It’s Superfast and Awesome… But How Secure is Your 4G Network?

4G (fourth generation) network provides data access at super-fast speeds for mobile devices. The technology used for 4G makes it up to 100 times faster than 2G or 3G speeds. But according to some networking experts, this speed comes at the cost of security.

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Photo: Nata-Lia

2G and 3G come with the robust feature of efficiently handling voice calls and texts, but they have certain limitations when it comes to handling data. Compared to this, 4G was specifically designed for high-speed data transfer. So far so good, but the methods that make 4G faster are also responsible for making it vulnerable to network threats and attacks. Mobile communication networks have always had a self-contained approach – voice and text are separated from the Internet. 4G doesn’t follow this approach.

Differences Between 3G and 4G

The protocol used for 3G is SS7 (Signaling System No. 7) . This protocol makes it extremely difficult for hackers to penetrate and harm the network system. On the other hand, 4G uses Diameter, which is an open protocol. Diameter transmits signals using IP addresses, handling more traffic at faster speeds. However, being an open protocol, Diameter is vulnerable to network threats. If a hacker manages to get access to the network, they might also gain access to critical data such as authentication and billing information.

Network Threats

Imagine what hackers can do with passwords, cryptographic keys, network addresses, and other personal information such as a mobile user’s location. One of biggest concerns raised by 4G is that its users (their personal information) might become easily accessible to hackers. Malicious codes can be transferred using different routes – from one unsuspecting user to another, from apps to users, and from machines (desktops/laptops) to machines.

Network attackers will not only be able to access data, but they might also be able to control and manipulate it. The protection layer, securing phones and their networks, can be weakened by the protocol used for 4G. The attacks would be directly aimed at mobile networks to gain easier and wider entry points. Mobile operators will have to double their efforts and investments to keep their networks and applications secured to protect their users.

More bandwidth for cybercriminals

4G networks offer 3-150Mbit bandwidth, compared to the 24kb-256kb provided by 2G and 3G. (That’s like comparing a flood with a dribbling faucet.) Cybercriminals are known for stealing bandwidths from weak networking systems. The ‘backhaul’ portion of 4G networks is unencrypted by default.

If mobile operators for 4G fail to take timely and effective measures, then the major part of their bandwidth will be used by cybercriminals, and paying users will be pushed back to 2G’s speed.

With weaker network security, hackers will be able to use their notorious software tools, which probe and scan systems, to get monopolized access to core bandwidths. This step can flood the wireless APN. Also, cybercriminals touching Wireless APN can open the doors to major chaotic problems. One of these possible chaotic problems could be Mob2Mob (mobile-to-mobile) attacks.

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Photo: Kostenko Maxim / Shutterstock

Mobile to Mobile Attacks

Traffic through 4G is IP-based, so it can travel directly from one mobile device to another, inside the range of its wireless APN. This means that compromised mobile devices will be capable of scanning and targeting other mobiles within their proximity. Such wireless connections often go unnoticed by carriers. During a cyber-attack, a hacker can get into a particular network of mobile devices, reach the concerned 4G network, and then communicate back with the mobile devices from within the core network. Think what that attacker can do once they get this kind of power over devices and core networks.

Also, when cybercriminals use weak wireless APN connections for siphoning bandwidths, the mobiles in use require maintaining a constant network connection, resulting in faster draining of mobile batteries. Plus, if signals get congested, the users might not be able to access even basic voice calls and texting as they would be stuck with DoS (denial-of-service).

Data transfer at high-speeds is a very attractive feature and users will always welcome such advancements in technology, but security and protection from a data breach is a very important concern as well.

4G might claim to take mobile devices to the next level; however, if its network structure and security levels are not up to the mark, it might soon lose customers. Mobile operators will have to focus on comprehensive and consistent security measures. Networks, apps, and devices – 4G has to ensure that none of these components are left unguarded, and a user’s personal information never falls into the hands of cybercriminals.