Vulnerabilities in Standalone 5G Networks Expose Users to Attacks

Vulnerabilities in the protocols used by standalone 5G network implementations could expose users to information theft, impersonation, and other types of attacks, Positive Technologies warned on Wednesday.

Current 5G networks are non-standalone implementations that are based on the existing 4G LTE infrastructure, but wireless carriers are expected to invest heavily into transitioning to standalone implementations in the next few years.

And while the non-standalone 5G networks are prone to attacks targeting flaws in the Diameter and GTP protocols, standalone 5G networks can be attacked through vulnerabilities in the HTTP/2 and PFCP protocols, Positive Technologies notes in a newly published report.

Possible attacks would target subscribers and the operator’s network, and may originate from the operator’s network, the international roaming network, or from partner networks offering access to services.

The Packet Forwarding Control Protocol (PFCP), which makes subscriber connections, contains security issues that could lead to denial of service or traffic redirection, allowing the attacker to downlink the data of a subscriber.

An attacker could send session deletion request packages (containing the subscriber session identifier) or a session modification request to cause denial of service. A session modification request can also be used to redirect the subscriber to the attacker.

According to Positive Technologies, such vulnerabilities can be avoided if operators apply the proper configuration, given that the interface is internal.

Responsible for vital network functions, the HTTP/2 protocol is plagued by issues that could allow an attacker to impersonate a network service or delete network function profiles.

Attackers could attempt to register new network functions. They might cause disruptions if the functions exist, or access subscriber data if they end up serving subscribers through the attacker-controlled function.

By obtaining the profile of a network function, the attacker could impersonate a network service or access further data. If certain operations are not restricted, an attacker able to obtain network function profiles may delete these profiles, thus causing denial of service for the network’s subscribers.

Positive Technologies notes that other vulnerabilities also impact standalone 5G networks, including some related to subscriber authentication, the disclosure of subscriber profiles, or the creation of sessions impersonating existing subscribers.

“There is a risk that attackers will take advantage of standalone 5G networks while they are being established and operators are getting to grips with potential vulnerabilities. Therefore, security considerations must be addressed by operators from the offset,” Dmitry Kurbatov, CTO at Positive Technologies, said.

Related: GTP Vulnerabilities Expose 4G/5G Networks to High-Impact Attacks

Related: Czech, US to Cooperate on Security of 5G Networks

Related: U.S. Warns of 5G Wireless Network Security Risks

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Ionut Arghire is an international correspondent for SecurityWeek.

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