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5G Security: Is It Safe?

November 5, 2023

Now operational are the first 5G radio networks. The goal of this generation of telecom infrastructure is to provide

  • improved mobile internet,
  • massive communications like a machine.
  • latency, and incredibly dependable communications.

The goal is to handle the anticipated number of devices for the mobile Internet of Things (IoT) while also being faster and more dependable. facilitating the digital revolution in business, production, and society.

Multi-network slicing, multi-level services, and multi-connectivity network capabilities are what 5G will enable. Virtualized and containerized environments will be used to deploy these technologies to enable the necessary economies of scale, agility, and adaptability. For the industry, this represents an innovative method of operation.

Many of the security flaws in today’s 4G/3G/2G networks have been addressed by 5G security safeguards. These restrictions include improved subscriber identity protection, new mutual authentication features, and extra security measures. The mobile industry has never had a better chance to improve network and service security than with 5G.

Although the industry must handle possible new vulnerabilities due to the implementation of new network technology, 5G offers proactive solutions to mitigate the effects of current problems.

Several 5G-era security safeguards are covered in this article, along with some of their drawbacks. This means that a certain degree of technical expertise is necessary.

Secure by design

Secure by design

The development of 5G standards has embraced the “Secure by Design” tenets, resulting in

  • Mutual Authentication’s Use

Verifying that the relationship is safe end-to-end and that the sender and recipient have built trust

  • Presumably, an “open” network

Eliminating any safety assumption from the product(s) or process(es) that are overlaid

  • An admission that any link might be used

requiring inter- and intra-network communication to be encrypted and making sure that any encrypted data that is captured is useless

This is a significant paradigm shift in the way that mobile telecommunications are now conducted, even if it is standard procedure in solutions for other services like online banking. Consequently, 5G networks ought to provide consumers with more safety than the current 4G/3G/2G networks.

5G Deployment Models

5G Deployment Models

Multiple implementation models are described in the 5G specifications. The non-standalone (NSA) mode, or more accurately, EN-DC, is the sole option in use at the moment; however, at least five more are planned to be implemented in the future. In this scenario, 5G base stations are connected to the LTE core and integrated with an already-existing 4G network, collaborating with LTE base stations and depending on the safeguards and controls offered by the LTE core.

Stand-alone (SA) mode*, or more specifically, SA-NR, which consists of a 5G new radio network (NR) linked to a 5G core network (5GC), is expected to be the next stage of 5G implementation.  Realizing the full security features of 5G standards will be possible with the conversion to a 5G Core. While it is acknowledged that new paradigms (such as service-based architecture and cloud-native architecture) will bring new security issues,

Subscriber and Device Protection

Subscriber and Device Protection

Data integrity and confidentiality for users and devices are enhanced by 5G. In contrast to earlier mobile system generations, 5G:

  • maintains the privacy of the first non-access stratum (NAS) communications sent between the network and the device. Consequently, current attack approaches for tracing user equipment (UE) across the radio interface are rendered ineffective, rendering protection against false base station (Stingray/IMSI catcher) and man-in-the-middle (MITM) assaults impossible.
  • presents home control as a means of defense. In other words, after the home network has verified the device’s authenticity, the device’s final authentication to the visiting network is finished. This improvement will counteract the several forms of roaming fraud that have previously caused operators problems and support the operator’s need that devices to be appropriately authenticated.
  • enables 5G networks to handle previously unmanaged and unprotected connections. Supports unified authentication across different access network types, such as WLAN. This includes the potential for the UE to be re-authenticated when it switches between access or serving networks.
  • adds user plane integrity checks to make sure that user traffic isn’t altered while it’s being transported.
  • uses public/private key pairs, or “anchor keys,” to improve privacy protection by hiding subscriber identification and generating keys that are utilized throughout the service design.

Network Protection

Integrity of Data Signalling

A new component of network design, the Security Edge Protection Proxy (SEPP), is introduced by 5G. By serving as the security gateway for connections made between the home network and other networks, the SEPP guards the edge of the home network.

The SEPP’s objectives are to:

  • Offer security at the application layer and defend against replay and eavesdropping attempts.
  • Ensure complete authenticity, integrity, and confidentiality for all HTTP/2 roaming communications by encrypting and signing them.
  • Provide key management systems for negotiating security capabilities and setting the necessary cryptographic keys.
  • Execute message policing and filtering, topology concealing, and JSON object validation; this includes cross-layer information verification with IP layer address information.

Furthermore, to mitigate the security concerns associated with the use of SS7 and Diameter, improved security for international roaming services is implemented. The 5G standards’ inclusion of a dedicated security node is a significant advancement over the 4G/3G/2G networks’ current use of SS7 and Diameter.

New Protocol Stack for IT

In the past, proprietary protocols have been the primary means of network administration for operator networks. To facilitate future compatibility with a greater range of services and technologies, 5GC switches to an IP-based protocol stack. In 5GC, the following procedures, schemas, and protocols will be used:

  • HTTP/2 over N32, substituting Diameter over the S6A point of reference
  • Within a public land mobile network (PLMN), TLS acts as an extra layer of security to enable encrypted communication across all network functions (NF).
  • The SCTP transport protocol has been replaced by TCP as the transport layer protocol.
  • OpenAPI 3.0.0 is the Interface Definition Language (IDL) for a RESTful framework.

These protocols’ applications in the larger IT sector are probably going to include:

  • result in a shorter timeframe for vulnerability exploitation and a greater effect on vulnerabilities found in these protocols.
  • Increase the number of possible assailants. The lack of knowledge that attackers have about the proprietary protocols used in 4G and 3G core networks is advantageous.

The expanded reach of these protocols will require vulnerability reporting programs, such as the GSMA Coordinated Vulnerability Disclosure (CVD) program, to handle. It should not take long to fix pertinent vulnerabilities once they have been found.

Technologies leveraged by 5G


Because the 5GC network design will be service-based, essential network services can be carried out through third-party networks, such as the cloud. On the other hand, this represents a significant departure from conventional core network security rules and gives the operator the chance to take advantage of virtualization technology.

New danger vectors must be dealt with as a result of this opportunity. It is advisable to take into account conventional virtualization rules, such as resource and tenant isolation. Appropriate isolation policies lessen the chance of data loss and the damage caused by malware outbreaks that are aware of virtualization. Because tenancy isolation within a virtual environment cannot be guaranteed due to microprocessor-level vulnerabilities like Spectre and Meltdown, tenants should be housed together based on security requirements, such as not housing lower-level security tenants with high-level security tenants.

One increasingly popular OS-level virtualization technique is containerization. One container cannot use up all of a host’s physical resources as the host OS limits the container’s access to resources like CPU, storage, and memory. so lessening the effect of assaults on the platform’s availability. Because containers frequently operate as root, it is feasible to escape the container and access the underlying file system.

Hardware can be simplified by operators by the virtualization of network flows made possible by software-defined networking (SDN).

Network segmentation and resource separation are made possible by all virtualization technologies, ensuring security and lessening the effect of successful assaults. To prevent inadequate management and orchestration procedures from negating the security provided, these services should be configured with a secure-by-design mindset (MANO).

The brains behind virtualized technologies are generally found in the central control system, also known as the hypervisor. Therefore, this underlying technology should have a high level of security. Completing specific threat modeling is necessary for attacks and vulnerabilities related to virtualization.

Online Services

Expanding upon virtualized offerings One important 5G enabler is the cloud. The cloud-native architecture of 5G is built with flexibility and scalability in mind. Utilizing cloud computing might make liability and supply chains more complex.

Mobile World Live claims that 5G enables carriers to make rich services available via the cloud via the Restful API. It is important to adhere to secure coding principles to prevent data leaks and prevent the code from being exploited to compromise the operator’s network or cloud provider.

Slicing the Network

Through network slicing, an operator may modify the network’s behavior and utilize the same hardware to adapt the network to use cases that are specific to a particular service. The Permanent Reference Document (PRD) NG.116 contains 35 attributes that have been developed by the GSMA to describe a network slice.

Every slice’s security model needs to be customized for the specific use case. It is possible to envision various degrees of isolation, from a single-core network node to entirely dedicated radio access.  Every kind of isolation needs to be considered at the design stage. To prevent Man-in-the-Middle (MITM) attacks, for instance, a network slice used for remote surgery must take into account continual mutual identity and permission; yet, a slice used for AR/VR content management won’t need the same level of security.

Telecom IoT

The Internet of Things (IoT) is currently widely used in 2G, 3G, and 4G networks, but in 5G, the number of IoT connections is expected to rise dramatically. Growing implies that security controls must scale but not fundamentally alter. Throughout its existence, the Internet of Things must be securely coded, deployed, and monitored. Since the majority of IoT services have a common design, the attacks that any service will experience will probably fall into one of three categories:

  • There are three ways that devices (endpoints) can be attacked: physically, remotely, and through apps that are installed on the device.
  • assaults against service systems, such as the cloud
  • assaults on communication channels (such as WLAN, cell phone, BLE air interface, etc.)

Because every device generates data that is connected to the volumes of other devices, leading to large-scale volume-based attacks, IoT devices are being used more and more on the outbound leg to conduct DDoS attacks.


With an eSIM, the mobile device does not require a removable SIM card because the data on the card is prepared on a remote SIM provisioning platform (SM-DP+) and downloaded via HTTPS into a secure element (eUICC) that is permanently embedded in the device.

When a profile is activated, the information in that profile is used to identify and authenticate the subscriber to the mobile network like that of a detachable SIM card. This eUICC, which is recognized by a globally unique EID, can hold several profiles.

Through the use of Public Key Infrastructure (PKI) certificates, the system enables mutual authentication between the SM-DP+ and eUICC. Perfect Forward Secrecy (PFS) is used in the generation of all keys.

In the consumer use case, the end user manages eSIM profiles on the eUICC; in the M2M/IoT use case, a remote SIM provisioning platform does so.

Human-machine intelligence (AI)

Artificial intelligence is projected to be heavily used in 5G networks and should improve security while being an umbrella term for several technologies. To automate threat and fraud detection, operators should make use of deep learning (DL) and machine learning (ML).

With the amount of data that 5G networks will produce, the use of AI is more pertinent. AI could be a more practical means of instantly thwarting earlier, unidentified assaults. Artificial intelligence (AI) may also be utilized to drive self-healing networks, in which the system can recognize problems and automatically apply a solution.

However, the attacker also has access to this technology; therefore, AI-driven assaults are predicted.

Legacy Generations

The mobile industry has a chance to improve network and service security with 5G. Increased subscriber identity protection, new authentication features, and extra security measures will lead to a major security upgrade over previous generations.

Based on past experiences, 2G and 3G networks are vulnerable to fraud and security breaches due to their use of unmanaged and insecure protocols. With 4G and 5G, many of these assaults have been lessened. But since 4G is backward compatible with 3G and 2G, they won’t go away until those technologies or backward compatibility are discontinued.

Operators will need to think about how these legacy networks may affect them in the future when planning 5G rollouts. They should also think about how assaults might be avoided if past generations are either separated or eliminated from the ecosystem.

GSMA 5G Security Activities

The GSMA provides the following services and programs to help the mobile security ecosystem:

  • The Fraud and Security Group (FASG) develops and disseminates industry best practices on 5G fraud threats and security measures, serving as the GSMA’s home base for 5G security.
  • Guidelines for 5G implementation are provided to the industry by the Future Network Programme.
  • In collaboration with 3GPP, the GSMA CVD program effectively handles disclosures into the 5G standards. Before 5G was deployed, this study was utilized to build more secure standards.
  • The GSMA IoT Security Project creates materials especially meant to address security threats associated with IoT.
  • Network slicing templates, SEPP configuration, and other network design guidelines and functionalities are defined by the Networks Group (NG) for 5G.

LTE to 5G Comparison

Function         LTE         5G         
Privacy and Integrity Cipher         Together with LTE: EAP stands for access-agnostic authentication. Supported for both 3GPP and non-3GPP access technologies are 5G-AKA and maintain the privacy of the first non-access stratum (NAS) communications sent between the network and the device.         Between the mobile device and eNodeB (the LTE base station), encryption is used on the radio link. Integrity and control plane ciphering between the UE and the Mobility Management Entity (MME)Supported 128-bit algorithms         
Authentication Key Agreement (AKA)         The Subscription Concealed identification (SUCI) offers a way to encrypt the MSIN portion of the subscriber identification (IMSI) using the public key of the home network.  preserving the privacy of the first non-access stratum (NAS) communications sent between the network devices.         The network’s AUSF (Authentication Server Function) and UICC are equipped with a shared key. The UE and the network may now authenticate each other mutually.         
Security Anchor Function (SEAF) or anchor key         None         permits the UE to reauthenticate without requiring the whole authentication process when it switches between access networks or even serving networks.         
Subscriber Permanent Identifier (SUPI)         Identifier sent in plaintext before network authentication         Through NEF, Network Functions safely make events and capabilities available to Application Functions (AF) from outside parties. permits the safe exchange of data across the 3GPP network using approved and verified Application Functions.Mutual authentication based on certificates might be employed.NEF evaluates whether the Application Function is permitted to submit requests for the 3GPP Network Entity following authentication.         
Home Control         None         In situations involving roaming and fraud protection, HPMN can confirm that the UE is present and seeking service from the VPMN.         
Network Exposure Function (NEF)      None 

Through NEF, Network Functions safely make events and capabilities available to Application Functions (AF) from outside parties. permits the safe exchange of data across the 3GPP network using approved and verified Application Functions. Mutual authentication based on certificates might be employed.NEF evaluates whether the Application Function is permitted to submit requests for the 3GPP Network Entity following authentication.         
Security Edge Proxy Protection   None         serves as the security gateway for connections made between the home network and other networks, safeguarding the edge of the home network.         


5G is a revolutionary telecommunication system that aims to deliver enhanced mobile broadband, massive machine-type communications, ultra-reliable and low-latency communications, and manage the scale of devices predicted for the Mobile Internet of Things (IoT). It delivers multi-network slicing, multi-level services, and multi-connectivity network capabilities via virtual and containerized environments. 5G has designed security controls to address many of the threats faced in today’s 4G/3G/2G networks, including new mutual authentication capabilities, enhanced subscriber identity protection, and additional security mechanisms.

The 5G standards describe several implementation models, with the only option currently being deployed being the non-standalone (NSA) mode. The next phase of 5G deployment will likely be stand-alone (SA) mode, consisting of a 5G new radio network (NR) connected to a 5G core network (5GC). The change to a 5G Core will allow the full security features of 5G specifications to be realized, although new paradigms (cloud-native, service-based architecture) will introduce new security challenges.

5G introduces a new network architecture element: the Security Edge Protection Proxy (SEPP), which protects the home network edge, acting as the security gateway on interconnections between the home network and visited networks. The SEPP is designed to provide application layer security, end-to-end authentication, integrity, and confidentiality protection via signatures and encryption of all HTTP/2 roaming messages.

The 5GC network architecture will be service-based, meaning that core network operations may be performed through functions outside the operator network, such as the cloud. This shift from established core network security controls offers the operator the opportunity to leverage virtualization technologies. However, with this opportunity come new threat vectors to contend with. Traditional virtualization controls, including tenant and resource isolation, should be considered. Containerization is an OS-level virtualization technology that is gaining traction, reducing the impact of availability attacks against the platform.


Is 5G security safe?

Among these dangers to 5G security are cyberattacks: Ransomware, possible data breaches, and distributed denial of service (DDoS) assaults are just a few of the cyber threats that 5G networks will have to deal with.

Is 5G secure for banking?

Strengthened security and prevention of fraud
The banking sector might see a revolution in fraud prevention because of the improved security features that 5G networks offer. Potential risks may be quickly identified and dealt with thanks to the extremely low latency and real-time data processing capabilities.

Is 5G safer than WiFi?

Wi-Fi is safe enough to use at home and in offices. However, 5G takes into consideration global identity management and end-to-end security, addressing a far broader security concern. This is mostly explained by the unique architecture of 5G.