Data protection and data security

Fast and secure: how data security functions in practice in the context of 5G

The new 5G standard will further interlink society and make data available almost in real time. Information will migrate to the “data cloud” – where it will be instantly retrievable from any location. Security is every bit as important as speed. This is why 5G brings with it plenty of measures and clearly defined standards designed in particular to ensure data security.

Intercepting and reading communications, listening in – and why they are almost impossible 

One example of how data security is ensured is cryptography. This means the encryption of smartphone communications in a 5G network. Imagine the 5G mobile network is the traffic and your 5G-capable mobile is a car driving in it. Each car on the road has its own unique number plate. In the case of a mobile, the number plate is the so-called international mobile subscriber identity (IMSI). This is not transmitted openly over the 5G network. The effect is as though you were, quite legally, driving on the streets with your number plate concealed – in other words, moving around anonymously. 

In traffic, this would of course be illegal. In a 5G mobile network, it becomes a definite plus in data protection terms because it means conventional IMSI catchers cannot intercept you. Therefore, it is virtually impossible to read your communications. This provides you with protection against cybercriminals. Seen in terms of real-world traffic: as a driver, your number plate remains visible, but your networked vehicle’s 5G communications are encrypted and anonymous. The control system and your current position are protected from unauthorised access. 

Protection on holiday 

Communications remain secure when you’re away travelling, thanks again to 5G. On finding itself in a network belonging to a different country, your mobile phone notifies your mobile network operator back home of the foreign provider’s identity. This procedure, which is also encrypted, makes sure that the device is in a recognised and approved network and that any information exchanged on this network will remain confidential. 

What is the purpose of “network slicing”? 

At this point, we should clarify that 5G is not really a network – it is many networks. This is what experts mean when they refer to “network slicing”. A number of networks, each with their own individual settings, are available via a radio mast. One network might, for example, be transmitting large volumes of data while another is minimising time delays in communications between machines. So, whatever the requirements, the correct solution is always at hand. Incidentally, this advanced technology also delivers a further benefit in terms of data security. For instance, a hospital might use one network for exchanging patient data and a second one for somewhat less security-critical functions such as controlling its robotic vacuum cleaners. The patient data in the first network will be extremely well protected, the vacuum cleaners rather less so – but this means they can be activated that much faster. 

Using 5G, companies and universities will also be able to set up so-called campus networks – in-house mobile networks, available only locally and especially well protected. Other establishments, such as car factories, will also be able to set up their own networks and will therefore be able to use whatever security solutions best suit them. Network operators and other companies will use 5G networks to control multiple security-critical applications. This is another reason why 5G networks are structured so flexibly. Most of the facilities in question are no longer adjusted manually. Instead, technicians from the relevant companies use software to control them. This means they can respond quickly to new rules by means of an update or tackle potential security issues by putting up protective digital fences known as firewalls.

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