DDoS attacks and 5G: everything you need to know

Cybersecurity geeks may already know this historical tidbit… The first DDoS attack occurred back in 1999, when a computer at the University of Minnesota suddenly came under attack from a network of 114 other computers infected with a malicious script called Trin00.

What they may not know, or remember, is that, earlier that same year, NTT DoCoMo launched the world’s first mobile internet service, ushering in the era of always on, go anywhere connectivity.

The similar timing of both events is probably just a coincidence because it would take a while before mobile telecommunications and cybersecurity worlds would converge.

Well,  that has happened in a big way and it continues to expand all the time. The danger of DDoS attacks poses a serious, specific threat to mobile networks, especially 5G.

What is 5G?

I’ll try to keep this part brief, but you can skip to the next section if you already know the basics.

Since 1G systems were introduced in 1981/1982, a new generation of mobile standards has appeared roughly every ten years. Each generation is characterized by new frequency bands, higher data rates, and all new transmission technology.

Mobile carriers across the world are now rolling out 5G networks.

As my colleague Boris Lifshitz wrote last year, 5G is the fifth-generation technology standard for cellular networks. The main advantage of 5G is that it has greater bandwidth, giving the new networks the ability to dramatically expand service beyond cellphones to general internet service for traditionally fixed connectivity to the home, office, factory, and other workplaces. It is assumed that the new 5G networks will compete with wireline data technologies, such as Internet over Coax-/Optical cables or twisted pair, and will also enable new Internet-of-Things (IoT) and Machine-to-Machine (M2M) applications.

Connected devices, such as smart meters and many other types of IoT devices, which started to arrive in the mass market for 4G networks, are expected to quadruple in volume with 5G as more devices and sensors are deployed across a whole range of industries.

However, the threat posed by DDoS attacks threatens the ability of network operators to successfully deliver on these promises.

Why are DDoS attacks such a threat to 5G?

According to CTIA, the number of connected devices in the US alone grew by 10% in 2019 to more than 139 million. The 2020 numbers, even under the shadow of the COVID-19 pandemic, are even more impressive. Because connected devices are often subverted to launch DDoS attacks, mobile operators have to stay on top of their network security infrastructure, traffic patterns, and capacity demands to prevent possible damage from such attacks, both incoming and outgoing. With the requirement for high-bandwidth, low-latency services, DDoS attacks threaten 5G’s ability to deliver these services.

As explained in a white paper produced by Omdia in partnership with Allot, a high number of connected IoT devices means a greater attack surface, which can be used for inbound volumetric attacks designed to overwhelm the network and impact services. These devices are also at risk of being hijacked for outbound security attacks, which can have a serious business impact on users and networks and on an operator’s brand reputation.

Some of the most significant and interesting points from the paper:

  • The reasons why traditional DDoS mitigation will not be effective for 5G Networks, whereas in line, real-time detection and mitigation are a must for 5G
  • How NFV-compliant DDoS mitigation will make inline DDoS solutions cost-effective for the changing security needs of 5G and IoT networks
  • How Rakuten Mobile deployed virtualized DDoS Mitigation in preparation for Cloud-Native 5G networks

To get more detailed information about each of these points, check out the whitepaper, which is available for download on our website.

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