5G security enhancements take aim at emerging threats

While complex 5G networks present an expanded threat surface for potential security attacks, enhancements in the next-generation technology also provide transformational security safeguards, according to 5G Americas president Chris Pearson.

“This current 5G generation is a bit different because, compared to those before, 5G networks are not just about being faster, bigger and better,” wrote Pearson in a blog post. “They’re also about managing a colossal ecosystem of different services, applications and uses.”

5G Americas, along with project leaders from AT&T and Cisco, released a white paper (PDF) Wednesday detailing 5G security threats, enhancements and standards development meant to handle more stringent protections that will be required by new services and applications.

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Pearson pointed to V2X technologies as an example, which will have real-time security requirements that greatly differ from a network slice mainly managing video conferencing.

When it comes to networks involving the Internet of Things (IoT), many layers are vulnerable as potential targets of security attacks, including service, application, node/platform, network/transport, or the IoT device itself, according to the group.

Built upon and compatible with key functions and frameworks developed in 4G standards, 5G security standards being developed by 3GPP include safeguards for encryption, authentication, integrity protection, privacy and network availability.

Specific 5G security enhancements, according to 5G Americas, include:

  • Unified authentication framework that enables seamless mobility across different access technologies and support of concurrent connections
  • User privacy protection for vulnerable information often used to identify and track subscribers
  • Secure Service-Based Architecture and slice isolation, optimizing security that prevents threats from spreading to other network slices
  • Native support for secure steering of roaming (SoR), allowing operators to steer customers to preferred partner networks, which improves customer experience, reduces roaming charges, and prevents roaming fraud
  • Improved SS7 and Diameter protocols for roaming
  • Improved rogue base station detection and mitigation
  • Additional proprietary operator and vendor analytics for more layers of security

“5G doesn’t just provide incremental improvements to security, it provides new transformational security safeguards to protect networks, devices, services and customers,” wrote Pearson.

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While network slicing in 5G could potentially expand the attack surface, 5G safeguards also offer security isolation, which ensures a specific network slice can be quarantined if necessary.

“Moving to network slicing and Massive IoT, the threat surface becomes broader, requiring even more vigilance with the proliferation of the massive quantity of devices and sensors,” Pearson said in a statement.