The implementation of 5G, short for ‘the fifth generation’, has been the talk of the town for quite some time now. The majority of this conversation has been around bogus concerns (for example, the absolute nut-cases claiming that 5G implementation will give us all cancer and/or COVID-19). However, there is a legitimate area of concern surrounding this new generation of connectivity that no one seems to be talking about, and that’s security.
So, not one to let a topic go undiscussed, I’m here today to bring that concern to light.
First, What Is 5G And How Does It Work?
Let’s start at the very beginning (it is a very good place to start).
5G is the latest generation of wireless technology. The fact is that there have been many more than 5 iterations of wireless technology (particularly when it comes to speed improvements). However, the reason each new generation has been labeled as such is because a break-through in encoding methods (also known as “air interfaces”) has made this new iteration incompatible with the previous one.
There are three main kinds of 5G. These are known as low-band, mid-band, and high-band.
Operates solely in frequencies below 2GHz. These are the oldest frequencies (like the ones that OG cellular phones would have used). They can span distance, but they aren’t very wide, so low-band 5G is generally quite slow. At the moment, low-band 5G connection won’t feel any faster than the 4G connection you’re used to.
Operates solely in the 2–10GHz range. This covers some of the more modern cellular frequencies, as well as those that serve Wi-Fi. These frequencies can connect across a distance of about half a mile, so they carry most of the 5G traffic right now.
Also known as ‘millimeter-wave’, is the most impressive of the 5G types. It generally operates in the 20-100GHz range. These frequencies are far more short-range, but they have not been used for consumer products before, so there’s lots of room for speedy connectivity.
Am I Actually Experiencing 5G Right Now?
This is a tough one because the answer is both yes and no.
If your device is showing up a 5G connection, it is in fact connected to 5G, but the likelihood is that this is either low or mid-band, so it probably doesn’t feel much faster than 4G. In addition, the implementation of 5G does not mean 4G is off the table altogether. 5G devices still need 4G networks and coverage to work. At first, all 5G networks used 4G to establish their initial connections, but many connections are now moving away from this. However, right now, a combination of 4G and 5G links is proving best for connectivity and speed. So, it’s likely 4G will still be a part of our connectivity solution for a while yet.
What Are the Benefits?
There are five main reasons 5G has been so heavily hyped. These are as follows:
- Vaster channels (with the capacity to speed up data transfer)
- Lower latency (allowing connected devices to be more responsive)
- The ability to connect more devices at once
- Less interference
- Better efficiency
However, one of the most exciting applications of a 5G network will be in integrating the Internet of Things into our everyday lives. As 5G becomes more sophisticated and more widespread, we can expect to have a huge number of connected devices working in the same area, all connected through a reliable and uninterrupted source of wireless connectivity (the lovely 5G).
So Why Are We Worried About Security?
The problem with 5G is actually pretty simple. In all the excitement around getting 5G up and running, and deployed as quickly as possible for consumer use, some pretty obvious holes have been left in the solution’s security barriers.
According to a Forbes article I read pretty recently, the fact that 5G is able to rely on such a wide variety of virtual networks and RAN partitions might make it faster and more efficient, but it also produces far more space for cyber criminals to target. As the number of components increases, so does the complexity of a network’s supply chain. Complex supply chains provide an opportunity for experienced cyber criminals to exploit flaws left open by suppliers. Take the recent Kaseya attack, for example, where a hack into a supplier’s system caused an outage for clients across the globe. With 5G, the impact would be exponentially worse.
OK, Now I Am Scared. But Is There a Solution?
Despite network providers’ desperate attempts to speed ahead without considering the implications on their customer’s cyber security, there are some really clever people coming up with some solutions that could save us all. Arqit, for example, has developed a special ‘quantum encryption’ product that is capable of blanket securing our 5G connections. The relatively simple solution sits at all your network’s end points, encrypting your data to ensure that, even if it was hacked or stolen, it would be completely unreadable. Don’t ask me exactly how it works, all I know is that it means we can safely enjoy 5G connectivity without concerns that our personal data is going to become some cyber criminal’s light evening read.