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Want to make 5G secure

Researchers from OsloMet want to develop a 5G prototype where the network can be sliced to increase security. Today, users who require a high level of security must have their own networks, but this may not be necessary with the next generation of mobile networks.

Olav Johan Øye Published: Updated:
Picture of Bernardo Santos and Bruno Dzogovic

One of the goals of 5G is to pave the way for full use of the internet of things, the great new communication trend, where technical equipment can be monitored and controlled via the internet.

It will be possible to a much greater extent to monitor and control lighting, heating, surveillance cameras, refrigerators, smart TVs, blood pressure gauges, heart monitors, building automatics, industrial automatics and quite soon almost all the electronic equipment imaginable. It may also be vital to the development of artificial intelligence.

Different requirements for speed, latency, data package sizes, reliability and security mean that the network must be sliced in order to support all the solutions.

The OsloMet researchers are taking a closer look at this in the research project SCOTT (Secure Connected Trustable Things), which has been allocated NOK 3 million by the European research and innovation programme Horizon 2020 and The Research Council of Norway until 2020.

Bilde av forskerne

Adjunct Professor Thanh Van Do, Associate Professor Boning Feng, researcher Bernardo Santos, Professor Paal Engelstad and head engineer Bruno Dzogovic are all working on this project.

Separate 5G network at OsloMet

So far, researchers have presented four publications at international conferences, and they have succeeded in creating a small 5G mobile network at OsloMet which can be used for conversations and data streaming.

The network is made up by regular PCs, which was impossible just a few years ago, when expensive equipment, often with a million-krone price tag, had to be procured from Ericsson or other suppliers.

OsloMet's network is based on PCs costing less than NOK 50,000, equipped with software with open source code and placed in a separate lab called Secure 5G4IoT.

The PCs constitute base stations with radio transmitters, and the software can be programmed so that the researchers can modulate signals and select frequencies and paths. It is also possible to connect equipment that is connected to the internet.

New security advantages with 5G

One of the advantages of 5G is that it has a much shorter latency than today's network, which is important to many critical operations. The data transfer capacity will also be much improved.

The network security options are also much better with 5G. The network can be divided into virtual slices. Once you have your own slice, no one else can find out what it contains and it cannot be hacked, which makes the network secure to use.

Makes separate networks redundant

When the network is sliced, it can be used for various solutions with different security requirements. Today, we must use separate networks if any special security requirements apply, as, for example, with the digital emergency network used by the emergency services.

Thanh Van Do and Boning Feng present some hypothetical examples:

We imagine that the police will require top-level security for their communication equipment if they were to use 5G, whereas the health services will require a certain level of security, and internet surfers will require a low level. And we can imagine that all of these groups will use a 5G mobile network.

We can meet all the different security requirements by creating what is known as ‘network slices’, which are actually different virtual ‘private’ networks within 5G. All the slices will be part of the 5G network, but they will behave as separate networks.

Then, a separate slice can for example be made for the police, acting as their separate network, with the highest level of security, and one can be made for the health services with a lower level of security. Some slices can be almost completely open.

It will not be possible for anyone on the open network to access a network with a higher security level.

‘By slicing the network, we can make more optimal use of it and control lots of different equipment, which is not possible with the current 4G network,’ says Thanh.

In different media we can see that 5G technology is considered as a potential technology for the next-generation emergency network, which can use commercial mobile networks as a basis and where the internet of things may also be far more important.

Thanh and Boning emphasise that they have not reviewed the requirements of various user groups for security and functionality, or how relevant it would be for them to use virtual 5G networks. They are concerned with exploring the possibilities and coming a few steps closer to proposing how the network can be used.

Want to develop a security solution

Bilde av Bruno Dzogovic

They have already created virtual networks on OsloMet’s network and seen that they can work as separate networks.

The security of 5G has not been fully explored yet, nor how the network can best be sliced, and the OsloMet researchers want to develop a security solution that is easy to implement.

They particularly want to work on security, but they also see that slicing the network into virtual networks can serve other practical purposes.

‘How much can you slice the network?’

‘That’s what we’re currently studying. If it is sliced too much, it becomes too fragmented. It’s about dimensioning, but there is no right answer yet. There are a lot of factors to consider,’ says Thanh.

The scope of the internet of things is enormous

The amount of equipment that can be connected to the internet is potentially huge. There are currently seven billion people in the world, but it may be possible to connect as many as 50 billion equipment units to the internet in the near future.

‘Will it really pay to have 5G everywhere? 4G coverage is not available everywhere yet.’

‘The opposite may actually be the case – without 5G, much of the internet of things will not work,’ says Boning.

‘Much equipment can be used outside far away from any local computer networks, for examples sensors that are to be used in agriculture and that will be spread over vast areas,’ says Thanh.

The research is attracting great attention

Thanh and Boning say that their research has attracted great attention at international conferences, and that many people have been interested in the network they have built at OsloMet. However, they have not received much attention in Norway yet.

One of the other important goals of their research, besides developing security, is to build 5G expertise, so that the OsloMet experts themselves can gain a good insight into how the network works. With updated expertise, it is easier for them to monitor developments in the field.

And general use of 5G is just around the corner. The researchers assume it will be commercially available in 2020. Then, everyone will be able to use it and it will eventually replace the current 4G network, which is primarily intended for conversations and not the internet of things, and which does not offer the same security options.

Facts: 5G mobile network

Illustrasjonsbilde

5G is the fifth generation mobile network, and can transfer data much quicker than the current 4G mobile network. It can be adapted, to a much greater extent, to various equipment that can be connected to the internet and to the needs of different user groups by slicing the network. It also has better security options.