5G & IoT: a match made in heaven or paradise for cyberattacks

Image credit: Valery Brozhinsky | shutterstock.com

The 5G network is one of the biggest hypes today.  After over five years of speculation and teasing, it is finally becoming a reality.

Some countries are ahead of the game. South Korea, for example, made its worldwide 5G debut during the 2018 Winter Olympics and will be leveraging the experience to fine-tune and launch commercial 5G networks in April this year. China, India, and Singapore are also making forthcoming plans to roll out 5G by 2020.

But what is the promise of 5G?

Said to have the potential to disrupt every vertical industry, 5G presents an extensive range of use cases compared to those of previous generations. 

Imagine being able to perform a surgery on a patient anywhere in the world? 

This was proven to be possible at this year’s Mobile World Congress, where the world witnessed the first live tele-mentored colon cancer tumor removal surgery carried out remotely via a 5G radio base station. 

Such breathtaking operations can only be accomplished due to the high-speed connectivity, ultra-low latency, and ubiquitous coverage of 5G.

The advent of 5G is also forecasted to drive exponential growth in Internet of Things (IoT) devices, with a plethora of new aspects of life waiting to be “IoT-ed”. 

Already, it is growing at a global linearized rate of 127 devices per second, according to a recent study by A10 Networks. By 2020, IoT devices will hit 30.73 billion[1]and be very much integrated into our daily work and personal lives. 

However, if history has taught us anything, it is that technology advances can be harnessed by threat actors looking to accomplish various agendas. 

The IoT explosion will open new doors for cyberattacks. Particularly Distributed Denial of Service (DDoS) attacks. 

These attacks leverage botnets – an army of zombie computers or connected devices compromised by dormant malware – to generate massive network traffic with the objective of overwhelming a service or website. Essentially, preventing legitimate users from accessing it, and causing the business to lose revenue or certain online functions. 

What is frightening is that your smart home devices – refrigerators, voice assistants, and robot vacuums – can power such attacks on any organization or nation state. 

In fact, this was how attacks from the Mirai botnet occurred. The cybercriminal gained control of over 600,000 vulnerable IoT devices, including routers, web cameras, and digital video recorders, to launch a massive DDoS attack which left much of the internet services such as Netflix, Twitter, and Spotify inaccessible to users in North America.

Given that these devices are the perfect host for botnets, the future boom in IoT devices only means that attackers will inevitably have access to more DDoS weaponry for their arsenals. 

Already in 2019, A10 Networks found that three countries in Asia Pacific – China, Republic of Korea, and India – are amongst the top countries hosting DDoS Weaponry.

It is clear that the age of IoT-based DDoS attacks is not just on the horizon – it is already here.

So, what can businesses do?

It is important to understand that cyber defense is no longer about playing catch-up with criminals. It is about strengthening defenses and actively identifying where the threats are. Most businesses today rely on the availability and speed of critical networks to ensure that internal and external applications like monetary transactions, e-commerce portals, and emails run smoothly. 

Having intelligence of where threats can come from is the best weapon. This entails building a dynamic threat inventory of blacklisted IPs to track where attacks have known to originate from. Policies can then be developed to proactively block them. Only then can organizations have the upper hand in defending themselves against the colossal, hyper-fast DDoS attacks of the future.

As for consumers, regularly changing the passwords on all connected devices will add an additional line of defence against hackers – who have all the time in the world to breach your networks.  

Written by Song Tang Yih, Vice President, Asia Pacific, A10 Networks

[1]Internet of Things (IoT) connected devices installed base worldwide from 2015 to 2025 (in billions)

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