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June 12, 2019

What’s New in 5G Security? A Brief Explainer .

What’s New in 5G Security? A Brief Explainer


CTIA VP John Marinho
John Marinho
Vice President, Cybersecurity & Technology

Today’s 4G wireless networks offer the most advanced security features to date, and 5G networks will further improve upon them. I want to highlight four key cybersecurity features—IMSI encryption, home network control, increased network virtualization, and device-specific updates—that are being introduced as part of 5G networks and build on the wireless industry’s long history of keeping our networks and customers secure.

5G Security Feature: IMSI Encryption.

Every U.S. cellphone has a SIM card, a small chip that stores the phone’s information for your provider. The SIM card contains a unique user identifier called an International Mobile Subscriber Identity (IMSI), comprised of your country code, wireless provider code, and phone number. The IMSI is key to authenticating your device as it travels on the network. 5G networks will use a key embedded in the SIM card to encrypt your IMSI before it is sent to the network.

Why IMSI Encryption Matters: Encryption will protect your IMSI from cyber criminals while it moves around the network since they will be unable to read the code while it travels over-the-air or have the credentials to unlock the decryption key. This protects information about who and where you are and how you use your wireless network, improving both your personal security and making the network safer.

5G Security Feature: Home Network Control.

Wireless providers recognize that you regularly connect your devices to many other networks—such as Wi-Fi, Bluetooth, or a 3G network overseas. These other networks may not offer the same level of advanced security protections as your wireless provider. With 5G, wireless providers will leverage the same technology that enables you to travel from one cell site to another in order to authenticate your device and extend your network’s security protections to other networks you access. This feature is called “home network control.”

Why Home Network Control Matters: 5G networks’ use of home network control will help provide protection to your devices, data, and even wireless networks themselves, no matter where or how you are connecting your mobile device—raising the level of security for the entire mobile ecosystem.

5G Security Feature: Increased Network Virtualization.

The ability of 5G networks to rapidly process enormous amounts of data means that they will be able to harness the power of the cloud in ways that weren’t possible for previous generations of wireless. Wireless providers are leveraging these capabilities and moving more of their core network functions—such as billing, authentication, and, network management-from physical network locations to the cloud, an action referred to as network virtualization.

Why Network Virtualization Matters: Using a broad network of servers to remotely and virtually store data instead of systems of physical hardware increases the wireless network’s flexibility, reliability, and security. 5G’s speeds, capacity, and near real-time responsiveness will further boost the agility of a virtual network, meaning that more data-intensive applications can be moved to the cloud. Network virtualization will reduce the risk of outages while enabling customized security functions and software-based security updates and tools that can be deployed quickly. Limiting the amount of physical hardware needed to run the network and dispersing network functions to multiple locations also removes targets for a cyber attack.

5G Security Feature: Device-Specific Updates.

To address specific security needs of IoT devices, in 5G, wireless providers are updating the system for sending security patches and updates out to devices on a network. Currently, updates are sent to all devices, no matter what type of device they are. With 5G, providers will leverage advanced authentication systems to better identify the different devices—smartphones, sensors, kitchen appliances, etc.—and tailor security updates to your different devices types. This is known as providing native support for plug-in security.

Why Device-Specific Updates Matter: 5G’s low latency and fast speeds will allow providers to push these customized security updates quickly, with little to no disruption to your service. By ensuring that updates match the software needs of your specific piece of technology, these updates will make your device better able to fend off cyber threats that could compromise your personal data. Device-specific updates will also enable your 5G-powered devices to run more efficiently, avoiding updates and data that aren’t relevant and could slow down your device and wireless experience.

5G’s increased speeds, capacity, and responsiveness will enable these and many other new features, enabling a dynamic wireless experience that is safer than ever before.

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