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Your 5G network provider can track your whereabouts and habits.

An increasing number of network providers are claiming to be the first 5G (fifth generation) network provider in their respective countries, as well as the world. Of course, consumers are also excited about having quick access to the ultra-fast speeds and low latency of 5G technology.

However, amid the excitement surrounding the speed, applications, and capabilities of 5G, some industry watchers are concerned about the technology’s security and privacy issues.

In an interview with the Wall Street Journal, Professor Steve Bellovin at Bells Labs and AT&T Labs Research raised important questions regarding the privacy and security with 5G. His first concern was about location data. 5G signals will cover a very short range and won’t easily penetrate through buildings. This means more cell towers, which in turn gives your network provider the ability to easily locate you and keep track of your whereabouts.

5G mini-cell towers
5G mini-cell towers will be placed pretty much everywhere, including in front of your home. Although this improves your connectivity, it also allows your location to be precisely tracked.

Will 5G cost you your location privacy?

Anyone who can access your ISP’s (Internet Service Provider) cell tower data will be able to find your exact location easily and precisely. This is possible with today’s 4G (fourth generation) network technology, but not as easy because, unlike 5G, the technology covers a wide area while broadcasting from a single cellular tower.

On the other hand, the 5G network technology has a smaller coverage area. Also, it lacks the ability to penetrate through walls to reach indoors. This means implementing 5G effectively will require many more cellular towers placed closer together.

Unlike old, tall towers, these will be small antennas dotted around on rooftops, inside shopping malls, and on street lights. It means dozens of 5G towers will have to be placed around an area that a single 4G tower could cover today.

As a result, each time your mobile device connects to a 5G tower, your network knows exactly where you are. In contrast, with the 4G network, your mobile provider could find your location within nearly about a mile’s accuracy, keeping your location obfuscated.

5G’s exact location tracking is due to its numerous towers, whereby users will connect to only one antenna at a time. This allows your 5G mobile network provider to pinpoint your exact location more accurately and track your path as you move through a city as your device keeps jumping from one nearest 5G tower to the next.

5G security and new use cases

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The upcoming 5G networks are expected to be useful across a wide range of industries. It is believed that the technology will jump-start a wide array of new services, all of which will demand new, varying, and high levels of security.

For instance, with automated vehicles come to the risk of automotive cyberattacks. To deal with this issue, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration follows a multi-layered approach to cybersecurity for approving driver assistance technologies.

Some areas where 5G may increase security and privacy threats.
Increased security and privacy concerns are likely with the introduction of 5G technology.

In the healthcare industry, 5G promises to provide faster transfers of large files and to enable remote surgery and patient monitoring with the help of IoT (Internet of Things) devices. However, these advances may demand ever-stronger security manoeuvres to combat risks such as medical identity theft, invasion of health privacy, and medical data management.

The Cybersecurity Report, published by Wipro, revealed that the healthcare industry survived 40 percent of data breaches in 2017. The growing use of IoT devices will make the situation a lot riskier. Smart homes will also need approved and highly-secure methods of authentication, such as biometric identification.

The risk of 5G abuse

For each 5G-compatible device, there will be a high possibility that attackers (or even manufacturers) could abuse the technology to invade users’ privacy. A manufacturer can use the connectivity to improve your service, but attackers might exploit everything from posting fake news on social media to mining Bitcoin. A cyber-intruder may even eavesdrop using a 5G baby-cam.

According to Dan Garraway, a co-founder of Wirewax, an interactive video technology firm, while you watch video content on 5G, you just might be watched back.  Smart TVs have collected data on your viewing habits for some time now, and this practice may balloon to the point of overreach with the emergence of 5G. In 2017, TV maker Vizio paid $2.2 million to the Federal Trade Commission and the State of New Jersey for snooping on viewers without their consent.

Final words

Undoubtedly, 5G technology will offer many benefits, including unheard-of speeds and better performance, low to zero latency, and improved efficiency. However, at the same time, it will also have many risks associated with it. An increased number of devices, along with increasing use of virtualization and the cloud, means increased 5G security threats. To realize a healthy communications future, the industry needs to establish and maintain complete focus on 5G security.