5G has taken the world by storm. With applications ranging from telemedicine to powering smart cities, governments worldwide are looking to get a slice of the 5G pie.

But with these new opportunities comes new threats as well: 5G could also leave systems exposed and vulnerable to attacks. What are some weak links that these networks could present, and how can governments secure their systems?

Vladimir Yordanov, Senior Director of Solution Engineering at Gigamon, explains the cybersecurity challenges that 5G brings to governments.

More data swamping the system

5G is not just a faster version of 4G. In addition to super-high data rates, higher device density, better quality of service and very low latency, it brings new technologies and services such as Multiaccess Edge Computing (MEC), enhanced security, advanced virtual architecture, network slicing etc. As a result, we will likely depend on 5G far more than we ever did with previous communications systems. Hospitals, factories, transportation, businesses and critical infrastructure will all rely on 5G for data connectivity, and this in turn will transform user behaviors, business models and networks infrastructures.

As 5G brings about dramatic improvements in network speed and bandwidth, security systems have to evolve to evaluate security threats just as quickly. “At 100Gbps, from the beginning to the end of a standard network packet, 6.7 nanosecond. Which means that a single 100-gigabit per second packet of data has to be processed for 6.7 nanoseconds,” Yordanov says.

In this time, “the system needs to open it, read it, understand what it is, see whether there’s something in it, and decide what to do.” This problem is only going to get bigger, he continues. “There is a gap that is opening in terms of how fast you are, and how smart you can be in terms of processing.”

Indeed, higher speeds from 5G will exponentially expand the potential for IoT. But attaching tens of billions of hackable smart devices to networks also leaves systems vulnerable to attacks. “When you have manufacturing information, public transportation information traversing over 5G networks, you need to make sure that is secure, that you have complete visibility and that you know what’s going on,” says Yordanov. With any failures at that level, the consequences will be much more dramatic.

Take, for example, a cyber attack-induced failure in a train signalling system, or a disruption to a network for driverless cars. “These types of situations are going to be more and more prevalent with 5G,” Yordanov cautions.

More points of attack

5G will allow diverse and large number of devices and networks to communicate and exchange data with one and other. These multitude of benefits come at a risk. Large number of devices, high connection speeds, low latency, large quantities of data and information, new services and architectures – all this increases the network attack surface and the risk of cybersecurity attack. This arguably means that the attackers will have more potential entry points to exploit to try to enter the 5G network and to inflict damage such as: data extraction, unauthorized configurations, unauthorized data modifications, services disruptions and so on.

One of 5G’s most radical innovations is ‘virtualisation’, a process which allows different virtual networks to be created on top of a single physical 5G network. This also allows operators to “slice” their physical network into multiple virtual ones, each configured with custom parameters to efficiently meet the requirements of specific applications.

However, network slicing introduces new security questions. Previously, network processes were centralised into hardware ‘choke points’, where security efforts could be concentrated. Network virtualisation does away with this, making it harder for security teams to collect and inspect data traffic.

Furthermore, where operators had to configure a single network, they will have to configure many separate slices, each with differing service requirements. With this complexity comes an increased chance for a security oversight — especially if the 5G network is shared among several mobile operators.

These 5G-related security issues “are just going to multiply,” Yordanov notes. “So when [features like virtualisation] get adopted and become prevailing, the need for visibility and processing is going to be even greater than it is right now.”

Vulnerable international entry points

Even when cybersecurity attacks are focused in specific countries, they often “originate from somewhere else,” says Yordanov. The international nature of cyber crime is not a new problem, but 5G-induced increases in data traffic further raise security concerns.

This problem is compounded by the current lack of a unified international approach to cyber crime. Governments today have limited “cooperation with their counterparts”, Yordanov observes. Collaboration in terms of sharing information on the latest threats, reporting incidents and sharing best practices in cyberattack responses remain sluggish.

As massive amounts of bandwidth enter and leave countries, it becomes even more important for governments to work with telecommunications providers to strengthen entry points in countries’ digital infrastructure, Yordanov says.

A data filter to reduce the load on security systems

Tighter, smarter security is the only way forward. The Gigamon Visibility and Analytics Fabric can help governments secure their systems through intelligent threat detection.

Gigamon helps to optimise security analysis by ensuring that “the right traffic is sent to the right tools” from the get-go. The solution filters and removes “all of the unnecessary traffic” from systems that are “very easily oversubscribed and overloaded,” Yordanov explains. Data can hence be analysed and processed thoroughly, yet efficiently.

This enables organisations to increase the capacity of their services quickly, without needing to make a major investment into their security infrastructure. These features have allowed customers to save up to 50 per cent in hardware and software costs after deploying Gigamon solutions, while experiencing an increase of up to 50per cent in the efficiency of security, detection and prevention tools.

As 5G ushers in a wave of new services, governments must heighten their security awareness too. Investing in a comprehensive network monitoring solution is a crucial way to keep systems safe