5G Security Warnings Pile Up

Mike Dano
11/13/2019

Those in the wireless industry have argued that 5G will be the most secure wireless transmission technology yet. But a growing number of reports indicate that researchers continue to poke holes in the standard.

The latest comes from TechCrunch, which reported this week that security researchers at Purdue University and the University of Iowa found a number of 5G vulnerabilities, including ones that could be used to track a victim's location in real time.

The publication noted that the researchers don't plan to release the details of their findings publicly, and that they also notified the GSMA trade association, which represents the wireless industry globally, about the issue. (However, the GSMA said the discovered vulnerabilities were "judged as nil or low-impact in practice.")

This isn't the first time that researchers have reported breaking into 5G networks. For example, ZDNet reported earlier this year that researchers from the Technical University in Berlin, ETH Zurich and SINTEF Digital Norway found a vulnerability in 5G involving how a phone connects to a base station.

Indeed, the Electronic Frontier Foundation -- a nonprofit organization "defending civil liberties in the digital world" -- noted recently that these kinds of "cell-site simulator" hacks (also known as Stingrays or IMSI-catchers) are relatively common in the 4G world.

Nonetheless, if 5G grows into the hype that the industry has built around it, any security issues would grow correspondingly.

"I love the idea of 5G as a consumer because it's going to be awesome, I'll have internet everywhere. As a security practitioner, I hate the idea of 5G, because we're going to have internet everywhere," IBM security executive Charles Henderson told the Wall Street Journal earlier this year.

But players in the wireless industry are clearly aware of such concerns. For example, security researchers at wireless equipment vendor Ericsson wrote in January of this year that the industry has made progress on closing 5G vulnerabilities including false base stations. They said that the next release of the 5G standard -- Release 16, due early next year -- likely would include a range of additional improvements.

Mike Dano, Editorial Director, 5G & Mobile Strategies, Light Reading | @mikeddano

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