The year 2022 will witness the staggering growth in the number of global internet connections, which is projected to hit the one billion mark during the next 12 months. The demand and usage of 5G will escalate beyond the two billion mark in 2024 and three billion in 2026. Digitization of the world is in full swing with the adoption of speedier and more efficient 5G connections. Recent GSMA reports have predicted every one in five mobile connections to be 5G by 2025, embarking on a paradigm shift in mobile connectivity and opening new avenues for business transactions and rich multimedia facilities. 5G has a behemoth impact on the world, according to GSMA. This digital transformation is expected to add a value of 700 Billion dollars to the global economy by 2030, specifically in the service sector such as education, manufacturing, and healthcare, to name a few. All businesses are gradually realizing the scope and potential of 5G internet, as depicted in a survey conducted by Consultants EY revealing the incorporation plans of 5G internet proposed by every 3 in 4 companies by 2025. 

The Market Scale 

The estimated 725 million dollars worth of smartphones will be shipped with 5G connections. According to JP Morgan’s report, a more prominent 5G cycle with a peak on handheld devices such as smartphones is expected. The growth will be focused on economically sound nations and will gradually expand to the rest of the world. The recent developments seem promising, but like everything, all its potential risks should be considered. The prominent case of the UK government striding to strip Huawei’s (Chinese Mobile Company) opportunity to develop 5G infrastructure over safety concerns denied by the Chinese company. 5G is revolutionary, but there is a dire need for robust safeguards and better infrastructure resilience. Though Indian smartphones are yet to witness the 5G spectrum due to delay dampening the telco plans. The recommendations at basal level have been put forward by Telecom Regulatory Authority of India (TRAI). 

The Potential Risks 

  • New Vulnerabilities: The latest technology brings many uncertainties that cybercriminals could exploit. The current technological know-how on 5G technology is still basal, leaving room for new vulnerabilities to be discovered and used. The 5G network is entirely different from 4G and is incompatible with the latter. This can cause an overlap where companies will maintain two networks. This can further expose several vulnerabilities yet to be discovered. 
  • Threat to Critical Infrastructure: the new technology will allow cybercriminals to damage the Critical infrastructure of cyberspace. The primary reason is that physical Fiber Optic Cables and wireless signals in the 5G network render it easier to target. This gives hackers and rogue nations easy access and control over the devices using 5G networks such as power grids to street cameras. 
  • Authentication Attacks: introduction of authentication methods have created plenty of opportunities for hackers, such as SIM swap Fraud. – a scam in which a mobile user is convinced to switch his sim card with another sim card controlled by the hacker, allowing him to gain access to sensitive data such as bank credentials, etc. These attacks are common occurrences in E-sims (embedded sim cards) that activate cellular plans without physical nano sim cards.
  • DDoS attacks induced by hacked IoT devices: DDoS attacks inundate the target device with the traffic, rendering it unable to respond to any legit requests. The sheer volume of IoT devices compatible with 5G networks provides new opportunities for hackers to take over new devices and launch attacks on applications, websites, servers, and cellular networks. The ambitious 5G projects such as Intelligent city technology could inflict severe damage to millions of people in the event of an attack. 
  • Fake Base Stations: Attackers can create a fake base station using a laptop with connected software-defined radio. These stations are used to intercept communication between network operators and users, which jeopardizes the security of sensitive data. 
  • Dense Networks mean easy targets: The speed of 5G networks causes carriers to erect more towers in concentrated areas creating more points for hackers to initiate attacks and intercept data transmitted. Such vulnerabilities could shut down the entire operations of emerging smart cities. 

5G will play a crucial role in moving us closer to IoT devices. Every device can be synced with the internet allowing consumers to access cloud-based services. This has opened fresh avenues for remote medical facilities efficiently. However, implementing safeguards for the 5G network needs a flexible risk management framework. Recent attacks on Indian Oil Companies made the need for robust counter measures more evident. To address the cyber security threats innate with 5G connections, all organizations should continuously manage and monitor all devices connected to the network. The greater vigilance and effective coordination can effectively mitigate the cyber hostilities of emerging 5G networks. 

Author – Shrey MadaanCyberPeace Foundation, Research Associate

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