Of late, enterprises have started deploying private 5G/LTE networks owing to the various benefits associated with their deployment. The use of private 5G/LTE networks allows businesses to take advantage of the cellular network technology. Cellular networks are able to handle heavy traffic better than Wi-Fi over larger areas. Further, they offer higher speeds and functionality, aimed at innovative applications. A private network also offers support to Industry 4.0 applications and the growing number of connected devices.

While there are many benefits of deploying private networks, the risks are no less as private 5G/LTE networks remain vulnerable to cyberattacks. Increased industrial internet of things exposure, physical mobility of people and devices on the network, and the interplay between enterprises, mobile network operators, IoT manufacturers and operational technology vendors and suppliers, all contribute to the security challenges of a private network.

A look at some of the main types of attacks being launched on private networks and their implications for enterprises…

Types of attacks

Denial of service

Denial of service (DoS) refers to attacks on a device or a network that deny connectivity or access to a specific connected service. Various companies in the manufacturing space have started using private 5G networks to improve connectivity at their factories, allowing different components in a factory to work together more efficiently. Since these components rely on the private cellular network for communication, a DoS attack aimed at harming even a single perfectly orchestrated process can shut the entire facility down. This can have severe financial implications for the companies.

Mobile network mapping

In this type of attack, wireless data-sniffing devices are used to identify data sent over cellular signals. This data is used to determine the types of devices connected to the network. This is known as a mobile network mapping (MNmap) attack or device fingerprinting. This type of attack enables malicious actors to access sensitive information on the devices within a private network and weaken their capabilities. Such an attack can prove to be quite catastrophic in the context of social welfare systems. In health and social welfare systems using private 5G networks to provide services, a MNmap attack can endanger the privacy and safety of patients.

Battery drain

Another type of man-in-the-middle attack can send signals that cause device batteries to drain rapidly. These attacks can have serious, even life-threatening consequences when used against networks that are used to maintain critical IoT devices. For instance, a battery drain attack can be quite dangerous on a private cellular network used by mining companies to make their equipment operate more safely and efficiently. This is because replacing the battery is a hazardous and complex operation in itself.

DNS spoofing

A hacker that has gained access to a private network via IMSI impersonation (or some other method) can launch DNS spoofing attacks on that network. This attack can enable fraudsters to change the IP address of the requested DNS server and then redirect domain requests to malicious sites under their own control. A DNS spoofing attack could be incredibly harmful in school districts where private networks are used for remote learning. Cybercriminals could use DNS spoofing to display unwanted content to students by redirecting the traffic from educational portals and virtual classroom links.

The way forward

At present, private cellular networks inherently lack the features and capabilities to fully protect the network and devices connected to it. Going forward, securing these private networks would require the adoption of a holistic multilayered approach on the part of companies. Since any loose end within the network can have negative consequences for all the systems and devices connected with that network, it is imperative that all devices and components of a network are secured from end to end.

To this end, third-party tools can be deployed to make the networks more secure. These tools can secure private 5G/LTE networks against external threats and are necessary for private cellular networks to deliver on their promise of providing fast, reliable and private wireless communications.