CybersecurityTackling 5G-Based Mobile, Cloud Computing Security Concerns

Published 17 March 2020

The sheer number and wide variety of devices connected via 5G mobile networks demand differentiated security solutions. SMU Professor Robert Deng points to the need to ask the right questions, and a multiparty approach to create effective solutions.

In a June 2019 report, telecommunications equipment provider Ericsson predicted that there will be 8.3 billion mobile broadband subscriptions by the end of 2024, which translates to 95 percent of all subscriptions by then. Total mobile data traffic will reach 131 exabytes per month (1 exabyte = 1 billion gigabytes), with 35 percent carried by 5G networks.

While mobile phones will consume the bulk of the data, the sheer number and wide variety of devices that will be connected via 5G technology is likely to pose security threats not faced by previous generations of mobile networks, explains Professor Robert Deng at the SMU School of Information Systems.

“When 5G becomes pervasive, the majority of the devices connected to mobile networks will not be mobile devices anymore,” he says, referring to things such as household appliances, lightbulbs, or indeed something mobile like an autonomous car that is itself filled with smaller IoT devices such as sensors. “Some of them will be as powerful as the mobile device we’re using yesterday, while some will have minimal computational and communication capability.

“Given the variety of IoT devices, given their different capabilities and deployment environments, the security requirement of solutions will be very, very different.”

Solving Cybersecurity Concerns, in the Mobile World and on the Cloud
Professor Deng is the Director of the Secure Mobile Centre (SMC), which hosts the National Satellite of Excellence in Mobile Systems Security and Cloud Security (NSoE MSS-CS). As he runs the research initiative aimed at building “a mobile system security and mobile cloud security technology pipeline for smart nation applications”, Professor Deng points out the main questions that need answering when designing security solutions:

- What is the application context?

- What is the threat model, i.e. who is going to attack you?

- What are the risks?

He elaborates: “When the IoT becomes pervasive, the requirements will be very different from those for yesterday’s mobile applications. You have to come up with new security solutions for any particular type of IoT application, [which necessitates] differentiated security services.”

SMU notesthat the resource constraint of some IoT devices also poses cybersecurity challenges. A lot of existing security solutions would not work on a surveillance camera mounted on a lamp post, which is much more limited in computational and storage capabilities.