GTP: the secret behind unsecured 5G networks

GTP the secret behind unsecured 5G networks

5G networks bring high-speed internet connectivity. However, cities around the world can still go offline because of the GTP protocol.  Unfortunately, 5G technologies will not bring security to the networks and may expose them to fraud attacks. Thus, the 5G network still inherits 4G security challenges.

5G technologies include cybersecurity enhancements such as roaming security, network slicing security, and identity privacy, according to A10 Networks. However, networks are still vulnerable to threats.

The fifth-generation network would be vulnerable to DoS attacks, which occurs when a service is flooded by illegitimate requests. In fact, 5G relies on the GTP protocol, initially used to transmit user and control traffic on 2G, 3G, and 4G networks. According to Threat vector: GTP report published by Positive-Tech in June 2020, faults in the GTP might lead to interception of user data, fraud, and denial of services.

The GTP protocol does not check the user’s actual network location, which makes it difficult to determine whether incoming traffic is legitimate. Positive-tech said that half of the attacks are successful due to the lack of user location identification. “We can say that most of today’s 5G networks, just like 4G ones, are vulnerable to the following types of attacks, states the report.

Network operators will continue to rely on GPRS Tunnelling Protocol (GTP). Recently, 5G non-standalone networks have been deployed. Jimmy Jones, a cybersecurity expert at Positive Technologies said, “Non-standalone means the network interoperates with legacy networks, usually via GTP,” according to Spectrum IEEE. Moreover, the transition to standalone 5G network will not remove GTP vulnerabilities as mobile technologies – text messages for example – rely on GTP, according to the same source.

On June 10, 2020, Positive Technologies published a report entitled “Threat Vector: GTP. Vulnerabilities in LTE and 5G networks”. The company said that as long GTP is in use, the protocol’s security issues would affect 5G networks. The vulnerabilities that enable attacks are estimated by 52% lack of location check, 42% lack of IMSI validity check, and a remaining 6% as lack of filtering on the network edge.

Positive Technologies said that the successful threat attacks are estimated by 83% for Network element DoS, 68% for Fraud, and 22% for subscriber information disclosure.

Countries around the world have been studying the security risks involved in participating with Huawei in the deployment of the 5G network. Instead of focusing attention on one producer of the network, countries should do more to discuss the security concerns related to 5G network technology.