Assessing Vulnerabilities of 5G Networks: An In-depth Field Campaign | MIT News

**Assessing the Vulnerabilities of 5G Technology for Military Use**


Fifth-generation, or 5G, mobile network technology is gaining attention for its ability to provide higher data rates, ultra-low latency, improved reliability, expanded configurability, increased network capacity and availability, and connectivity among a larger number of users. However, for the U.S. Department of Defense (DoD), implementing 5G in their communication systems poses security challenges. Military applications require robust security to protect against unwanted detection, geolocation, and jamming of signals. Before the DoD can harness the full potential of 5G, vulnerabilities must be identified, quantified, and mitigated.

**Testing 5G Vulnerabilities at Hill Air Force Base**

With funding from the DoD FutureG and 5G Office, the Lincoln Laboratory 5G vulnerability assessment team conducted an over-the-air test campaign at Hill Air Force Base (AFB) in Utah. This test bed, provided by Nokia Corporation, allowed the team to evaluate the capabilities and functionality of 5G networks. For two weeks, the team collected network signals through GPS-equipped antenna arrays connected to software-defined radios. By analyzing these signals, they assessed the difficulty of detecting, geolocating, and jamming 5G signals.

**Identifying Vulnerabilities through Data Collection**

The Lincoln Laboratory team collected data by driving trucks equipped with sensor systems to different sites on the base. They adjusted network parameters and collected data to determine the vulnerabilities of 5G signals. The team’s modeling and simulation work helped them prepare for the experimental setup, considering factors such as signal detection range, optimal sensor placement for geolocation accuracy, and the best sensor geometry. On-site testing showed that 5G signals, particularly the signal synchronization block (SSB), were easily detectable. The periodic nature of the SSB made it vulnerable to jamming. The team also used the MUSIC algorithm to estimate the direction of arrival of signals for geolocation purposes.

**Low-Cost Solutions for Detecting and Jamming 5G Signals**

The team aimed to assess the ease and cost-effectiveness of detecting, geolocating, and jamming 5G signals. Their results showed that commercially available off-the-shelf hardware setups and open-source algorithms were effective. This finding raises concerns about the security of 5G networks and the need for enhanced measures to protect against potential adversaries.

**Generational Advances in Wireless Technology**

The introduction of each new generation of wireless communications technology brings significant improvements to speed, latency, connectivity, and flexibility. 5G offers speeds up to 20 gigabits per second, 20 times faster than 4G, and operates at both low-band and high-frequency millimeter-wave frequencies. High-frequency signals require smaller towers spaced closer together, enabling high data rates in densely populated areas. Massive multiple-input, multiple-output (MIMO) antenna arrays and beamforming techniques further enhance wireless connections.

**Enhancing Resilience of 5G for Military Use**

The Lincoln Laboratory team has been using their field-testing insights to enhance the resiliency of standard 5G components and processes. The goal is to make these enhancements simple and cost-effective for the DoD to implement, without modifying 5G hardware. The team is also exploring the use of complex algorithms, including those utilizing machine learning, to improve the detection and geolocation of 5G signals.


The vulnerabilities of 5G technology for military applications have been identified through field testing and data collection at Hill Air Force Base. The ease of detecting, geolocating, and jamming 5G signals raises security concerns for the DoD. However, through the implementation of enhanced measures, 5G can become more resilient and secure for military use. Further research and development are needed to address these vulnerabilities and ensure the safe and efficient implementation of 5G technology in military communications systems.

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