Guest Column | June 5, 2024

Mastering 5G Reliability: Safeguarding Your Network Infrastructure

Emily Newton, Revolutionized

By Emily Newton

GettyImages-1460212484 5G tower data

5G promises unprecedented speed, lower latency, and more capabilities to support new and emerging technologies. However, protecting the 5G network infrastructure brings additional cybersecurity challenges, requiring operators and other communications industry professionals to plan additional safeguards. Having the dangers of the 5G infrastructure explained in clear language allows proactivity and avoids vulnerabilities.

5G Infrastructure Explained: What Are The New Risks?

Since this network technology is relatively new, some people — even those within the telecommunications sector — need the security particulars of 5G infrastructure explained to them so they can compare the differences. The first thing to note is that the network has many underlying characteristics of communications technologies before it. That means people can keep applying the security best practices they know and get effective results using 5G networks.

However, additional risks associated with 5G necessitate expanding awareness and understanding why cybercriminals will target the network and devices connected to it. What makes the infrastructure such an enticing prospect?

The 5G network expands the overall attack surface, giving cybercriminals more opportunities to wreak havoc. It is a twofold problem due to the substantially increased capacity and compatibility with more devices.

Many mobile phone manufacturers offer 5G-ready smartphones, so consumers can use the network after purchasing SIM cards for those devices. People using 5G also enjoy improved performance when using connected products at home and work.

Additionally, most marketing materials discuss the network's advantages without mentioning the cybersecurity risks. However, once people have 5G network infrastructure explained to them and understand the various components that hackers could infiltrate, they realize the necessity of taking appropriate precautions.

Another challenge is that many people using the 5G network still need to partially depend on legacy infrastructure. The transition away from it takes time to complete, so hackers may focus on known, unpatched vulnerabilities in older systems to break into an upgraded network.

A 2022 study on 5G infrastructure explained that these are not hypothetical risks. The research showed participating communication service providers reported between one and six 5G network breaches in the past year. Now is the time to act and prevent future issues.

Consider Hiring A Consultant

A significant difference between 5G network infrastructure and earlier options is that the former is more software-based in design and execution. Although that increases flexibility, it also creates opportunities for cybercriminals.

Chris Gehlen is the CEO of Neutroon, which provides a platform for private 5G connectivity and edge computing. He says businesses and other users can create compositions of microservices rather than choosing single solutions to meet their needs. What that means for the 5G infrastructure is that each component becomes something for cybercriminals to attack.

He recommends hiring a consultant or specialized vendor to assess current and future security needs, network uses, and other specifics. Gehlen also cautions against the organizational silos that can stifle communications and hinder coordination. An external consultant offers fresh perspectives for dealing with internal barriers or preventing future issues.

Protect The Physical 5G Network Infrastructure

Security measures must account for the physical equipment that makes the network function. Vandalism, fires, natural disasters, and temperature extremes could all compromise the tangible parts of a 5G network. Some experts suggest using equipment to achieve in-building connectivity for critical facilities, such as data centers. One possibility is to install on-site distributed antenna systems, which connect to mobile network operators’ signal sources to provide connectivity through the walls.

Social engineering also poses security risks for internal equipment. Suppose the imposter asks a worker to hold a secured door for them or otherwise circumvents security precautions. In that case, that perpetrator takes advantage of how most strangers show small kindnesses to others.

People designing the physical 5G network infrastructure should prioritize productivity as appropriate, especially when giving authorized personnel easy access to stored paperwork, spare parts, or other essentials. For example, full-extension drawer slides allow people to open a compartment to 100% of its length to grab things quickly. A smart approach is to use multilayered safeguards to keep unauthorized people out of sensitive infrastructure but emphasize user-friendliness for those who pass security checks.

Use Network Monitoring Technologies

Knowing what happens on a 5G network is the first step to understanding abnormalities. Preventing cyberattacks and downtime means using robust monitoring measures. Such practices allow leaders to detect suspicious traffic patterns or other potential signs of infiltration.

Tweaking the technology to reduce the number of false positives is also essential because such alerts could result in IT teams not taking genuine threats seriously. That happened when professionals were warned at least five times of a breach at retailer Target but ignored them for months.

Some professionals are considering innovative ways to increase network visibility without causing alert fatigue in security professionals. One example comes from a branch of the Indian Institute of Technology, which will work with a government body to build AI frameworks that automatically manage a 5G network and detect faults.

Another possibility is to create a digital twin showing all external and internal parts of the 5G infrastructure, including the most likely components for adversaries to target. It allows people to run simulations on existing or future network versions, letting them assess which areas already uphold security best practices versus those needing urgent improvements.

Study The Evolving Situation

Communications technology professionals can apply these tips to protect network infrastructure as the 5G rollout continues. They must also stay aware of newly identified threats or expert perspectives. Cybersecurity professionals and other interested parties continually look for real or theoretical vulnerabilities, alerting their peers and other relevant individuals about their findings. Paying attention to those developments enables industry insiders to respond quickly to reinforce their networks and keep them operating smoothly.

The 5G network simultaneously offers exciting opportunities and potential threats. Staying on top of matters sets the stage for businesses to capitalize on innovative use cases, whether providing better connectivity to customers or exploring how capabilities align with new business needs. The newer infrastructure is nothing to fear, but professionals must think creatively about keeping it well-protected and highly functional for the foreseeable future.