Thursday, January 20, 2022

5G networks increase overall cyber security risks: Expert

While the world saw major international airlines including Air India cancelling flights to the United States on Wednesday after the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) voiced concerns about 5G wireless towers, which can interfere with the altimeters,  near airports, India's leading Defence avionic expert PM Soundar Rajan told The New Indian Express that use of 5G networks also increase cyber security risks. 

The high-speed 5G network uses, among other spectral bands, C-band frequencies that are very close to the frequencies used by the radio altimeters used by aircraft to measure their altitude above the terrain and enable them to land safely.

Rajan, former director, Defence Avionics Research Establishment (DARE) and Visiting Professor, International Strategic and Security Studies (ISSS), National Institute of Advanced Studies (NIAS), explained the possible cyber security threats.

He said that the "networks have moved away from centralized, hardware-based switching to distributed, software-defined digital routing. Previous networks were based on designs in which everything came to hardware choke points where cyber security measures could be focused and enforced. In the 5G software-defined network, however, that activity is pushed outward to a web of digital routers throughout the network, thus denying the potential for choke point inspection and control."

He added that the higher bandwidth advantage which comes with the use of higher frequency bands necessitates smaller and multiple cells. Low-cost, short-range, small-cell antennas deployed throughout urban areas become new hard targets. 

"Functionally, these cell sites will use 5G's Dynamic Spectrum Sharing capability in which multiple streams of information share the bandwidth in "slices" -- each slice with its own varying degree of cyber risk. When software allows the functions of the network to shift dynamically, cyber protection must also be dynamic, thus designing in-cyber security mechanisms extremely difficult," explained the former director, DARE.

5G, added the avionics expert, "further complicates its cyber vulnerability by virtualizing in software higher-level network functions formerly performed by physical  devices". 

"These activities are based on the common language of Internet Protocol and well-known operating systems. Whether used by nation-states or criminal actors, these standardized building block protocols and systems have made it relatively easy for the cyber attackers,” said Rajan.

The other danger, he pointed out, was that even if it were possible to lock down the software vulnerabilities within the network, the network is also being managed by software that itself can be vulnerable. An attacker that gains control of the software managing the networks can also control the network.

20/01/22  Bala Chauhan/New Indian Express

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