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Security Challenges with 5G Networks

Shifting from legacy systems to private 5G networks is not as simple as it looks, given a new set of security challenges


India’s telecom regulators aren’t allocating spectrum directly to enterprises for building private 5G networks, but they can lease it from private operators. Once the process starts-off, CTOs may have to be ready to face some challenges when they shift over from legacy systems to private 5G networks. 

The new data-swift environment brings its own set of security challenges given that the 5G architecture is different compared to the 4G and older mobile technologies. The biggest shift is that the new tech is cloud-native in design and the software is created using microservices and container technologies. 

This shift allows for enhanced security levels in a way that in case a service or part of the code gets breached, it can be isolated and patched quickly versus the earlier versions of the software stack. Both public and private 5G networks use the same software-led IT, which necessitates a keen study of security challenges that private networks could bring. 

Key differences between the two networks

Before delving into the challenges, let’s take a look at some of the key differences between private and public 5G networks. A key difference relates to the control levels that an enterprise has over the network itself as public networks are owned and operated by large enterprises while private ones function as per the command of the entity that acquired it. 

This ownership results in differences in the way they operate and in the security protocols as well.  In public networks, anyone with a compatible device can connect, which adds to the need for higher levels of authentication to avoid cyberattacks. In private networks, the enterprise controls who can connect and security is easier to manage via certificates or passwords.

Public networks use encryption across data transmissions where the keys are controlled by the network operators. This results in companies not having complete control over data security. In private 5G networks, the company can choose encryption keys and protocols that provide them with better security. Also public networks span a wider area of coverage than private ones. 

How can security officers manage the challenge

Given that access control is a critical element of difference between the two networks, security officers need to be aware that control rests in their hands when it comes to setting access controls and managing them. There is also the issue of encryption, which is needed across both networks but enterprises need to centralize and manage it over private networks. 

Now, coming to the security administration around private 5G networks, the key difference is that SIM authentication is crucial to private networks. So, a device would require a provisioned SIM to connect as compared to the Wi-Fi network where security considerations are usually designed into the network with just a password needed for entry. 

This also means that SIMs can be configured to enable data processing and storage to be separated and protected from the network. In addition, unique device identifiers can be encrypted to mitigate risks from any potential cyberattacks. Also, 5G networks have custom security policies while private ones can allow complete control to users. 

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