There is hardly any tech innovation in the last several decades that have caused as much excitement- and anxiety- as the 5G rollout. Anticipation has been building for years as the latest, fastest, most widespread mobile network begins to be adopted by users around the world. In 2019 there were less than 200 million 5G users worldwide. According to expert research, that number is expected to increase a huge amount, to reach 3.5 billion users around the world by 2026.
But alongside the excitement and hype, experts have cautioned against potential risks that the new network might present.
In this article, we will take a look at what 5G is, what kinds of risks it poses, and what measures are needed to keep networks and devices alike secure against these possible threats, as we work to assess whether or not 5G is secure.
What is 5G?
Any discussion of the potential risks and dangers posed by 5G must begin with an explanation of just what exactly 5G is. In short, it is a mobile data network that transmits data signals through cell phones, smartphones, and other devices. Each of the previous four networks expanded upon the level of connectivity provided by the one before it.
So, the main attraction of the 5G data network is the unprecedented level of connectivity it will provide. As 5G is released and adopted by more and more users worldwide, it will be used alongside the previous network, 4G, until it replaces the older network completely. The new 5G network is expected to update and address errors in connectivity particularly when it comes to the Internet of Things (IoT), and the smart tech gadgets that rely upon it.
The 5G network provides greater connectivity than 4G essentially by sending huge amounts of data over shorter distances. This approach helps to even out the data signal and speed up the overall network. More devices can sync to the network without complications or comprising the signal, and less energy is required to power the entire network because of new energy-efficient innovations.
What Risks Does 5G Present?
A more pervasive network of connectivity that helps power not only our personal Apps and phone calls, but also city-wide industries, presents more possibilities for cyberattacks. The widespread functions of the network greatly increase the need for new forms of cybersecurity to prevent hackers from gaining access to far-reaching networks. So, the 5G network itself could potentially put businesses, consumers, and even local and national governments in the line of danger.
Since the new network provides higher bandwidth and greater possibilities for connection, the security forces that already exist might be strained as they try to keep up with the increased demand. Unable to monitor a faster, broader network as effectively as a network with more limited capabilities, there may be more space for mistakes and for bad actors with malicious intent to slip between the cracks. Since the 5G network also has more data routing sites within shorter distances of each other, there will be more access points for cybersecurity forces to cover. And if one area of the data network is compromised, that can grant access to others, even where monitoring is secure.
Additionally, there is the added level of risk presented by the increased coverage and connection to smart tech devices. Many IoT gadgets do not come with embedded cybersecurity systems and most consumers will not consider or know how to implement their own cybersecurity to protect those devices. So, in an interconnected smart tech system that includes gadgets from a smart TV to a smart lock to an entire smart home hub, there could be any number of vulnerable sites of access. Which, again, could compromise a much larger area of data connection within the network, potentially revealing sensitive consumer, business, or government information to prying eyes.
What Measures Are Needed to Make 5G Secure?
First and foremost, to ensure that the 5G network is as secure as possible, the phone providers themselves should be focusing on creating and updating their network security measures. The better protected the network is from the corporate side, the more consumers and businesses alike will be secure from any potential threats.
At the level of individual devices, manufacturers should install extra security measures on any devices that sync with the data network. Individual consumers should be taught about the potential risks of smart home devices as well as how to protect their smartphones, tablets, and home internet networks.
For individual consumers, there are added safety measures that can easily be implemented, all of which can help make the 5G network more secure. Using a Virtual Private Network, or VPN, can help prevent hackers from accessing sensitive information through online portals, such as log-in details, financial information, or physical addresses. Installing ad-blockers and anti-virus software can help prevent spyware, malware, and other malicious software from accidentally being downloaded on personal devices. And even something as simple as changing the password and username as soon as you receive a smart tech device can go a long way towards thwarting cyberattacks on 4G and 5G alike.
So, Is it Secure?
So, given all of this information, is 5G secure? The answer is, we don’t really know. Cell phone companies are putting measures in place to amp up the cybersecurity of their networks, and consumer education is increasingly available about how to thwart potential cybersecurity threats. But it will remain to be seen whether the precautions that have been taken are enough.
As the 5G rollout continues to build momentum in the coming years, we will be able to better assess whether or not the innovations and possibilities this latest and greatest network provides outweigh the risks. In the meantime, shoring up personal devices and home networks is the smartest way to prevent possible risks and keep your own systems secure.