Security concerns in a 5G era: are networks ready for massive DDoS attacks?

Opinion by Maria Sirbu

Many companies underestimate the threat of DDoS, but 5G's faster speeds and greater mobility will undoubtedly make attacks even more destructive.

When Airbnb, Netflix, GitHub, Twitter, CNN, Spotify, Reddit, and many other websites became fully or partially unavailable in October 2016, millions of users found it a mild nuisance. But for DNS provider Dyn, which was on the receiving end of massive DDoS attacks fuelled by a gigantic botnet, it caused mayhem.

This DDoS attack made it clear that cybercriminals are making bold moves that can potentially bring down the internet.

Fast forward to 2020: the impending deployment of 5G gives attackers more firepower than ever by creating easily exploitable targets they can enlist into botnets that overpower traditional DDoS defenses.

Along with experts’ warnings, available data highlights this trend. The ENISA Threat Landscape Report 2018 confirms that DDoS attacks are continuously evolving:

  • Close to 45 percent of DDoS attacks lasted for over 90 minutes while 4.62 percent of them persisted for 20+ hours
  • The average DDoS attack went on for 318.10 minutes, while the longest one continued for a stupefying six days, five hours, and 22 minutes
  • The first terabit DDoS was recorded in 2018 against GitHub (1.35Tbps), shortly followed by another one targeting Arbor Networks (1.7Tbs).

DDoS attacks have been around for 20 years, but the current tech environment is fuelling a renewed interest for them, with 5G set to play a fundamental role.

Factors that favour massive DDoS attacks in the 5G era

Security specialists cannot afford to overlook the appeal that 5G has to cybercriminals looking to make a hefty payday. Here are the factors that makes it easy for them to launch destructive DDoS attacks that put businesses at risk of complete shutdown.

1. Innovation outpaces the ability to secure it

The gap between adopting new tech and properly securing it is becoming steeper, and issue that regains prominence as 5G and AI has become a business reality.

Cybersecurity has moved from cost to necessity, but most decision makers haven’t made it a board-level priority, and attackers are fully aware of that.

2. DDoS for hire is cheaper than ever before

The cybercrime economy makes services like DDoS for hire prevalent and easily accessible. A 24-hour DDoS attack against a single target can cost as little as US$ 400. Access to cheap bots is significantly damaging to internet service providers (ISPs), as the average cost of such an attack rose to US$ 2.5 million in 2017.

3. 5G brings hyperconnectivity and expands the attack surface

While 5G has tremendous potential for growth and innovation, it comes with a huge caveat. Connecting more devices faster inevitably leads to an influx of malicious traffic. Attackers will exploit poorly secured devices and use the millions of leaked (and reused) credentials to build botnets that make Mirai look like a proof-of-concept.

The biggest risk is that large-scale DDoS attacks take down financial institutions and critical infrastructure. Thus, DDoS mitigation that can cope with attacks in the range of terabits becomes a crucial necessity.

4. Insufficient resources to tackle imminent dangers

CISOs already struggle to get resources to handle current threats while business leaders push for 5G adoption. Meanwhile, cybercriminals will take the opportunity to exploit higher capacity bandwidth that 5G provides to launch attacks on an unprecedented scale.

The companies must accept the responsibility for DDoS mitigation with consolidated security. Many companies underestimate the threat of DDoS, but 5G’s faster speeds and greater mobility will undoubtedly make attacks even more destructive. Business and security leaders must make a conscious decision to prioritise anti-DDoS measures.

By adopting personalised and mixed mitigation options against DDoS attacks, businesses can keep infrastructure and services online.. Moving focus from on-premise hardware firewalls to choosing a globally distributed network of scrubbing centers with unrivaled mitigation capacity may be a winning card in the Anti-DDoS battle.

Network operators must scrupulously monitor anomalous activity, access, and traffic patterns to curb large DDoS attacks.

CSPs must consider high-volume DDoS mitigation services and combine them with deep packet inspection (DPI) that doesn’t impact legitimate traffic or streaming quality.

It’s important to keep in mind that, once 5G is deployed, companies and individual users alike expect flawless connectivity and network performance, along with uncompromised security and privacy. In the coming years, balancing service quality with security is what will set visionary CSPs apart from the rest.

Contributed by Maria Sirbu, VP of Business Development, Voxility.

*Note: The views expressed in this blog are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of SC Media UK or Haymarket Media.

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