Research: 5G Networks Still Vulnerable to Location Tracking, Downgrading Attacks

A group of researchers found 11 flaws, several of which would expose a device’s location and when a user calls or sends texts.

While excitement is growing about the potential capabilities of 5G networks on a global scale, researchers are finding that the next generation of connectivity could come with some major security concerns.

During the Association for Computing Machinery’s Conference on Computer and Communications Security in London this week, researchers from Purdue University and the University of Iowa presented 11 security issues in 5G protocols, WIRED reported. Those design issues could have dire consequences for users, allowing hackers to expose a person’s location, track when a user makes calls or sends a text, and downgrade a device’s service to old data networks.

To identify the problems, the researchers used a new custom tool called 5GReasoner. Their research also led them to discover five vulnerabilities that already existed with 3G and 4G networks.

"Since many security features from 4G and 3G have been adopted to 5G, there is a high chance that vulnerabilities in previous generations are likely inherited to 5G, too,” Syed Rafiul Hussain, a postdoctoral security researcher at Purdue who led the study, told WIRED. “Additionally, new features in 5G may not have undergone rigorous security evaluation yet. So we were both surprised and not so surprised by our findings."

While many proponents of 5G say that it can protect phone identifiers and therefore prevent tracking attacks, Hussain and his colleagues found that downgrade attacks can easily bring a device on to an older network to get more information about a device and the user.

In addition, the researchers found that they could get around the latest security practice of giving networks a “Temporary Mobile Subscriber Identity,” or TMSI, that is changed periodically to prevent tracking. Flaws could allow hackers to override those resets or correlate the device’s old and news TSMIs, according to WIRED.

The findings were submitted to the standards body GSMA, which said that the scenarios described by the researchers have been “judged as nil or low-impact in practice.”

“We appreciate the authors’ work to identify where the standard is written ambiguously, which may lead to clarifications in the future," the standards group said in a statement.

Still, the research points out the continued issues in the 5G security framework, which include major risks of users having their locations tracked or their devices downgraded to older networks.

"The thing I worry about most is that attackers could know the location of a user," Hussain told WIRED. "5G tried to solve this, but there are many vulnerabilities that expose location information, so fixing one is not enough."

About the Author

Haley Samsel is an Associate Content Editor for the Infrastructure Solutions Group at 1105 Media.

Featured

  • Maximizing Your Security Budget This Year

    7 Ways You Can Secure a High-Traffic Commercial Security Gate  

    Your commercial security gate is one of your most powerful tools to keep thieves off your property. Without a security gate, your commercial perimeter security plan is all for nothing. Read Now

  • Survey: Only 13 Percent of Research Institutions Are Prepared for AI

    A new survey commissioned by SHI International and Dell Technologies underscores the transformative potential of artificial intelligence (AI) while exposing significant gaps in preparedness at many research institutions. Read Now

  • Survey: 70 Percent of Organizations Have Established Dedicated SaaS Security Teams

    Seventy percent of organizations have prioritized investment in SaaS security, establishing dedicated SaaS security teams, despite economic uncertainty and workforce reductions. This was a key finding in the fourth Annual SaaS Security Survey Report: 2025 CISO Plans and Priorities released today by the Cloud Security Alliance (CSA), the world’s leading organization dedicated to defining standards, certifications, and best practices to help ensure a secure cloud computing environment. Read Now

  • Mobile Applications Are Empowering Security Personnel

    From real-time surveillance and access control management to remote monitoring and communications, a new generation of mobile applications is empowering security personnel to protect people and places. Mobile applications for physical security systems are emerging as indispensable tools to enhance safety. They also offer many features that are reshaping how modern security professionals approach their work. Read Now

Featured Cybersecurity

Webinars

New Products

  • AC Nio

    AC Nio

    Aiphone, a leading international manufacturer of intercom, access control, and emergency communication products, has introduced the AC Nio, its access control management software, an important addition to its new line of access control solutions. 3

  • A8V MIND

    A8V MIND

    Hexagon’s Geosystems presents a portable version of its Accur8vision detection system. A rugged all-in-one solution, the A8V MIND (Mobile Intrusion Detection) is designed to provide flexible protection of critical outdoor infrastructure and objects. Hexagon’s Accur8vision is a volumetric detection system that employs LiDAR technology to safeguard entire areas. Whenever it detects movement in a specified zone, it automatically differentiates a threat from a nonthreat, and immediately notifies security staff if necessary. Person detection is carried out within a radius of 80 meters from this device. Connected remotely via a portable computer device, it enables remote surveillance and does not depend on security staff patrolling the area. 3

  • Automatic Systems V07

    Automatic Systems V07

    Automatic Systems, an industry-leading manufacturer of pedestrian and vehicle secure entrance control access systems, is pleased to announce the release of its groundbreaking V07 software. The V07 software update is designed specifically to address cybersecurity concerns and will ensure the integrity and confidentiality of Automatic Systems applications. With the new V07 software, updates will be delivered by means of an encrypted file. 3