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ZHAW researchers develop a secure architecture for future 6G mobile communications standard

The successor to the 5G mobile network standard will further blur the boundaries between the physical and digital worlds. Numerous devices, services and technologies will communicate in real-time using 6G technology. The ZHAW School of Engineering is part of the EU Horizon project "NATWORK" and is working on the creation of a secure infrastructure for the future mobile communications standard.

6G sounds like the faster successor to 5G technology, but it means much more than even higher network speeds for smartphone users. The establishment of the 6G standard is particularly important for Internet of Things (IoT) applications in industry, the expansion of smart city activities and autonomous transport, for example, through more precise location determination and real-time recording of traffic data. This new mobile technology will also serve as the new main infrastructure for IoT applications in the healthcare and energy sectors. AI will be used to efficiently control and utilise the network created by new radio technologies. However, the new mobile communications standard is not due to be introduced until 2030 at the earliest.

High risk due to security vulnerabilities

A breach of the highly dynamic and heterogeneous architecture of the 6G network could therefore massively jeopardise the security of the critical infrastructures running on it. Security vulnerabilities in the highly complex 6G architecture can not only lead to the loss of information and control of connected devices, but also to the loss of money and property and, in the worst-case scenario, endanger human lives, for example, by attacking critical infrastructures, networked cars or machines. Ensuring reliable and continuous network security is thus one of the biggest challenges before 6G is established.

Analysing the threat potential for 6G networks

The aim of the EU project NATWORK (Net-Zero self-adaptive activation of distributed self-resilient augmented services) is to create an economical, energy-efficient, AI-based 6G cybersecurity and resilience framework with a holistic approach, on the basis of which intelligent networks and services can be built across sectors. The project team, consisting of 14 research partners from 10 European countries, is looking at possible threat scenarios and potential security risks for 6G networks and developing novel solutions, taking into account the social, scientific and economic context, in order to provide a digital infrastructure for 6G networks protected against cyber attacks.

The task of the ZHAW team within the project is to develop intelligent and resource-optimized cybersecurity schemes in the edge-to-cloud continuum for future networks. ZHAW will focus on the so called Moving Target Defense (MTD) techniques - A cyber security strategy that aims to proactively protect networks, computer systems and data by constantly changing the attack surface). By applying new AI and ML (Machine Learning) technologies such as Explainable and Robust AI and Federated Learning, the ZHAW team aims to improve MTD technology in order to create a trustworthy and secure network infrastructure. For project manager Gürkan Gün, the EU project is a great benefit for the ZHAW School of Engineering: «The NATWORK project will provide ZHAW with the scientific and technical outcomes stemming from developed novel cybersecurity assets while InIT Information Security Research Group will strengthen its position at the forefront of applied cybersecurity research.»