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This blog was written and contributed by our partner, Cradlepoint.

Encryption and SIM cards in private cellular networks enable physical security measures that effectively eliminate credential-based attacks

In large enterprise areas such as campuses or manufacturing facilities, local-area networks (LANs) and Wi-Fi often do the heavy lifting to ensure IoT, employee devices, and more are effectively transmitting critical data. However, this method of connectivity isn't automatically threat-proof and securing most wireless networks requires proactive and vigilant administration by IT personnel.

Private 5G security offers a set of safeguards that enterprise businesses count on. This cellular technology not only has inherent security features, but also improved reliability, reach, availability, and performance — all contributing to the increase in enterprise deployments of private 5G and LTE to complement Wi-Fi and diversify LANs.

What are private cellular networks?

Private 5G and LTE networks use licensed, unlicensed, or shared spectrum, including the Citizen Broadband Radio Spectrum (CBRS) in the U.S. These spectrum allocations are similar to public cellular networks, but smaller in scale and targeted to more defined use cases.

For companies occupying large or complex areas such as manufacturing facilities, transportation hubs, warehouses, venues, and smart cities or campuses, setting up a private wireless network is a secure, flexible, and cost-effective way to establish a wireless LAN (WLAN). Private networks are optimized for business-critical applications and devices including security cameras, IoT, and connected worker applications such as scanners or point-of-sale devices, automated guided vehicles (AGVs), and much more.

Compared to public cellular, a private cellular network gives enterprises complete control over how their network resources are allocated, configured, and managed. Compared to Wi-Fi, private 5G security offers enhanced, customizable solutions to defend expanding networks.

What makes private cellular networks secure compared to Wi-Fi?

Given the proliferation of IoT and other connected devices, it's no surprise that many network breaches occur via Wi-Fi-connected technology. While there are many characteristics that make private cellular a reliable and sought-after WLAN solution, security often takes the cake for the following reasons:

SIM-based authentication

Using a private cellular network, enterprises have full control of their network and — unlike Wi-Fi — this includes physical control. To access the network, users and devices must have a provisioned SIM or eSIM. This eliminates the risk posed by traditional credential-based attacks. Even if a bad actor got their hands on an authorized device, they would only be able to obtain the information the assigned SIM has access to. Once the breach is discovered, network administrators can disable the SIM to prevent further data discovery.

Separation and encryption of data

User and SIM configuration on a private cellular network enables data processing and storage to be separated and protected from the mobile network. Additionally, unique device identifiers can be encrypted to mitigate rogue base stations.

Custom security policies

Private cellular security is attractive to IT teams eager to implement security policies that can be designed and controlled by the enterprise. Under a private network, configurations are fully customizable to meet enterprise security requirements. This includes the ability to establish rules for when and where devices can be online.

What makes 5G security different?

5G is the first generation of wireless to take specific use cases and devices into account when developing the foundation of its network. As a result, 5G security includes bolstered privacy and security for subscribers, the core network, radio access network (RAN) components, roaming, 5G network slicing, and authentication. Software-defined virtualized functions on the network also allow for rapid reconfiguration to respond to attacks. Additional advanced security measures include:

  • Mutual authentication of subscriber and network.
  • Use of a massive number of antennas and beamforming techniques to reduce interference and make it harder to conduct over-the-air eavesdropping attacks.
  • A shift to service-based architecture with Transport Layer Security authentication and encryption.
  • Home network subscriber authentication and verification of whether or not a device is present in the serving network when it receives a service request.

Private 5G security includes the enhancements listed above as well as those already in place on 4G/LTE networks. Each security characteristic provides valuable protection for individual devices and the network as a whole.

How organizations benefit from private cellular network security

WLAN, Wi-Fi, and public cellular networks are inherently convenient, flexible, and scalable. Each of these wireless networks can be highly secure if managed with expertise, sufficient resources, and a capable network management solution — and millions do just that. Beyond providing improved performance and highly reliable coverage, private cellular networks magnify the security of any organization, whether as a standalone service or when used in conjunction with other wireless technologies.

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