Is 5G safe? Your cybersecurity questions answered

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Most of us are familiar with 3G or 4G thanks to our smartphones, but you might be wondering why there’s so much debate around 5G. In short, this new network is set to be the fastest and most efficient one yet, and have a huge impact on how we all do business.

But by creating a smarter and more connected world, the network does raise 5G security challenges.

We asked the experts at ESET to explain the benefits and drawbacks of 5G, and how it’s set to change the way we approach cybersecurity.

What is 5G, and what will 5G do?

In a nutshell, 5G (or fifth-generation) is an advanced wireless network technology that’s set to replace 4G. It’s an ecosystem that includes all the radio frequencies, data exchanges and technical components involved in mobile communications.

It’s impressive because it aims to transmit data and communication three times faster than its predecessor, which is a dramatic difference! While 5G is slowly being introduced around the world (like with some phone companies in the US), it’s an expensive and lengthy process. That’s why many countries are racing to be the first to roll it out nationwide. 

There are a few other benefits to the 5G network:

  • It’s mostly an all-software network. This means future upgrades will be software updates, similar to the ones that pop up on your phone and computer.
  • It has the ability to expand and impact all industries. 5G has the capacity to connect more people and devices, and boost communication between countries. For example, it could connect to self-driving cars, make “smart” factories a thing and even allow a surgeon to operate on a patient in a different country!
  • It has a low latency of 1 millisecond. Users will experience fewer lags and delays when they’re accessing data (like websites) through 5G networks.
  • It has a data range of 1 to 20 gigabytes per second. 5G will allow users to download huge amounts of content quickly. To give you an idea of just how fast that is, you should be able to download full-length movies in a matter of seconds.

5G-cybersecurity hub

Is 5G safe?

Since 5G is a completely new infrastructure, it complicates cybersecurity even more. We don’t know all of the potential 5G security threats but we have already identified a few ways 5G networks are more vulnerable to cyberattacks.

These are the main security issues with the 5G network.

#1 It attaches tens of billions of hackable smart devices to the IoT

5G will also make it easier for those hackable devices to connect and communicate with each other. But on the flipside, this means that cybercriminals have more avenues to launch an attack, and if they’re successful, they could hack into multiple devices at once. They could also use the IoT to identify insecure devices to plant exploitation software.

To prevent this kind of unauthorised access, companies will need to kit out their IoT devices with more sophisticated authentication systems and security controls.

#2 5G network no longer uses centralised, hardware-based switching

With current networks, all traffic passes through a central hub with the help of hardware. This limits how much data can enter the network and requires data to pass an inspection of sorts before it can go through the gate.

5G has moved towards distributed, software-defined digital routing. Previous networks had hub-and-spoke designers, so everything came to “hardware chokepoints.” This made it easier for administrators to block data that failed to pass security tests.

But with 5G, all of that activity is pushed to a web of digital routers throughout the network, stripping away chokepoint inspections and opening up data entry points. Without those security controls, it’s harder to identify and block malicious data. Cyber experts will need to think of new ways to implement cyber hygiene and protect their devices and data.

#3 It’s made high-level network functions virtual

With 3G and 4G, most high-level network functions were performed by physical appliances, which are harder to hack. 5G has now virtualized all of those tasks, meaning that the network is managed by software.

If a cybercriminal can figure out how to control the software managing the network, they’ll have an all-access pass to the network itself.

#4 It has drastically expanded bandwidth

Finally, 5G networks will increase bandwidth in a big way, which will benefit users who want to download massive amounts of data. But 5G is so fast that it allows data transfers that are quicker than our current systems can handle.

The result? Less secure networks, and more chances for cybercriminals to execute a cyberattack.

Planet Earth at night

How to approach your cybersecurity

As you’ve probably guessed, the 5G rollout will require a new approach to cybersecurity. The good news is, we can manage the risks of this emerging technology with little know-how on our side.

To make 5G safer to use, consider these 5G security solutions:

  • Invest in new security technologies. 5G will unveil a new set of vulnerabilities and technologies to match. It’s important to invest in the latest software to ensure you’re not vulnerable. Good cybersecurity systems don’t come cheap, but losing your data can often cost a company more. The key is to be proactive and invest in cybersecurity upfront as opposed to scrambling to recover from a cyberattack later.
  • Improve the security of your connected devices. Thanks to 5G’s higher bandwidth, IoT devices will need full-featured, endpoint protection. ESET Internet Security and ESET Smart Security Premium are dedicated IoT endpoint security solutions that will monitor and identify 5G security threats, and respond by taking remote action.
  • Stay on top best practices. As 5G evolves, so do the cybersecurity guidelines. Continue to educate yourself, train your staff and implement new best practices as you learn more about the cyber risks of 5G.

Protect your data with ESET’s security software

The 5G rollout is an exciting development, but unlike all new technology, it comes with its fair share of risks. To protect your data and devices, browse ESET’s security software online to find the best home security solution.


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