The implications of the 5G roll-out for law enforcement

With a shaky cyber security foundation, the impact on crime and criminals could be serious

Updated - August 24, 2022 01:24 am IST

Published - August 24, 2022 12:15 am IST

Union Minister Ashwini Vaishnaw speaks in the Rajya Sabha on August 5, 2022. Photo: Sansad TV via PTI

Union Minister Ashwini Vaishnaw speaks in the Rajya Sabha on August 5, 2022. Photo: Sansad TV via PTI

Prime Minister Narendra Modi recently announced that 5G deployment in India will commence sooner than expected. Reports suggest that the government will launch 5G at the inauguration of the India Mobile Congress on September 29. The long-awaited upgrade from 4G to 5G will allow ultra-fast Internet speeds and seamless connectivity across the country compared to 4G. The implications of the 5G roll-out could be significant, particularly for law enforcement in India.

Ensuring security

On the one hand, the 5G roll-out is set to enhance efficiency, productivity, and security by helping the police access critical information in real-time and nab criminals. 5G has high bandwidth and low latency, so its adoption would ensure the best performance of police devices such as body cams, facial recognition technology, automatic number-plate recognition, drones, and CCTVs. 5G promises to transmit clearer images. This will simplify the task of the police who, at present, often look at hazy images from devices and attempt to decipher them while working on cases. The increased storage capacity promised by 5G will allow the police to streamline their investigation methods. 5G will also allow rapid and secure communication within the organisation as well as between civilians and emergency responders. With 5G, the police can remotely access and analyse crime data and information from other infrastructure such as traffic lights.

But there are challenges in adopting 5G. The government and telecommmunication companies must first ensure that law enforcement agencies have the necessary infrastructure to take full advantage of all that 5G can offer. Even if law enforcement agencies get access to secure data from telecom operators, they will still need tools to access this data. Also, most police systems are outdated and may not be compatible with 5G. To bridge this technology gap, the police must invest in modern tools, software and infrastructure. They require funds to do this.

Cyber security concerns

As many have pointed out, there are many concerns about 5G too. The first is, of course, cyber security. Deploying 5G when we have a shaky cyber security foundation is like erecting a structure on soft sand. As the previous networks were hardware-based, India could practise cyber hygiene. But 5G is a software-defined digital routing. This makes it susceptible to cyber threats such as botnet attacks, man-in-the-middle attacks, and distributed denial-of-service (DDoS) overloads. Besides, as 5G lacks end-to-end encryption, hackers can plot their attacks more precisely and perpetrate cybercrimes by hacking into systems or disseminating illegal content. The bandwidth expansion due to 5G will enable criminals to embezzle data bases easily. With time, as 5G connects with additional devices, the frequency of attacks could increase.

The impact that the roll-out of 5G in India could have on crime and criminals is pretty obvious and should be taken seriously. For example, a person could set up a fake 5G tower on top of a public building and manipulate it to intercept private phone calls or send fake messages. Or he could steal a person’s phone, sign in to his 5G connection with an existing account, gain access to the person’s data or make purchases using the person’s credit card. Criminals could use 5G to conceal their activities or mask their location. They could use 5G to locate their victims quickly and track their movements and coordinate onslaughts through real-time communication with each other. There could be a lower probability of criminals getting caught when they commit identity theft or credit card fraud or steal information from computers, smartphones and tablets.

5G may also make it easier for criminals to perpetrate cyber bullying. Criminal groups may be able to easily coordinate DDoS onslaughts because of the real-time communication capabilities between multiple criminal groups. They could also hack into Internet-of-Things (IoT) devices and remotely commit crimes. For example, they could hack into a victim’s vehicle and cause an accident in order to collect insurance money, or hack into smart homes and smart cars to loot personal information, or inflict physical crimes. Security patching of all IoT devices may eventually become necessary.

Terrorists, too, could benefit from 5G as the high speed would allow them to execute attacks more rapidly and precisely. With 5G, terrorists can plan attacks without having to travel physically or use telephones, which could leave a trail for law enforcement agencies to act on.

Fighting new-age crimes

Therefore, authorities will have to adopt measures to hinder crimes facilitated by 5G technology. First, the police will need to be trained so that they recognise new 5G-enabled crimes. Second, training programmes focusing on such crimes must be developed. This includes identifying potential scenarios for new types of crimes and their prevention. Third, the government and telecom companies could think of setting up a 5G crime monitoring task force to monitor and identify new crimes and develop countermeasures. Fourth, it is imperative to create regulations that make it a crime for people to use 5G technology to commit crimes. Such a regulation could help prevent criminals from using stolen or counterfeit equipment since telecom companies will be able to track the location of the equipment and shut it down remotely. Fifth, regulations may also require telecom companies to allow police officers access to their equipment to track the location of victims and perpetrators of 5G-facilitated crimes for countermeasures. These countermeasures may not only safeguard critical infrastructure but also defend private citizens from cyber-attacks using 5G technology. Finally, law enforcement agencies will have to evolve strategies to identify victims of 5G-facilitated crimes, locate them and take action against the perpetrators of such crimes.

The 5G roll-out will be a game-changer for law enforcement agencies. It will enable the police fight crime effectively. At the same time, criminal use of 5G is inevitable. In this context, the recent recommendation of the Telecom Regulatory Authority of India to the government to develop a national road map for India to implement 5G in the best possible manner should encompass law enforcement requirements.

K. Jayanth Murali is Director General of Police, IWCID. Views are personal

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