Protocol flaws leave 5G and other mobile networks open to vulnerabilities


5g smartphone

Vulnerabilities affecting mobile and 5G networks are putting industrial equipment, smart homes, and city infrastructure at risk according to a new report.

Produced by Positive Technologies, this is the fourth in a series of reports on the greatest threats and vulnerabilities in the mobile ecosystem. It highlights the cyber security risks to networks that originate with the GTP protocol -- which is used to transmit user data and control traffic on 2G, 3G, and 4G networks.

Every tested network was found to be vulnerable to denial of service against network equipment, which would result in legitimate internet users not being able to connect to the internet. Unlike DoS attacks targeted against specific users, denial of service against network equipment means loss of connection for a large number of users and could be especially dangerous for 5G networks because subscribers will also include IoT devices such as industrial equipment, smart homes, and city infrastructure.

Through the GTP protocol, networks were also found to be vulnerable to impersonation attacks, where a criminal assumes the identity of a subscriber to get authorized access to online services and bypass two factor authentication, and fraud, where fraudsters perform mobile traffic drain for fake roamers and make the operator pay for it.

Dmitry Kurbatov, CTO at Positive Technologies says, "Every network tested was found to be vulnerable to DoS, impersonation and fraud. In practice, this means that attackers could interfere with network equipment and leave an entire city without communications, defraud operators and customers, impersonate users to access various resources, and make operators pay for non-existent roaming services. Moreover, the risk level is very high: some of these attacks can be performed using just a mobile phone."

Faults in the GTP protocol directly impact most 5G networks because they are non-standalone, and deployed on the EPC core network, which means they have the same vulnerabilities. The GTP protocol will also partially remain in standalone 5G architecture, so even when those networks are developed security will remain a key issue.

"The non-standalone arrangement, planned as temporary, will be the only available option for the next few years as 5G core standalone is being established," Kurbatov adds. "Therefore, we can say that most of today's 5G networks, just like 4G ones, are vulnerable to these types of attacks. This makes the security vulnerabilities of the GTP protocol urgent -- as the increased use of 5G vastly increases the damage an attack such as a denial of service attack could do."

You can get the full report from the Positive Technologies site.

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