- The added complexity of 5G increases the risk of attack surface and makes it more difficult to secure the network
- Securing 5GC, which performs functions including managing access, authenticating devices and subscription management, is very vital to the security requirement of 5G
- Security should be built into the network from inception of deployment up to final setup, rather than being an afterthought or a reactive action
- Governments typically should have regulations in place to ensure that 5G networks are secure and resilient, and that they can be effectively managed during times of crisis
The 5G rollout is no longer news, but following up on what it brings and its current state is the news.
This curiosity led me to Information Security professionals with vast knowledge in the field, including the Telecommunications Industry, Cyber and Physical Security in Industrial Automation and Control Systems.
The conversation initiated some interesting facts and touching on the network itself, the challenges it poses, current status in Nigeria, Africa and the world at large, as well as legislations and measures involved, Samuel Ubido and Engr. Michael Dazhi gave in-depth details in various aspects:
In a definitive approach, explain 5G in the simplest form
5G is the fifth generation of mobile communication technology. It is designed to be faster and more efficient than the previous generations of mobile communication technologies such as 4G, 3G and 2G.
In terms of Speed, 5G networks can transmit data at a higher speed compared to 4G networks, allowing for faster download and better streaming of high-definition videos. Latency is the time it takes for a unit of data to travel from one point to another, 5G networks have lower latency compared to other generations of technology including 4G.
“This means data can be transmitted and received faster, which is a vital requirement for applications like online gaming and virtual reality. 5G has higher connection density, making it capable of supporting many more connected devices at once”, Samuel Ubido said.
Expatiate on the cyber security challenges of 5G
The deployment of 5G networks brings with it a number of cybersecurity challenges. A few of these challenges are further elaborated.
According to Samuel, “In terms of complexity, 5G networks are more complex than previous generations of mobile technologies, with a larger number of connected devices and a wider range of use cases. This added complexity increases the risk of attack surface and makes it more difficult to secure the network. Furthermore, 5G networks are designed to be highly interconnected, with connections between devices, networks, and services.
“The increased interconnectedness also increases the risk of a security breach, as a vulnerability in one device or network could potentially be used to gain access to many others. In addition, 5G networks will include more edge computing capabilities – edge computing refers to processing data at the edge of the network, closer to the device or user.
“This feature can increase the security risks because it might not be easily controlled by a centralized authority. With the increasing support for Bring Your Own Device (BYOD) and the Internet of Things (IoT) in 5G, there is a higher risk of malicious devices connecting to the network, which could be used to launch attacks. Moreso, there is the risk of Distributed Denial of Service (DDoS) attacks, these types of attacks occur when multiple devices are used to flood a network or website with traffic, effectively blocking legitimate users from accessing it. 5G is expected to introduce new use-case applications, such as autonomous vehicles, telemedicine and virtual reality.
“The security of these applications will be important in order to secure the systems and user privacy. The 5G network has a new and different architecture compared to other generations including 4G, especially the new 5G core network (5GC). Securing this 5GC which performs functions including managing access, authenticating devices and subscription management is very vital to the security requirement of 5G”, he explained.
What are the best practices of the framework used to secure 5G Globally?
In his response to this question, Samuel said, “Securing 5G networks is a complex task that involves a number of different methodologies, technologies and practices. There are some global best practices and frameworks that can be used to help secure 5G networks. One important best practice is to use security by design. This means the security should be built into the network from inception of deployment up to final setup, rather than being an afterthought or a reactive action.
“This includes using secure protocols and encryption for all communications, as well as implementing security features such as firewalls, intrusion detection and prevention systems, and access control strategies. Secondly, another best practice is to use a risk-based approach to security strategy.
“This means that the potential risks to the network should be identified and mitigated, rather than trying to secure the entire network against all possible threats. This approach allows organizations to focus their resources on the areas of the network that are most at risk and to continuously assess and adjust the security measures deployed. Furthermore, an important best practice is to have a robust incident response plan.
“This involves a process for detecting and responding to security incidents, as well as a means for communicating with other organizations and authorities. In addition, many standardization bodies have developed security frameworks for the 5G network, including the NIST Cybersecurity Framework (NCSF), developed by the National Institute of Standards and Technology, it provides a set of guidelines and best practices for organizations to use in order to improve their cybersecurity posture. Other standardization organizations also developing the 5G security framework are the European Telecommunications Standards Institute (ETSI) and 3rd Generation Partnership Project (3GPP).
“The frameworks are designed to help organizations understand and manage the risks associated with 5G networks and to ensure that the networks are as secure as possible. Furthermore, 5G security standards are now following the regulations of national level cyber-security laws and standards for example, the UK’s National Cyber Security Centre (NCSC) has released a set of guidelines for secure deployment and operations of 5G networks.
What is the current status of the 5G roll out in Nigeria?
The Nigerian Communications Commission (NCC), which is the telecommunications industry regulator, conducted a forum for all stakeholders in 2018 to develop a regulatory framework for the roll-out of 5G technology.
NCC went ahead to allocate spectrum for 5G services, and mobile network operator – MTN Nigeria – performed 5G testing campaigns.
MTN Nigeria performed testing of 5G, first in West Africa, in some cities which includes Abuja, Calabar and Abeokuta on 3.5GHz and 26GHz spectrum.
In September 2021, the National Policy on 5G Networks and deployment was approved by the Nigerian federal executive council. These among others paved the way for the first auction of 5G licenses by NCC, this auction was performed in December 2021; two operators Mafab Communications and MTN Nigeria won the licenses for the two slots of 100 MHz of 3.5GHz spectrum.
According to the information memorandum, the winners are expected to commence roll-out of 5G services from August 2022.
MTN has started rolling out 5G in Nigeria eight months after securing the license while Mafab has yet to commence due. In fact, this January is the deadline for extension of service rollout granted the ‘operator’ by the NCC.
Could you tell us about the current status of the 5G roll out in Africa as a whole?
5G rollouts in Africa are still in the early stages. While a few countries on the continent have launched 5G services, they are currently limited in terms of coverage and availability. South Africa is one of the countries that has launched 5G services.
In 2020, the country’s main telecom operators, Vodacom and MTN, launched their 5G networks in select areas of the country.
The South African government has also auctioned off spectrum for 5G use, and it is expected that more operators will begin to roll out 5G services in the coming years.
MTN Nigeria began 5G trials in some Nigerian cities in early 2020 and commercialized in 2022, Safaricom in Kenya also began roll-out of 5G in 2022. Ethiopia, Botswana, Seychelles and Zimbabwe have also launched 5G. Other countries in Africa such as Egypt, Gabon and Ghana are still performing trials. ‘
However, in many other African countries, the roll-out is yet to take place. In some countries, the roll-out is dependent on the availability of spectrum and the regulatory and policy frameworks are yet to be put in place.
A major hurdle to the 5G rollout in Africa is the lack of infrastructure and the high cost of building 5G networks. The infrastructure needed for 5G, such as fiber-optic cables and small cell towers, is expensive and may be difficult to deploy in some rural and remote areas. Additionally, many African countries lack the necessary spectrum for 5G, and the process of allocating it can be slow and bureaucratic.
What is the legislation in place for the 5G roll out?
The roll-out of 5G technology is still ongoing and different countries have their own legislation and regulations in place to govern it. However, in general, there are several key areas that 5G legislation typically covers.
“First is spectrum allocation,” said Michael Dazhi, a Communications Engineer, Scholar and Entrepreneur. “5G technology requires a large amount of bandwidth, and governments must determine how to allocate the available spectrum for various uses, including 5G. Governments typically should have regulations in place to ensure that 5G networks are secure and resilient, and that they can be effectively managed during times of crisis. In the area of cybersecurity and with the increasing excitement on 5G networks, there is a growing concern about cyber threats and attacks.
“Governments must have regulations in place to ensure that 5G networks are protected against security threats. In addition, governments should have regulations in place to ensure that different 5G networks are able to communicate with one another, and to encourage competition among providers.
“Furthermore, governments can have regulations in place to ensure that personal data is protected, and that consumers have control over how their data is used. It is critical to note that 5G legislation is also close to broader technology, telecommunications and security regulations within each country. Also, some countries have taken extra caution on 5G rollout and national security, such as ban on equipment from certain vendors, or special review on national security concerns on roll-out of the 5G network”.
What do you think Nigeria needs to do to ensure the rollout is secure in terms of infrastructure and also for the users? What is the role of the Government and that of Citizens?
“The rollout of 5G technology in Nigeria, as with any other country, will require significant infrastructure investments, as well as the implementation of robust security measures to protect both the network and its users.
“From an infrastructure perspective, the government will need to work with telecommunications companies to ensure that the necessary infrastructure is in place to support the deployment of 5G networks. This may include the construction of new cellular towers and the upgrading of existing infrastructure to support faster speeds and more capacity.
“While in terms of security, the government will need to establish regulations and guidelines to ensure that the networks and devices that connect to them are secure. This could include measures such as mandatory cybersecurity testing for all devices that connect to the network, as well as regular security audits of the network itself. Additionally, the government may need to work with international partners to share information about potential threats and vulnerabilities in order to stay ahead of emerging security risks.
“For the role of citizens, they also have a part to play in ensuring the security of 5G networks and devices. One way they can do this is by being vigilant about the security of their own devices and being careful about the types of apps and websites they access. Citizens should also be aware of potential phishing scams or other types of cyber-attacks, and report any suspicious activity to the appropriate authorities.
“Another important role for citizens in keeping the network infrastructure safe is by reporting any damages or suspicious activities around the network infrastructures. Overall, the rollout of 5G in Nigeria will require a collaborative effort between the government, telecommunications companies, and citizens. Through careful planning, investment in infrastructure, and the implementation of robust security measures, it will be possible to deploy 5G networks in Nigeria that are both fast and secure”, he said.
How will regulations help Nigeria get the best from 5G?
Michael also said that regulations can play a critical role in helping Nigeria to fully realize the potential benefits of 5G technology. For instance, in spectrum allocation, one of the key challenges in deploying 5G networks is allocating the necessary spectrum to support the technology.
“By creating a regulatory framework that clearly defines how spectrum will be allocated and managed, the government can help ensure that the spectrum needed for 5G is available to service providers. Another critical area is security and privacy, 5G networks will be used to support a wide range of critical applications, such as healthcare and transportation that will require robust security and privacy protections.
“Regulations can help to ensure that the networks and devices that support these applications are designed and deployed in a way that protects user data and keeps it secure.
In the area of infrastructure deployment, 5G networks require a significant amount of infrastructure to be deployed, such as small cells and antennas. Regulations can help to streamline the process of deploying this infrastructure by setting clear guidelines for how and where it can be installed”, he said.
Finally, by encouraging competition among service providers, it can help to drive innovation and keep prices low. Regulation can help to ensure that there is a level playing field for all providers, by preventing any single provider from dominating the market.
Similarly, regulations can also allow a level-playing field for startups and entrepreneurs to innovate and capitalize on opportunities arising from 5G technologies, thus creating new jobs and economic growth.
There have been arguments about 5G and radiation. Every study supports that 5G is safe, but is there something to fear about 5G?
The scientific consensus is that 5G is safe for human use. The World Health Organization (WHO) and the International Commission on Non-Ionizing Radiation Protection (ICNIRP) have both stated that the levels of radio frequency (RF) radiation emitted by 5G networks are well below the levels that can cause harm to human health. In addition, many national and international bodies, such as the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and the European Commission, have also concluded that 5G is safe.
Nonetheless, it is worth noting that 5G networks use higher frequency bands (mmWave) than previous generations of mobile networks, and this has raised concerns about the potential health effects of these higher frequency bands. However, research has found that the energy levels of mmWave used for 5G is so low that it does not pose any risk to human health.
Studies have indicated that the RF radiation emitted by 5G networks is not strong enough to cause ionization, which is the process that can lead to cancer. It is worth noting that despite the overall conclusion that 5G is safe, there have been concerns raised by some individuals and groups about the potential health effects of 5G.
However, these concerns have largely been based on misinformation and misunderstandings about the technology. It is important to rely on scientific research and the opinions of reputable organizations in determining the safety of 5G.