The future of wireless network promises total connectivity but also holds cybersecurity and surveillance concerns
Smartphone users, businesses, and everyone in between appear to be excited about the idea of 5G, the next-generation wireless network technology. Smartphone manufacturers and mobile network operators around the globe are working fervently towards full 5G accessibility.
In fact, many renowned tech companies, including Samsung, have revealed their plans to release their 5G-based products and services by the end of 2019. The popular manufacturer has already fulfilled its 5G promise, launching the Samsung Galaxy S10 5G in some countries, including here in Australia.
Further, many carriers have reportedly started rolling out 5G to selected cities already, with extensive rollouts expected in 2020. In Australia, Telstra and Optus have made 5G a priority, and the network is already available in select suburbs with targets of a full roll out 2020.
Major global markets to launch 5G by 2020. Source
Though 5G is expected to bring ultra-fast speeds and very low to zero latency, experts have highlighted serious concerns associated with the new technology.
The cybersecurity threats of 5G
Huawei, a Chinese telecoms giant, had cornered about 30 percent of the global 5G market at the beginning of 2019, with revenue up 39% year-on-year. Despite facing partial bans in America, Australia, and New Zealand, the company has managed to settle 40 contracts to deliver 5G infrastructure around the world. The tech giant is expected to ship 100,000 base stations by mid-2019.
Recently, many cybersecurity experts and politicians, including Donald Trump, accused the company of being a conduit to Chinese intelligence, viewing their 5G endeavors as threats to both national and cyber security.
Similarly, the 5G technology in itself appears to bring many cybersecurity concerns. As more and more devices are powered by and connected with 5G, each becomes potential security vulnerabilities for more extensive networks. Many organizations will be required to modify or even restructure their cybersecurity strategies to prevent potential security threats.
Fundamentally, 5G is vulnerable to many potential risks, such as:
- Data security,
- Accessibility, and
The next-generation technology is expected to inherit untapped vulnerabilities of previous 3G and 4G network generations. In addition to these existing risks, 5G may introduce new security challenges.
Thus, regulators must emphasize the formation and enforcement of a consistent and coherent approach to security-by-design for 5G. The diversity of 5G applications introduces a need for a spectrum of reliable security solutions necessary to meet 5G use-cases.
5G networks and improved surveillance: A double edged sword
Fibre optic cable is not always a good option, either due to a limited budget or due to the difficulty in excavation. In these circumstances, a wireless network appears to be the only option. A wireless network can be installed easily and quickly, with minimal disturbance.
However, existing wireless security networks used to protect cities are over-burdened and highly-congested. Consumers and security devices rely on the same wireless frequencies despite having unique needs. A security network needs the highest level of connectivity, reliability, and speed. Downloading of high-definition movies and deployment of high-definition cameras and safe/smart city security applications add to the congestion. This adds more traffic to an already over-occupied network.
5G networks can resolve such problems of network congestion while introducing new opportunities to the security industry. This faster and more robust network will allow more connected and autonomous devices, faster video streaming, and better quality images.
The 5G system, which is based on millions of cell relays, sensors, and antennas, also offers extraordinary surveillance potential. Telecom companies already sell location data to marketers, and law enforcement uses similar data for tracking protesters. 5G will allow law enforcement gather information on exactly where someone has come from, where they are going, and what exactly they are doing.
For example, China has installed three hundred and fifty thousand 5G relays, which resulted in improved geolocation, paired with an expansive network of surveillance cameras. Each camera is equipped with facial-recognition technology and enables authorities to track and monitor whatever they are intended to.
Improved surveillance capabilities are good news in some cases. However, it’s also bad news for privacy concerns. The discussed ability to monitor citizens’ every move should be a concern for all; perhaps as much a concern as cyber and national security. In fact, the mere thought of such vast surveillance capabilities brings to mind vast possibilities of such surveillance falling into the wrong hands. With cyber-attacks growing rampant in recent years, one can easily imaging a scenario where surveillance infrastructure is hacked and used as a threat.
5G improves real-time surveillance. However, increased surveillance means reduced privacy. Source
Overall, though 5G holds the promise of super-fast network speeds and more connected devices, there are some concerns associated with it. In this case, it is ideal that the government, network carriers, and phone manufacturers come together to discuss these concerns and work collaboratively towards a solution.
The 5G network is yet to see a full roll out. As such, we can expect more security concerns and serious questions around this technology. Addressing these concerns now, in a proactive manner, is certainly a better approach than waiting for a full roll out.