT Group of Institutions, India

The International Policing Forum, The People’s Public Security University of China, China

The Conference Cybersecurity Challenges, Marshall Center, Romania

IDC IT Security Roadshow, The International Data Corporation (IDC), Romania

The Seminar GoDigital, PRISMA European Network, Romania

The International Law Enforcement Cooperation Course, The European Union Agency for Law Enforcement Training (CEPOL), Hungary

The AEPC Conference & General Council Meeting, The Association of European Police Colleges (AEPC), Turkey

Challenges and Opportunities in Cyberspace Workshop, Al. I. Cuza Police Academy, Romania

Challenges and Opportunities in Cyberspace Workshop - Second Edition, Al. I. Cuza Police Academy, Romania

Tor and Darknet Course, The European Union Agency for Law Enforcement Training (CEPOL), Romania

 

The Cybersecurity Threats of the 5G Era

There are a lot of discussion about the risks that the fifth generation of mobile networks (5G) can bring. From a technical point of view, in addition to higher exponential speeds, reduced latency and more flexible delivery of services, 5G networks can also lead to high cyber security risks.

The 5G technology will interconnect an impressive number of IoT (Internet of Things) devices that will work together to enhance comfort, productivity, safety and health. But these devices, in case of having vulnerabilities that can be exploited by cyber criminals, can be used against us.

National safety risks

The 5G networks will interconnect many systems in critical sectors, such as energy, transport, banking or healthcare. From this point of view, any 5G network vulnerability could be exploited to compromise both critical digital infrastructure and systems that are connected by this technology, with the risk of causing very serious damage.

There are state-actors that fund such attacks, targeting computer systems in critical areas. There have been such major cyber-attacks that have disrupted activity in:

  • The energy system (Ukraine, 2015 / Venezuela, 2019), when a power failure has affected hundreds of thousands of people;
  • The transport system (United States of America, 2019), when computers from the public transport network of San Francisco were affected;
  • The banking system (Estonia, 2007) when bank transfers were stopped and citizens were unable to withdraw money from ATMs;
  • The medical system (UK, 2017), when doctors could not operate patients because the databases had been encrypted.

Industrial control systems have been for long time in critical sectors, but their connection to the Internet is done with great caution, because the risks in the on-line environment are very high. Operators of these control systems know these risks and try to limit the exposure of these systems and, in many cases, they have not deliberately improved connectivity. Even so, not being externally connected, there have been cases in which control systems in nuclear power plants have been affected (Iran, 2010), when the velocity of centrifuges used for the production of enriched uranium could be controlled.

Personal safety risks

High-end vehicles and public transport can use 5G networks to communicate with other vehicles and road sensors in order to avoid collisions, shorten travel time and improve fuel economy. But, under the control of a cyber attacker, such vehicles can cause serious accidents. In hacker tests, the computer systems of some cars such as Jeep Cherokee or Tesla could be compromised, and it was possible to take control of the cars. Hackers have shown that computer systems in intelligent vehicles can have serious cybersecurity issues.

Intelligent medical devices monitor patients’ health status and can warn of imminent medical conditions, may seek help if the patient is unable, help physicians adjust the medication, and researchers to improve treatments for various illnesses. But in the case of technical vulnerabilities, these medical devices can be compromised by cybercriminals, with serious consequences for patients in medical care. In the University of South Alabama, USA, cybersecurity specialists have demonstrated how to control a pacemaker or a smart insulin pump, which would endanger the lives of patients who depend on such devices.

Foto: RISQ Consulting

Data Theft

5G networks will interconnect a large number of sensors, systems and computer devices that will transmit data to each other or to cloud servers. When, due to existing vulnerabilities, cybercriminals could compromise these devices, they will also be able to access the transmitted data. All of this data, correlated with Internet Protocol (IP) addresses, represents personal data. In other words, cybercriminals may have access to confidential information about our daily activity and can make a detailed user profile to be used in later attacks.

We are surrounded by more and more intelligent devices that increase our comfort and help us with everyday activities. Such a device is the smart vacuum cleaner, which can also be controlled from the mobile phone. Smart vacuum cleaners have the function of plotting the apartment to optimize performance in the future. If cyber attackers compromise such a device, they might know the location and sketch of the apartment, so they can expect the right time to break through.

Stronger cyber-attacks

One of the biggest challenges will be the sudden and exponential increase in the attack area due to the rapid expansion of the number of smart systems and devices interconnected by the 5G networks. With billions of interconnected IoT devices within an organization, any less secured device may become the weakest link in the security chain, potentially exposing the entire institution to risk.

On the other hand, the large number of devices interconnected with the 5G technology could intensify attacks by cybercriminals, hoping to compromise as many devices as possible and use them for further attacks. In 2016, one of the most powerful cyber attacks in history – the Mirai attack, has been able to block services and websites from companies such as CNN, Twitter and Netflix. The offenders have been able to compromise over a million low-security devices, most of which were surveillance cameras, which they have been used to send millions of requests to certain websites in order to block their functionality. Within 5G networks, the number of these devices will increase exponentially and, if many of these will be compromised, the DDoS (Distributed Denial of Service) attacks will be stronger.

Foto: University of York

5G Network Security – a national and European issue

Infrastructures are interconnected and transnational, and cyber threats are cross-border. So, any vulnerability of the 5G technology from the Member State networks could affect the whole of the European Union. For this reason, a high level of cyber security should be ensured through concerted action, both at national and European level.

The European Commission has recommended a series of operational steps and measures at EU level to ensure a high level of cybersecurity of the 5G networks. The Member States should complete their national risk assessments by June 30, 2019 and update the necessary security measures. The national risk assessment should be submitted to the Commission and the European Agency for Cyber Security (ENISA) by July 15, 2019. Thereafter, the Member States should exchange information to conclude a coordinated risk assessment by October 1, 2019. In following this activity, mitigation measures could be adopted at the national level.

The increasing level of Cybersecurity

Under the increasingly complex and numerous cyber threats, cybersecurity plays a fundamental role in the 5G technology. Cybersecurity will need to be deployed across all the devices connected by the 5G networks. For this reason, cybersecurity technologies will need to be implemented from the design process (cybersecurity-by-design). All devices that are connected to an organization’s ecosystem must be identified, critically assessed and confirmed. Then, all requests for access the network resources will need to be verified, validated and authenticated. While network segmentation is a proven technique to manage cybersecurity risks and to protect sensitive resources, the old strategies may not be suited to the 5G technology. New segmentation strategies will have to monitor local and remote resources that are interconnected through network segments for which organizations will have more or less control.

Digital transformation will generate large amounts of data, most of it encrypted, with the need to protect data moving through open network environments. This will require high-performance security solutions to inspect in real-time large amounts of encrypted traffic. The interoperability of these security solutions will be just as important for managing cybersecurity policies and incidents. Sharing information on cyber threats, linking event data, and improving the automated response to cybersecurity incidents are keys to protecting the 5G networks. Cooperation will play a key role in determining best practices and establishing robust frameworks and technological standards that implement strong security, safety and confidentiality principles. Machine learning algorithms, artificial intelligence, and automation will be critical for speeding up decision-making, eliminating the gap between detecting security incidents and mitigating them.

The 5G technology brings innumerable opportunities, but also risks. To exploit the benefits of this technology and to minimize the risks, technology leaders and cybersecurity experts need to work together, in order to have a safe and secure cyber environment.

*** I published the original article in Adevarul News: https://adevarul.ro/tech/internet/amenintarile-securitate-cibernetica-era-5g-1_5cf4e13f445219c57e61a887/index.html