Could 5G networks cause problems with cyber security?

Internet-connected devices using fifth-generation mobile networks offer prime targets for criminals, reports Nick Huber for The Financial Times.

The rollout of fifth-generation mobile networks — which offer the potential for downloads speeds of up to 10 times faster than today’s — will change how we communicate, work and stream video.

However, the faster speeds are also likely to present an opportunity for hackers to target more devices and launch bigger cyber attacks, experts say.

The problem is unlikely to be the security of 5G technology itself. Despite researchers uncovering apparent flaws in 5G’s security — such as the ability for attackers to use fake mobile base stations to steal information — 5G’s stronger encryption of data and better verification of network users are widely considered to be a significant improvement on 4G.

Experts say that the weak link in 5G’s security is likely to be communication between devices connected to the internet.

These devices, known as the Internet of Things (IoT) — where everything from cars and factory assembly lines to baby monitors and traffic lights have embedded internet-connected sensors — are growing fast. The number of internet-connected items will grow from 14.2bn to 25bn by 2021, according to Gartner, a research company.

As IoT devices connect to 5G networks, they could prove a tempting target for hackers and criminals.

Experts say that security can be patchy for some IoT devices, especially low-cost and low-powered items. Hackers can use technology to scan hundreds of thousands of devices for weak security, such as those with the default passwords — “admin”, “guest” or “password” — that they were sold with.

“The likelihood of finding an IoT device that hasn’t been set up properly, or with a weak password, is quite high,” says David Ferbrache, global head of cyber futures at accounting group KPMG.

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