5G Security Considerations for Security Providers

After years of buildup about the promise of blazing fast data speed on mobile networks enabled by new 5G technology, it’s here.

2020 marks the beginning of commercial rollouts by service providers. How will the demand for higher data connection speeds, lower latency services and the emergence of the internet of things (IoT) industry affect adoption rates? It depends on whom you ask.

Whatever the calculation, one thing is for sure: 5G technology forever changes expectations for the mobile network experience. All traffic is in the cloud, and computing elements and services are closer to the edge of the network, which improves performance and makes it easier for service providers to scale services.

New Challenges

Because of its distributed nature, the deployment of 5G networking infrastructures is dramatically different than previous generations of mobile networks. Service providers face new challenges in the move from a component-based topology to a service-based network.

For example, prior to 5G, mobile radio access and the core networks consisted of isolatable network elements with specific tasks. In 4G networks, a virtual evolved packet core (EPC) in the core of the network emerged. 5G takes it a step further by transforming all network components into virtual, microservice elements that are software-based, disaggregated and deployed in various locations.

[You may also like: Edge Computing, 5G & IoT: Risks and Opportunities for Service Providers]

The software-based, microservices architecture enables network slicing, the ability to isolate different services — each with its own parameters, setup and security policies — on one hardware element. The 5G network must be designed to support multiple security policies, segregated by slice on individual network components. The more slices, the more microservices and interface points in the network that are in turn exposed to the internet.

Traditional security methods with predefined rules, thresholds and manual setup and provisioning will not work in a 5G environment. Service providers need to automate operations and have a scalable infrastructure to manage policies, which will require DevOps capabilities. All security tools need to be automated for onboarding and deployment.

What’s more, 5G networks introduce new traffic patterns that run east/west toward applications. Thus, there is a need to inspect egress traffic. The number of inspection points increases dramatically not only from peering points but also from traffic at edge computing points and from other parts of the network.

6 Security Hurdles

In summary, service providers must consider six unique security threats when planning protection strategies for 5G networks:

  • Local breakout. Multiple edge points and types significantly increase exposure to attacks.
  • New traffic patterns. Mesh, east/west and internal traffic flows can carry attacks from one part of the network to another.
  • Network slicing. Each slice has its own threat risk that requires per-slice policies and a coherent defense strategy across all slices.

[You may also like: 5G: You Can Have Your Slice and Security Too!]

  • Public cloud edge. The shift in some areas of workload to the public cloud introduces new security concerns to service provider networks.
  • Botnet playground. IoT devices typically have low security measures embedded at endpoints, making them ideal launch points for coordinated malware attacks within and outside networks.
  • HTTP/2-based signaling. HTTP/2 protocol with JSON replaces Diameter and exposes APIs to wider base 6 of attackers.

Read “5G & IoT: Real-World Rollouts Launch New Opportunities and Security Threats” to learn more.

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