The Ultimate Guide to 5G Signaling Security

5 min read

As the early adoption rates continue to rise, 5G is projected to raise the global GDP by 1% in the next ten years. This statistic represents massive economic growth, mainly due to the impact 5G networks will have on connectivity within organizations. 

With increased speed, more comprehensive coverage reduced latency, and increased support for applications such as cellular IoT, 5G will revolutionize the world of corporate networks. But for 5G to deliver on these promises, ensuring the network is secure is critical.
Attacks can disrupt the service and cause significant revenue loss, service delays, and damage to an organization’s reputation. Increasing reliance on networks to maintain high productivity and efficiency introduces new security concerns

 

Why Are 5G Networks Still Vulnerable to Signaling Attacks? 

As organizations grow more reliant on fast and reliable connectivity, 5G networks will soon become the standard for all organizations. Unfortunately, like any network, 5G comes with potential security risks.
As a relatively new development in mobile networks, many of the security threats organizations encounter when implementing 5G will be unique and sophisticated, making increasingly innovative and more advanced security solutions a high priority. Attackers are constantly creating new signaling attacks to breach networks’ security, and many of these attacks are successful. 

Organizations embracing 5G implementation are encountering it for the first time, and many lack awareness of the potential security risks. 5G may be significantly more secure than the generations that came before it, but it still has intrinsic security threats and is vulnerable to both new and old threats.

Some of the challenges rising with the popularity of 5G are that mobile protocols didn’t prioritize security until relatively recently, as mobile attacks were still rare. In addition, older generations of mobile technology were harder to infiltrate, meaning that focusing on securing the protocols was unnecessary. 

Today’s technology, including 5G, is IP-based but still uses inherited security protocols from old tech, making it far more vulnerable to signaling attacks. This means that it’s not just new attacks putting the security of 5G at risk. Much of the legacy technology used to develop the new network has left it vulnerable to older forms of signaling attacks. In addition, the extra services and features of 5G, while convenient, also create a broader attack surface for attackers to access. 

Criminals can exploit many inherited weaknesses to access a network and levy signaling attacks against it. These attacks may be used to bring the network down entirely or gain access to the information or resources it contains. Either way, cybercriminals are well aware of the vulnerabilities inherent to 5G networks and are eager to exploit them – at your organization’s cost.

Known Signaling Attack Vectors on 5G Networks

With 5G still vulnerable to many signaling attacks, both old and new, it’s critical to remain up to date and aware of the attack vectors hackers may use to bring down your network and steal user data. Although many attack vectors apply to private networks, this list will focus on more general attack vectors common to all 5G networks. 

 

Some of the most glaring vulnerabilities hackers can use as an attack vector to perform signaling attacks include:

New Architecture

We’ve briefly touched on how some of the legacy technology 5G has inherited from its predecessors leaves it open to attack, but the problems caused by the mix of technologies go deeper than that.
When it comes to networks, new developments are usually layered over the old protocols as opposed to replacing them, and this system has mostly worked so far. But 5G represents a significant change to the wireless network world.
Unlike previous networks, 5G networks are almost entirely software-based but still use security protocols inherited from their hardware-based forebears. As a result, network functions previously defined in hardware become virtual software capabilities in 5G. Unfortunately, this amplifies the risk of new vulnerabilities appearing in parts of the network’s architecture that was not previously exposed. 

Additionally, 5G’s move toward software-defined routing, in which most of the activity is pushed through a network of digital routers, creates more software vulnerabilities by making monitoring more complex. It makes choke-point inspection impossible and gives signal attackers easy access to the network and all the information it contains.  

DSP and GTP Protocols

One specific protocol which puts 5G networks at risk is the DSP (diameter signaling protocol). The DSP is inherently flawed and inadequate for defending 5G networks against most forms of attack. The greatest threat facing 5G, which can easily be implemented by circumventing the DSP, is a DOS (denial of service) attack. Still, other potential signaling attacks include subscriber information theft, fraud, and network overload.
One of the DSP’s flaws is its failure to check the network subscribers’ location or the origin of the signaling messages they receive. This leaves the system-wide open to attack as it’s unable to distinguish between legitimate traffic and potential threat actors. 

Another obsolete protocol doing more harm than good is the GTP (GPRS – general packet radio service – tunneling protocol), which similarly fails to verify users’ locations, leaving the system open to attack. While there are default subscriber identity checks in place that happen on the S-GW (serving gateway) or SGSN (serving GPRS support node), these checks are far from thorough, and most successful network signaling attacks have been attributed to these significant security flaws.

Reliance on Software 

5G’s speed and low latency are some of its most valuable selling points, but they also create new areas of vulnerability that criminals can exploit and use to bring down a network or steal the information or resources it contains. 

The new network can support a wide range of the latest generation of applications and devices, including AI, smart cities, autonomous vehicles, advanced data analytics, and smart-factory installations, to name just a few. This means that 5G will need a variety of settings to accommodate each industry and application, such as connection to sensors and other industrial IoT (internet of things) devices, widening the attack surface cybercriminals can use to infiltrate the network.
Additionally, with all these crucial devices connected to one system, it only takes one security breach to access the entire network.  

Endpoint Data Storage

Another benefit of 5G, which also opens the door to new vulnerabilities, is its unique data storage method. Instead of processing all data in the cloud, 5G uses multi-access edge computing or MEC to process, analyze, and store data from endpoints in the network edge.
Storing most data close to the customer increases performance speed and reduces latency, but it also creates a wide range of data pools scattered around the network, making them extra difficult to secure, and leaving your network open to all sorts of signaling attacks, from DOS to LTE (long-term evolution) attacks. 

Protecting 5G Networks & Devices with FirstPoint

5G offers many benefits, but the security flaws and the risks that leave networks vulnerable to attacks can’t be overlooked or ignored. Without the proper security strategy in place, many of the benefits 5G has to offer become vulnerabilities instead, putting the entire network’s security at risk. Finding a security solution that can address all potential vulnerabilities and significantly mitigate risks allows organizations to truly reap the benefits 5G has to offer.
5G has redefined mobile networks, so it’s only logical to find a solution that redefines network security. FirstPoint is a unique security solution that bypasses cellular vulnerabilities to offer protection against signal attacks at the network level. The solution allows security teams to discover and prevent attacks from wherever they originate.

The system ensures that all subscriber signaling and data traffic are routed through the overlay core network, guaranteeing that any suspicious behavior is detected at the earliest possible stage. The solution is easy to install and navigate and can be flexibly deployed either on-premises or through the cloud. In addition, FirstPoint eliminates attack vectors and offers an agentless solution that protects your network and allows you to implement the latest 5G technology worry-free. 

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