5G is everywhere. It is not the actual network itself, as it is only available sparingly in some areas but instead, let's talk about how our lives are going to change. Who needs to go to a hospital when your doctor can operate from anywhere? Traffic jams?
They will disappear once we all have self-driving cars that talk to the network and each other.
But, can this all indeed be done securely?
To explain, let’s go back in time just a bit. The whole reason for the development of the Internet by the US Military was to create (this quote is from the New York Times) “a reliable network out of unreliable parts.” The Internet was built with many checks and balances to ensure that your data always made it safely to the other side during times of disaster. However, this left open many security flaws that are still being exploited today.
The original network was not designed for billions of access points and billions of users, most of which are far from technically inclined. By default, the Internet is a “dirty network.” Sure, we have taken precautions, such as data encryption, to ensure that you can safely send your credit card information to Amazon, but what about the network itself?
Take a significant electrical grid that covers a city. The manufacturers of the different hardware components and the utility can take precautions to protect the security of the data. But, can they prevent every attempt to take over the network itself? This network would have thousands of entry points, whether put in intentionally or not.
This is a considerable threat.
The threat becomes worse when you think of the possible widespread nature of “planted backdoors.” The theory is that many governments could demand that manufacturers put in a backdoor in their equipment to allow them to manipulate a device or even the entire network. While this is dangerous during peacetime, it is downright scary during a time of war; taking over financial, power and security systems would weaken your enemy.
So, how does 5G play into this?
Before 5G, most cellular data network traffic was user-centric; you looked up information on the Internet, posted stuff on social media or sent the e-mail.
While machines did talk to each other, they did so at nowhere near the frequency that we expect to happen on 5G.
It is anticipated that billions of devices will talk to each other in an effort to automate everyday life more.
How can we possibly secure each device and the network that they run on?
Naturally, you can’t. This is the dilemma of securing 5G or any network of its size. Sure, there are things you can do to protect your device, but ultimately, if there is a backdoor into your device, it could be moot.
We need to be diligent about inspections of factories and products, and we need to put pressure on all parties (network providers, device manufacturers and software providers) to look harder for security flaws and increase penalties for failing to do so. Finally, as consumers, you need to ensure that you are enabling all security features and encryption and only buying popular products- but will that be enough?