by John Strand, StandConsult (edited by Alan J Weissberger)
European Commissioner Thierry Breton presented the European Commission’s plan for banning High-Risk Suppliers like Huawei and ZTE from European telecommunications networks. Here is the first portion:
The security of 5G networks is essential. They are critical infrastructures in their own right and for other sectors that depend on them, such as energy, transport, health and finance.
This is why, in January 2020, the EU unanimously adopted a toolbox on the security of 5G networks. The “5G cybersecurity toolbox” defined the risks and the measures to be taken by Member States and telecoms operators to address them.
In particular, it recommended that the use of equipment in the core and access (RAN) parts of the networks should be restricted or prohibited for entities considered to be “high-risk suppliers”, notably because they are subject to highly intrusive third-country laws on national intelligence and data security.
3 years on, almost all Member States have transposed the toolkit’s recommendations into their national law. In other words, they can now decide to restrict or exclude suppliers on the basis of security risk analysis. But to date, only 10 of them have used these prerogatives to restrict or exclude high-risk vendors.
The Commission also released a status report on “Member States’ Progress in implementing the EU Toolbox on 5G Cybersecurity.”
Breton’s message is that the member must move more quickly to implement the 5G toolbox.
Image Credit: European Union
Here are Breton’s key points with Strand Consult’s assessment (SC):
- All EU member states are committed to implementing the EU´s 5G Toolbox. To date, 24 Member States have adopted or are preparing legislative measures giving national authorities the powers to perform an assessment of suppliers and issue restrictions.
- SC: This means that all EU countries support the 5G Toolbox, the implement of which will work to remove Huawei and ZTE from European networks.
- 10 Member States have imposed such restrictions, and an additional 3 Member States have relevant national legislation underway.
- SC: This is a significant improvement compared to a few months ago when Strand Consult’s released its report The Market for 5G RAN in Europe: Share of Chinese and Non-Chinese Vendors in 31 European Countries. Given the Commission’s communication we the remaining more operators in 14 countries to move more expeditiously to remove Huawei and ZTE equipment.
- The Commission considers that decisions adopted by Member States to restrict or exclude Huawei and ZTE from 5G networks are justified and compliant with the 5G Toolbox.
- SC: This statement is very important to support the member states where Huawei and China attempt to thwart the implementation of the toolbox. China has made unseemly threats in certain members states. Now these states have meaningful European Commission support. For example, in December 2019, Wu Ken, the Chinese ambassador to Germany, was quoted as threatening the German auto manufacturing industry that access to the Chinese market could be restricted should Chinese Huawei be excluded from participating in contracts to build Germany’s 5G networks. The statement dampened Germany’s enthusiasm for opening its EU toolbox and examining its requirements.
- The Commission will take measures to avoid conducting its official communications via mobile networks built with Huawei and ZTE equipment.
- SC: If an EU mobile operator uses Huawei or ZTE equipment in its 5G network, the European Commission will not do business with that operator. In practice EU operators which use Huawei and ZTE will be labeled as “non-trusted operators.” This will likely accelerate the exodus of corporate customers from European operators which don’t want to conduct their business on Chinese networks. Strand Consult described this in its 2019 research note The pressure to restrict Huawei from telecom networks is driven not by governments, but the many companies which have experienced hacking, IP theft, or espionage. This is a needed and important step from the Commission.
- The Commission also intends to reflect this decision in all relevant EU funding programs and instruments.
- SC: The EU will further restrict grants, subsidies, and financing to European entities which use Huawei and ZTE equipment. This will have consequences for rural EU operators which receive EU money and recipients of European Investment Bank (EIB) loans.
Strand Consult is not surprised by today’s announcements. They are consistent with the security analyses and recommendations Strand Consult has published for years.
Some EU countries and operators will find it difficult to implement the EU’s new security and procurement policy. However Strand Consult believes that it is good business for an operator communication that it takes security seriously and backs it up with a clean network free of Huawei and ZTE equipment.
Strand Consult predicts that Huawei will make the road ahead difficult and will attempt to sabotage the European Commission’s efforts. Nations and operators should prepare for pushback by reading Strand Consult’s reports on Huawei’s tactics. Moreover, non-Chinese employees will likely find that working for Huawei has reputational risks.
How foreign network equipment is treated in China.
The foundation of any economy, be it the EU, the US or China, is national security. Some may find the EU approach tough, but it pales in comparison the blockade that China has imposed on foreign technology providers for years.
China restricts these technologies for ideological and economic reasons. Most people take for granted that the websites and media they access everyday are not available in China. These foreign technologies and their operators have been denied access to the world’s single largest online market, hundreds of millions of internet users, and a multi-trillion-dollar opportunity. Moreover, the Chinese people are denied to freedom to engage on an open internet.
Building upon censorship frameworks in traditional media which had been in place for decades in China, its State Council adopted rules and regulations to control internet traffic beginning in 1996.
The media focuses mainly on US and EU network security and associated vendor policies. However few if any investigate the rules in China.
A detailed review is available from White & Chase, February 2022. In general, China’s rules are significantly more rigid than those of the US and EU. These rules do not entail the same process and transparency which are standard and expected in the West.
The New Measures list the following main factors for assessing national security risk during cybersecurity review.
- The risk of any critical information infrastructure being illegally controlled, tampered with or sabotaged after any product or service is used.
- The risk of an interruption in the supply of any product or service endangering the continuity of any critical information infrastructure.
- The security, openness, transparency, diversity of sources and reliability of any supply channel of any product or service, and the risk of its supply being interrupted due to political, diplomatic, trade or other factors.
- The compliance of the provider of any product or service with the laws, administrative regulations, and departmental rules of China.
- The risk of any core data, important data or a large amount of personal information being stolen, leaked, destroyed, illegally used, or illegally transferred abroad.
- The risk of any critical information infrastructure, core data, important data, or a large amount of personal information being affected, controlled, or maliciously used by foreign governments, as well as any network information security risk.
- Any other factor that may endanger the security of any critical information infrastructure, network security or data security.
The effect of these rules is to limit foreign providers from the market from the start and to favor Chinese providers.
While the media sensationalizes cases like Huawei and TikTok, these pale in comparison to the systematic restriction undertaken by China against foreign technology for the last 20 years. Moreover, Chinese technology companies enjoy more freedom abroad than foreign technologies do in China.
Technological and informational control and restriction are widely practiced across China. This fulfills many political, social, cultural, economic, and religious objectives for the PRC,and is practiced by the government, corporations, and individual themselves. It has increased under General Secretary Xi. This Censorship is coupled with pervasive surveillance of people. Meanwhile PRC has attempted to export this “new world media order.”
Strand Consult addresses Chinas restrictions in its 2020 report You Are Not Welcome: An Analysis of Thousands Foreign Technology Companies Blocked by China Since 1996. It describes how and why China has systematically restricted thousands of foreign internet technologies like online news and media outlets, social media platforms, virtual private networks, content delivery networks, mobile applications, telecommunications equipment, cloud services, and other technologies.
With its new 2023 report The Market for 5G RAN in Europe: Share of Chinese and Non-Chinese Vendors in 31 European Countries, Strand Consult brings valuable evidence of the location, amount, and share of Chinese and non-Chinese equipment in European telecom networks. This report, the second of its kind, describes the respective amounts of 5G equipment from Huawei, ZTE, and non-Chinese vendors in European mobile networks and the share of such in equipment in the 5G Radio Access Network (RAN).
IEEE ComSoc/SCU SoE March 22, 2022 event: OpenRAN and Private 5G – New Opportunities and Challenges. Video: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=i7QUyhjxpzE
By Logan Kugler (edited by Alan J Weissberger)
Companies making and using IoT sensors can have a high degree of confidence their technology uses the best security features and practices if they adhere to established, credible security standards. There are plenty of security standards that IoT devices can—or should—follow. Some are related to how IoT devices use networks and transmit data. Some are related to the underlying technologies IoT devices rely upon (such as Wi-Fi). Others offer comprehensive guidance on how to create and use IoT devices in a secure way.
One well-known IoT standard is ISO/IEC 30141 which “provides a standardized IoT Reference Architecture using a common vocabulary, reusable designs, and industry best practices.” Another IoT standard, TS 103645 from ETSI aims to create a security baseline for Web-connected devices, including guidelines for password usage, software updates, and user data standards for consumer IoT devices.
In another example, the U.S. National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) has created a list of six prescribed security characteristics that manufacturers should incorporate into IoT devices. The list includes security features such as device identification, device configuration features, data protection features, logical access to interfaces, adequate software and firmware updates, and adequate cybersecurity event logging.
There are dozens of organizations that publish helpful standards to guide IoT manufacturers and device customers on how to design, manufacture, and use IoT sensors and sensor-enabled devices in the safest way possible. However, the diversity of organizations and standards also presents problems.
Some standards organizations may aim to publish universal standards across different IoT technologies, while others may only publish standards for certain countries or devices and technologies. While these organizations are usually highly credible and undergo rigorous processes to ensure their standards are comprehensive, many such standards are not legally binding. However, there is no single, well accepted standard for IoT security. The existing standards are not always designed for the unique risks IoT technologies face, says Izzat Alsmadi, a computer science professor at Texas A&M University in San Antonio, who does work on IoT security. Existing standards may not adequately apply to significant numbers of IoT sensors, he explained, and some IoT devices and networks use proprietary technology that does not follow more widely accepted or used industry standards.
“Today’s IoT standards are relevant, but not enough and in some cases not up to date or not up to security challenges,” says Alsmadi. That’s because some of today’s existing security mechanisms were initially designed for desktop computers and are difficult to implement on resource-constrained IoT devices, he says. There also is the problem of compliance. Standards are often voluntary—and many companies do not adhere to them due to business pressures.
“Currently, the IoT segment sacrifices security due to resource allocation and price,” says Marion Marincat, founder and CEO of Mumbli, an IoT company. It is often faster and cheaper to limit security options in order to get to market, he says. As such, the standards for IoT mainly end up being adopted by the companies with deep-enough pockets and wide-enough competitive moats to afford to implement better security in their devices.
“Although there are a lot of methods to design low-cost devices with security in mind, business decisions usually push back the implementation for these solutions in order to speed up the route to market or reduce the price of devices even further,” says Marincat.
The issues with IoT sensor standards have larger implications for the overall security of the Internet of Things.
“The Internet of Things is very vulnerable in comparison with other categories of information systems,” says Alsmadi, because so many IoT applications are publicly visible and can be remotely controlled.
These vulnerabilities become even more pronounced as the adoption of IoT grows, especially as the industrial Internet of Things becomes a growing attack vector.
“The biggest change in operational technology systems over the past decade is that they have recently become more vulnerable to attacks from the outside as they are moving away from isolated, air-gapped environments and embracing more automation and digitally connected devices and systems,” says Fortinet’s Nelson.
Industrial IoT devices often run on hardware with little or no management interface and often are not able to be upgraded in the field. Physically, IoT devices in industrial use-cases frequently are installed in hard-to-reach or publicly inaccessible places (such as on top of a building). As such, they must be able to operate unattended for long periods and be resistant to physical tampering, he says.
“An attack on industrial IoT, especially on a device or system used to monitor critical operations and processes, can have a very significant impact on not only the business itself but also on the environment, even on the health and safety of staff and the public at large,” Nelson says.
Marincat advocates rolling out minimum standards to broad categories of IoT devices, but acknowledges many manufacturers will still see complying with such standards as a luxury in a competitive marketplace.
However, even with smarter standards approaches, making security updates to combined IoT software/hardware can be slower and more complicated than bug fixes and security updates for software alone. One possible fix is having companies adopt smarter risk-mitigation policies in how they use IoT devices, says Nelson. Companies should consider employing a zero-trust access (ZTA) model that verifies users and devices before every application session. “Zero-trust access confirms that users and devices meet the organization’s policy to access that application and dramatically improves the organization’s overall risk posture,” he says.
Nelson also recommends companies use micro-segmentation in their networks. This approach segments and isolates attack surfaces into specific zones. Data flows are then controlled into these zones. The result is companies can limit attacks to a small subset of the business, minimizing the chance bad actors move laterally through networks into other core business functions.
Even basic risk mitigation techniques can help. Other popular risk mitigation techniques employed by businesses include encrypting internet connections, using alternate networks in addition to primary ones, and investing in higher-quality (and more costly) devices from companies that have, in turn, invested in stronger IoT security. Despite all this, however, the vast majority of organizations can still expect at least one cybersecurity attack attempt in a given year. Research from Fortinet found only 6% of organizations experienced no cybersecurity intrusions in 2022.
Putting better cybersecurity measures in place still requires proactive, voluntary compliance from companies—compliance that has not always been forthcoming in the past. While the need for speed may win markets, it is not going away as a major obstacle to safer IoT devices and networks. That leaves experts skeptical about just how much of the problem can be solved by expanded standards—and how much is a result of human nature and incentives in the technology sector. “We tend to rush and enjoy advances in technology, then deal with security problems later on or when they become serious,” says Alsmadi.
Communications of the ACM, June 2023, Vol. 66 No. 6, Pages 14-16
2022 State of Operational Technology and Cybersecurity Report, Fortinet, Jun. 21, 2022, https://bit.ly/3G6HTDO
IoT Standards and Protocols Explained, Behrtech, https://behrtech.com/blog/iot-standards-and-protocols-explained
Number of IoT connected devices worldwide 2019–2021, with forecasts to 2030, Statista, Nov. 22, 2022, https://www-statista-com.libproxy.scu.edu/statistics/1183457/iot-connected-devices-worldwide
Telecommunications companies have become an attractive target for attackers, as their networks can be used as a back door to other organizations, thereby making it attractive for cybercriminals to gain unauthorized access. These telecoms networks are also used to build, control and operate other critical infrastructure sectors, including energy, information technology, and transportation systems. Given the interconnected nature of telecom networks between critical infrastructure sectors, organizations need to focus on safeguarding network infrastructure and enabling network availability for critical infrastructure communication.
Telecoms face mounting threats due to various factors, such as the absence of technical knowledge, use of legacy systems, presence of sensitive information, inadequate password security, and increasing threat landscape. Operators are also transforming themselves from network infrastructure companies to cloud service companies to improve efficiencies in business operations, roll out new services and applications, and store and distribute content. As telcos are often a gateway into multiple businesses, threats can either target a specific telecom company, its third-party providers, or the subscribers of a telecom service. These attacks can come in various forms.
Trend Micro disclosed that telecoms have a larger cyber-attack surface than most enterprises, often stretching from their base station infrastructure to call centers and home workers’ laptops. The surface area provides ample opportunity for threat actors looking for customer or organizational data, trying to hijack customer accounts, or seeking to disrupt services via DDoS (distributed denial of service) and ransomware. Furthermore, supply chain providers, cloud services, IoT systems and new infrastructure needed to support 5G and network slicing create additional risk.
Industrial Cyber reached out to experts in the telecoms sector to examine the key factors that make the communications sector vulnerable to cyber attacks. They also weigh in on the unique challenges that the communications sector faces when it comes to securing and safeguarding its OT/ICS environments.
Teresa Cottam, the chief analyst at Omnisperience, told Industrial Cyber that in the past, where security was considered in telecoms the focus tended to be how it affected performance – such as minimizing DDoS traffic and attacks. “More recently, as everything has become more interconnected and the threat landscape has evolved, cyberattacks specifically against telecoms firms have increased,” she added.
Cottam pointed out that ultimately four challenges stand out – complexity, exposure, volume and variety, and cost.
On complexity, Cottam said that each individual ‘network’ actually comprises several generations of technology with some of it being decades old, and it might include fixed, mobile, and even satellite infrastructure. “Moving data from one side of the world to another requires multiple networks, each owned by a different company with a different risk profile. The move from 4G to 5G introduces even more complexity. In the 5G era, cloud, data, and IoT are combined – increasing security risks. Breaches now have a company-wide impact from production through supply chains and logistics to corporate systems,” she added.
Cottam also added that “when you consider how much equipment is in public places it’s actually surprising it’s not attacked more often. Malign actors don’t even need to mount a cyberattack, they can simply vandalise equipment to target specific regions or industries.”
Elaborating on volume and variety, Cottam said that the sheer volume of endpoints is staggering and continually increasing. “IoT has already massively increased the number of endpoints and will continue to do so. Many of these so-called smart objects aren’t very smart and are highly vulnerable. Many of the most vulnerable devices are in the home, but wherever they are, each device has the potential to inject malign traffic into the network,” she added.
On cost, Cottam said that the cost of securing a network end-to-end is significant and the reality is that telecoms firms and their customers are having to continually juggle risk versus security.
Turning the question around, Grant Lenahan, partner and principal analyst at Appledore Research, said that one of the huge transitions underway is from fundamentally private data centers and networks to outsourced or managed, secure networks that interconnect distributed enterprise to their digital partners, remote employees, public cloud, and SaaS facilities. Therefore, there is a blurring of public and private targets.
“We certainly can look at those who attack public networks because of the private data and traffic. We can also look at those who attack not an underlying enterprise target per se, but the network infrastructure itself,” Lenahan told Industrial Cyber. “These attacks, rather than going after specific data, or intended either to disrupt, for example, terrorism or to gain control that can later be used to target intellectual property the transit to the network. The very fact that public networks are public, complicates securing them.”
On the other hand, Lenahan added that there is scale and scope, allowing for concentrations of security expertise and automated protections, that might not be possible or affordable by individual enterprises. “We have spent hundreds of pages covering this seismic shift in our security research stream. Some readers might be interested in consulting it,” it added.
Andrei Elefant, CEO of EdgeHawk Security told Industrial Cyber that the key factors that make the communication sector vulnerable to cyber attacks are that the CSPs (communication service providers) face multiple and large attack surfaces. They also have a limited security budget and have to prioritize the security measures they take compared to the cost and priorities.
He also added that security expertise in CSPs is limited. “The various types of attack scenarios, attack methods, the type of data and systems that need to be protected are huge. CSPs cannot build expertise in all the required security domains and have to prioritize focus areas. The CSPs are defined as critical infrastructure and are frequently a target of Nation State Actors, which means higher expertise and more budget on the attackers’ side.”
Elefant added that these challenges are even more noticeable when it comes to protecting the OT/ICS environment. “Attack surfaces grow exponentially with the growth in the number and variety of the endpoints. Many of the OT endpoints have limited inherent protection capabilities (due to resources limitation, legacy devices, etc.,), which means they can be a perfect attack surface to harm CSPs or penetrate their networks. In many cases, these devices are being exploited for DDoS attacks, as they are available in masses with limited protection.”
Addressing the essential components that make cybersecurity in telecoms a vital and fundamental part of protecting the telecommunications landscape, as it also serves much of/all the other critical infrastructure sectors, Cottam said that not having complete visibility of the complexity of the telecoms landscape is one of the biggest challenges. “For example, there could be vulnerabilities in equipment and devices – which is often the focus of analyst reports – but equally there can be vulnerabilities in core processes which were put in place decades ago and haven’t been updated,” she added.
Cottam identified that a typical attack occurs by a criminal convincing the telecoms firm they are the customer and want to move to a new provider. “The telecoms firm – often with only minimal checking – provides the ‘customer’ with the means to do so. In the UK the system is designed to make it as easy as possible for the customer to do this, which also makes it easy for criminals. Such an attack against employees is bad; now consider it targeted at IoT devices. This is a great example of how cybersecurity often focuses on securing equipment (endpoints) but ignores vulnerable processes,” she added.
“Many countries have acted to secure number portability and in this respect, the UK is particularly vulnerable as its current system is so old-fashioned and inefficient,” according to Cottam. “Another problem this causes for IIOT is that the UK system also struggles to port large volumes of numbers such as would need to happen with a large corporate or IoT customer. This has the potential of decreasing competition in the connectivity part of the market since it’s a blocker to switching operators.”
Lenahan said that he doesn’t “believe we need to emphasize how important telecom infrastructure is. Not only is it critical infrastructure and it’s all right, but it is often the control plane for other infrastructure such as water, gas, electricity, emergency services, and many other essential components of both private public, and industrial life. It is, what’s on call, a target rich environment. That said, let’s look at what success looks like,” he added.
Elefant said that the CSPs are becoming a part of the critical infrastructures in any state. “National defense strongly relies on communication availability on the state level, in addition to the fact that these networks provide essential communication infrastructure to many other critical infrastructure facilities,” he added.
The essential components needed to keep CSPs networks available and reliable focus on two main aspects, according to Elefant. “Protecting the network infrastructure from unauthorized access and malicious attacks. This includes implementing firewalls, intrusion detection and prevention systems, and other security measures to prevent unauthorized access.”
He also pointed to protecting network availability for critical infrastructure communication by identifying and blocking attempts to saturate the network and accessibility to specific applications/devices using DDoS attacks.
The telecoms industry has had to reconsider its cybersecurity protocols in light of the digitization and incorporation of Industrial Internet of Things (IIoT) technologies. The executives looked into the main threats posed by increased connectivity techniques and how this shift affects the cybersecurity posture of these communication companies.
Cottam said that often today’s IIoT devices use the same networks as other systems, which presents a double-edged risk. “If a criminal can compromise an IIoT device they could use this as an access point to corporate systems; if they compromise corporate systems or user devices they can hijack IIoT devices. Again, this speaks to the interconnectedness of networks and often the poor understanding of how criminals can utilise connections and access points to compromise industrial customers.”
“The main concerns from customers include exposure of their data, compromised network equipment, attacks on devices and network signaling, as well as creating a gateway for further attacks. Network segmentation is a useful technique to limit the scope of such attacks,” according to Cottam. “Reliable security frameworks are built into 3GPP standards to ensure 4G and 5G cellular connections are secure. But as we move to 5G a range of new exciting techniques are also delivered.”
Another technique is to utilize private networks – effectively campus networks within a factory or industrial complex with limited connections to the public network but complex connections within the private network, Cottam said. “Connectivity is only provided to authorised devices (more secure than WiFi, as it can be based on SIM authentication) and data is processed on-site,” she added.
“The simplest way to look at this is that complexity is increasing dramatically in enterprise networks. There will be an order of magnitude more endpoints; applications and data will reside in various clouds; and dynamically changing ecosystems of digital trading partners will continuously evolve,” Lenahan said. “This implies a complex network that crosses ownership boundaries, and is constantly changing.”
Lenahan noted that the only apparent constant throughout this ‘web’ is the telecom CSP that undertakes end-to-end connectivity, orchestration, and in our view, security. “This is a huge opportunity for our industry. However, it also means we need to think completely differently about security. It cannot be a separate island; it must be integrated into network automation. Furthermore, it must be automated, something tacos in security professionals have long been uncomfortable with,” he added.
Elefant identified some of the threats brought by these increased connectivity techniques, including increased attack surface, unsecured devices, protocol vulnerabilities, and DDoS attacks. With “the exponential increase in the number of connected devices, the attack surface of the network has increased, creating more opportunities for malicious actors to gain unauthorized access to the network. Many IoT devices are not designed with security in mind, and may have weak passwords, unpatched vulnerabilities, or lack encryption, making them easy targets for attackers.”
He also pointed out that IoT devices often use proprietary protocols, which may have vulnerabilities that are not well understood and are difficult to patch. IoT devices can be easily compromised and used to launch DDoS attacks, overwhelming the network with traffic and causing availability issues.
Elefant highlighted that the new threats have led to a shift in the cybersecurity posture of CSPs. “Implementing more strict network segmentation, both on their infrastructure and also as a service to their customers. Specifically for the IIoT environment, access control services, delivered by the CSPs, are being applied on a larger scale. Protecting the network from DDoS attacks on the edge and access points became a mandatory consideration. Additionally, there is a need to continuously monitor and assess the security of the network edge and access as more attacks may come from exploited devices connected to the network.”
Like other critical infrastructure sectors, the communications sector has also faced mounting cybersecurity rules and regulations in recent times. The executives address how the communication sector responded to the increase in cybersecurity regulations for critical infrastructure owners and operators, as well as analyze the impact these initiatives have had in enhancing reporting procedures and improving the cybersecurity posture of the telecoms sector.
Cottam said that one of the biggest challenges stems from the ‘democratisation’ of IoT. “As it becomes the norm in manufacturing supply chains, smaller and newer industrial firms are drawn in or adopt IoT to increase their efficiency. These firms often don’t fully understand the importance or complexity of securing their IoT devices and lack the budget and expertise in-house,” she added.
Another challenge is that many enterprises deploy and secure IoT from an IT perspective, according to Cottam. “Traditional IT security largely focuses on end-point and perimeter security. But with hundreds of thousands of IoT endpoints and more permeable boundaries, the emphasis has to shift to securing and managing the network rather than trying to put security into every device – not all of which are designed to be secured,” she added.
“Likewise, while cellular IoT is reasonably secure – and that based on 5G even more so – it is not unhackable. IoT network security isn’t just about securing the network either, it’s about network-based security that can monitor all the connected objects, processes, and applications,” Cottam said. “Neither is it just about hackers anymore. Nation states, protestors, and terrorists are just as likely to want to attack critical infrastructure and their objectives are different and their budgets and expertise are huge. While there has been much talk of bringing together IT/OT/IoT into a single process to make it more manageable and auditable, the risk is that the complexity and volume become overwhelming.”
Lenahan said that details on how telcos are handling critical infrastructure security are hard to get, and in my opinion, rightly so. “That said, we can see many trends in the industry to prepare telecoms to not only be more secure on its own but to be in a good position to secure infrastructure for others. Some things are as simple as the collaborative work in the MEF, on secure transport services — or the transport service in security or considered as one. Similarly, the managed services, with security at their core, that many leading telcos are offering to their enterprise clients, can be applied to protecting public and shared infrastructure as well,” he added.
“One thing we believe they must change is that these ‘managed’ services, which, by definition, are semi-custom, must become more standardized products,” according to Lenahan. “We say this because that is the only way telcos can afford to invest in the level of automation that will truly illuminate errors and omissions and stay ahead of the bad actors. It’s simply a matter of operating a process at scale and concentrating one’s fire, so to speak.”
The CSPs responded in various methods to address the increase in cybersecurity regulations for critical infrastructure, Elefant said. “Increase in network segmentation to protect critical infrastructure, the CSPs designed their networks in a way they can segment their network based on the type of service they need to deliver. Applying more protection capabilities at the edge of the network to protect the network from threats that may come from the access side, in addition to more traditional protection methods they apply on the network core,” he added.
Elefant also suggested adding more secure communication channels, like segmentation and encryption for critical elements, such as the control plane, and adding more monitoring tools to identify security risks in real time. “These initiatives help CSPs to identify security threats in real-time and apply faster response and mitigation, leveraging the new control points, mainly at the edge of the network,” he concluded.
IEEE/SCU SoE Virtual Event: May 26, 2022- Critical Cybersecurity Issues for Cellular Networks (3G/4G, 5G), IoT, and Cloud Resident Data Centers
Telecom has always been susceptible to cyberattacks and data breaches. With increasing deployment of IoT devices, attackers will have more opportunities to obtain our data as more gadgets are connected to our network. OpenRAN, with many more exposed interfaces, widens the attack surface for bad actors.
Different security risks brought on by 5G will leave the sector open to cyberattacks. To strengthen security surrounding connected devices, cloud systems, and the networks that connect them, telecom operators must invest in implementing stringent cybersecurity measures because there is a significant amount of sensitive data dispersed across intricate, private, and private networks.
According to Gartner, there will be 43 billion IoT-connected devices by the end of 2023. For those in charge of cybersecurity, it’s necessary to keep in mind IoT devices, such as smartwatches or human-wearable biometrics, monitoring systems, robotics, alarm systems, sensors, IT devices, and industrial equipment. IoT security is essential as more telecoms embrace the industry and implement these devices in their networks because they can remotely access base stations and data centers.
Finally, enterprises deploying SD-WANs and other private or virtual private networks. In particular:
- Secure Access Service Edge (SASE) combines network security functions (such as SWG, CASB, FWaaS and ZTNA), with WAN capabilities (e.g. SD-WAN) to support businesses’ secure access needs. Previously, security for SD-WAN was an open, unresolved issue.
- Secure Service Edge (SSE) is the security components of SASE focusing largely on the cloud access security broker, secure web gateway, and zero-trust network access products to enable secure use of the internet and cloud services for a hybrid workforce working from anywhere,” said Gartner analyst Charlie Winckless.
A Dell’Oro group July 2022 report found that the SSE market grew 40% year-over-year to more than $800 million in the first quarter. A December report noted that SSE achieved its tenth consecutive quarter of sequential revenue expansion in 3Q-2022. Dell’Oro’s Director of Network Security, SASE, and SD-WAN Mauricio Sanchez said the strong growth is a testament to more enterprises preferring cloud-delivered security over traditional on-premises solutions. Sanchez told SDX Central: “The growth factors that have existed largely since the pandemic started are still with us. That’s the shift to hybrid work, the shift of workloads to the cloud, and the importance of the digital experience.”
IEEE/SCU SoE Virtual Event: May 26, 2022- Critical Cybersecurity Issues for Cellular Networks (3G/4G, 5G), IoT, and Cloud Resident Data Centers
Chinese government-backed hackers have attacked major telecom businesses throughout the world in a cyber-espionage effort that has lasted at least two years and has successfully compromised at least 13 telecommunications groups.
In a recent advisory, the FBI, NSA and CISA stated that hackers linked to the People’s Republic of China (PRC) had targeted and hacked major telecommunications businesses by exploiting simple and well-known network and system vulnerabilities.
According to the report, Chinese espionage is often initiated with hackers surveying target networks and exploring the manufacturers, models, versions, and known vulnerabilities of routers and networking equipment using open-source scanning tools such as RouterSploit and RouterScan. The Chinese government consistently disputes charges of hacking.
The heads of the FBI and Britain’s domestic security service have just issued sharply worded warnings to business leaders about the threats posed by Chinese espionage, especially spying aimed at stealing Western technology companies’ intellectual property.
In a rare joint appearance on Wednesday July 6th at the headquarters of MI5 in the UK, Christopher Wray, director of the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI), and Ken McCallum, director-general of MI5, urged executives not to underestimate the scale and sophistication of Beijing’s campaign.
“The Chinese government is set on stealing your technology—whatever it is that makes your industry tick—and using it to undercut your business and dominate your market,” Mr. Wray told the audience of business people.
“They’re set on using every tool at their disposal to do it.” China uses state-sponsored hacking on a large scale, along with a global network of intelligence operatives in its quest to gain access to technology it considers important, Messrs. Wray and McCallum said.
“The Chinese government poses an even more serious threat to Western businesses than even many sophisticated business people realize,” Mr. Wray added.
PHOTO CREDIT: DOMINIC LIPINSKI/ASSOCIATED PRESS
“We want to send the clearest signal we can on a massive shared challenge—China,” Mr. Wray said in his appearance with his U.K. counterpart. Tackling the threat is essential, he said, “if we are to protect our economies, our institutions and our democratic values.”
“The most game-changing challenge we face comes from the Chinese Communist Party,” Mr. McCallum said. “It’s covertly applying pressure across the globe. This might feel abstract, but it is real and it is pressing.”
China is engaged in “a coordinated campaign on a grand scale” that represents “a strategic contest across decades,” Mr. McCallum said. “We need to act.”
While American law enforcement and intelligence officials have been warning about the problem for years, it is a far more recent phenomenon for British security officials, who until last year made few public comments about the Chinese threat.
MI5 is running seven times more investigations involving Chinese espionage than it did in 2018, and plans to double the current number in the coming years, Mr. McCallum said.
The statement from the American security agencies did not name the victims of the hacking, nor did it specify the extent of the damage. However, US authorities did list specific networking equipment, such as routers and switches, that Chinese hackers are suspected of routinely targeting, exploiting serious and well-known flaws that basically gave the attackers full control over their targets.
Cisco, Citrix, Fortinet and Netgear equipment were among the most often attacked devices. Cisco and Netgear, according to the warning, have already published software updates for the majority of the identified vulnerabilities. The organizations recommended that operators take certain actions to minimize possible threats in addition to applying available patches and system upgrades. These include removing or isolating suspected compromised devices as soon as possible, segmenting the network to limit or prevent lateral movement, disabling unused or unnecessary network services, ports, protocols, and devices, and requiring multi-factor authentication for all users, including those connected via a VPN.
For intelligence organizations, telecommunications companies are particularly valuable targets. These service providers develop and operate the majority of the Internet’s infrastructure, as well as numerous private networks throughout the world. Successfully hacking of these networks can open the door to an even larger universe of valuable surveillance opportunities.
The EU has published a report on the cybersecurity of Open RAN, a 4G/5G (maybe even 2G?) network architecture the European Commission says will provide an alternative way of deploying the radio access part of 5G networks over the coming years, based on open interfaces. The EU noted that while Open RAN architectures create new opportunities in the marketplace, they also raise important security challenges, especially in the short term.
“It will be important for all participants to dedicate sufficient time and attention to mitigate such challenges, so that the promises of Open RAN can be realized,” the report said.
The report found that Open RAN could bring potential security opportunities, provided certain conditions are met. Namely, through greater interoperability among RAN components from different suppliers, Open RAN could allow greater diversification of suppliers within networks in the same geographic area. This could contribute to achieving the EU 5G Toolbox recommendation that each operator should have an appropriate multi-vendor strategy to avoid or limit any major dependency on a single supplier.
Open RAN could also help increase visibility of the network thanks to the use of open interfaces and standards, reduce human errors through greater automation, and increase flexibility through the use of virtualisation and cloud-based systems.
However, the Open RAN concept still lacks maturity, which means cybersecurity remains a significant challenge. Especially in the short term, by increasing the complexity of networks, Open RAN could exacerbate certain types of security risks, providing a larger attack surface and more entry points for malicious actors, giving rise to an increased risk of misconfiguration of networks and potential impacts on other network functions due to resource sharing.
The report added that technical specifications, such as those developed by the O-RAN Alliance, are not yet sufficiently secure by design. This means that Open RAN could lead to new or increased critical dependencies, for example in the area of components and cloud.
The EU recommended the use of regulatory powers to monitor large-scale Open RAN deployment plans from mobile operators and if needed, restrict, prohibit or impose specific requirements or conditions for the supply, large-scale deployment and operation of the Open RAN network equipment.
Technical controls such as authentication and authorization could be reinforced and a risk profile assessed for Open RAN providers, external service providers related to Open RAN, cloud service/infrastructure providers and system integrators. The EU added that including Open RAN components into the future 5G cybersecurity certification scheme, currently under development, should happen at the earliest possible stage.
Following up on the coordinated work already done at EU level to strengthen the security of 5G networks with the EU Toolbox on 5G Cybersecurity, Member States have analysed the security implications of Open RAN.
Margrethe Vestager, Executive Vice-President for a Europe Fit for the Digital Age, said: “Our common priority and responsibility is to ensure the timely deployment of 5G networks in Europe, while ensuring they are secure. Open RAN architectures create new opportunities in the marketplace, but this report shows they also raise important security challenges, especially in the short term. It will be important for all participants to dedicate sufficient time and attention to mitigate such challenges, so that the promises of Open RAN can be realised.”
Thierry Breton, Commissioner for the Internal Market, added: “With 5G network rollout across the EU, and our economies’ growing reliance on digital infrastructures, it is more important than ever to ensure a high level of security of our communication networks. That is what we did with the 5G cybersecurity toolbox. And that is what – together with the Member States – we do now on Open RAN with this new report. It is not up to public authorities to choose a technology. But it is our responsibility to assess the risks associated to individual technologies. This report shows that there are a number of opportunities with Open RAN but also significant security challenges that remain unaddressed and cannot be underestimated. Under no circumstances should the potential deployment in Europe’s 5G networks of Open RAN lead to new vulnerabilities.”
Guillaume Poupard, Director General of France’s National Cyber Security Agency (ANSSI), said: “After the EU Toolbox on 5G Cybersecurity, this report is another milestone in the NIS Cooperation Group’s effort to coordinate and mitigate the security risks of our 5G networks. This in-depth security analysis of Open RAN contributes to ensuring that our common approach keeps pace with new trends and related security challenges. We will continue our work to jointly address those challenges.”
Finally, a technology-neutral regulation to foster competition should be maintained., with EU and national funding for 5G and 6G research and innovation, so that EU players can compete on a level playing field.
A group of cybersecurity companies that specialize in securing critical infrastructure said they’ve formed a lobbying group to push for technological standards among the private sector and government.
The Operational Technology Cybersecurity Coalition said it will directly work with government to share feedback on policy proposals and adopt uniform technological standards for securing places such as pipelines and industrial facilities. Founding members include Claroty Inc, Tenable Holdings Inc, Honeywell International Inc, Nozomi Networks Inc and Forescout Technologies Inc.
Editor’s Note: What is Cybersecurity?
Cybersecurity is a subset of information security which aims to defend an organization’s cloud, networks, computers, and data from unauthorized digital access, attack, or damage by implementing various defense processes, technologies, and practices. With the countless sophisticated threat actors targeting all types of organizations, it’s critical that your IT infrastructure is secured at all times to prevent a full-scale attack on your clouds, networks, or endpoints and risk exposing your company to fines, data losses, and damage to reputation.
The new cybersecurity industry initiative comes as experts have placed increased scrutiny on what’s known as Operational Technology (OT), a broad array of computer systems that monitor and control industrial equipment.
In May, the cybersecurity firm Mandiant Inc warned that compromises against Internet-connected OT devices were on the rise.
“This work is essential to protect our country’s critical infrastructure,” said Jeff Zindel, vice president and general manager for cybersecurity at Honeywell.
Information Technology (IT) and Operational Technology (OT) are converging, bringing the promise of improved efficiency and new business models enabled by mass digital transformation and the Industrial Internet of Things (IIoT). However, along with the promise of greater connectivity comes greater risk.
As new technologies are introduced and integrated into legacy operations, OT and IT teams are being challenged from every direction. Security approaches that previously worked for one environment may not apply to the other.
That is why a coalition of industry leaders founded the Operational Technology Cyber Security Alliance (OTCSA) — to provide OT operators and suppliers with resources and guidance to mitigate their cyber risk in a fast-evolving world.
An ecosystem approach to safe and secure industrial operations:
The OTCSA is committed to enabling safe and secure operations for the entire OT spectrum. This includes securing the related interfaces to enable interconnectivity to IT while continuing to support and improve the daily life of citizens and workers in an evolving world.
The OTCSA provides OT operators and their vendor ecosystems with regular technical briefs and implementation guidelines to navigate necessary changes, upgrades and integrations. We will build and support an understanding of OT cyber security challenges and solutions from the board room to the factory floor.
The OTCSA adresses cyber security concerns across the entire range of industrial operations, including:
- Industrial control system equipment, software, and networks
- IT equipment and networks that are used in OT systems or provide functionality to OT systems
- Building management systems
- Facilities and control rooms access control systems
- CCTV systems
- Medical equipment
by Shrihari Pandit
The dominant architecture used in fiber optic deployment -Passive Optical Networks (PONs) may be vulnerable to attack. It is important to bring attention to this under-appreciated weakness and discuss what steps are possible to protect fiber infrastructure.
As various PON technologies are long standing and widely deployed, this is a matter of no small concern. PONs are widely deployed by Verizon FiOS, AT&T U-verse and many others.
The PON architecture is a hodgepodge of old and new technologies, hardware and strategy, limited budget and often is not overseen by a single team.
In this article we describe how fiber optic infrastructure based on PONs may be open to potential denial of service (DoS) attacks via optical signal injections. Security experts warn that this is a growing issue, which could take down entire sectors of PON segments.
Considering the ever increasing state-sponsored and non-state-actor cyber attacks, these types of vulnerabilities that allow for massive disruption for large groups of people are very attractive targets.
The cost advantages of PON architecture make it the overwhelming choice for FTTH deployments. PON allows wireline network providers to deliver service to businesses and homes without having to install costly active electronics on roads, curb-side or even within buildings themselves.
Active electronics, on the other hand, add cost and create operational complexity as deployments scale. The conveniences and differentiators of PONs are precisely what opens up the floodgates to serious vulnerabilities.
PONs are fundamentally susceptible due to the architecture from the passive optical splitter (POS) to the optical network unit (ONU) within the overall network infrastructure. The POS component of the network functions like a bridge, allowing any and all communications to transverse without the ability to filter, limit or restrict flow.
The fiber optic market currently boasts 585.9 million subscribers worldwide, with that number set to grow to 897.8 million subscribers by 2021.
The industry has moved to upgrade 1st generation GPONs and EPONs to next-generation PONs, like NG-PON2 (the favorite), XG-PON1 and XGS-PON. For example, Verizon uses the Calix AXOS E9-2 Intelligent Edge System for large-scale NG-PON2 deployments that began in the first quarter of 2018.
However, with subscriber density significantly increasing per PON segment, the risks increase as more subscribers are affected by a cyber attack on a single fiber.
NG-PON2 combines multiple signals onto a single optical fiber by using the different wavelengths of laser light (wave division multiplexing), and then splits transmission into time slots (time division multiplexing), in order to further increase capacity. NG-PON2 is illustrated in the figure below.
OLT =Optical Line Termination ONT =Optical Network Termination
NGPON2 has three key advantages for operators:
Firstly, it can co-exist with existing GPON and NGPON1 systems and is able to use existing PON-capable outside plant. Since the cost of PON FTTH roll out is 70 per cent accounted for by the optical distribution network (ODN), this is significant. Operators have a clear upgrade path from where they are now, until well into the future.
Initially NGPON2 will provide a minimum of 40 Gb/s downstream capacity, produced by four 10 Gb/s signals on different wavelengths in the O-band multiplexed together in the central office with a 10 Gb/s total upstream capacity. This capability can be doubled to provide 80 Gb/s downstream and 20 Gb/s upstream in the “extended” NGPON2.
3. Symmetrical upstream/downstream capacity
Both the basic and extended implementations are designed to appeal to domestic consumers where gigabit downstream speeds may be needed but more modest upstream needs prevail. For business users with data mirroring and similar requirements, a symmetric implementation will be provided giving 40/40 and 80/80 Gb/s capacity respectively.
The Essence of a PON Cyber Attack:
Given the flashpoints around the globe, it doesn’t take much imagination to envision how state and non-state actors might want to cause such a chaotic and widespread disruption.
If a “cyber criminal” gains access to the underlying fiber, they could inject a wideband optical signal to disrupt communications for all subscribers attached to the PON segment.
Alternatively, at your home the adversary could manipulate the ONU’s optical subsystem to transmit abnormal PON signals and impact service to all subs on that segment. Communications including internet, voice and even analog TV signals that operate on nearby wavelengths would be susceptible to these serious DoS attacks.
Possible Solutions, Preventive Methods and Procedures:
So, what can be done with current equipment without a massive and costly fiber optic network overhaul? The unfortunate answer is that an overarching vulnerability will always exist as long as the passive components are in place. A reactionary process is the best and only option.
The current primary solution for operators is to reduce the number of subscribers per PON segment as a way to manage risks. If an attack was detected, the network operator would be able to localize the source and identify and disconnect the bad actor from the network. But it’s easier said than done.
This sort of manual process is not ideal. Extensive PON outages means spending the time and money to send personnel to optical line terminals to check each individual port until the attacker is found. The installation of active electronics on each PON segment or near PON subscribers is unrealistic and impractical. That undertaking would actually be more costly in terms of time, money and location.
The best ongoing solution is that operators should consider installing passive tap points per PON segment. Each can be independently routed back and managed at a provider’s operations center and allow operators to effectively analyze segments and detect unusual optical light levels that may signal an attack.
At that point the operator could physically dispatch techs on-site to continue the localization and resolution process while ensuring other non-threatening users remain unaffected. This solution is to effectively take a reactionary restriction and make it as automatic and proactive as currently possible.
P2MP (point to multi-point) architecture has become the most popular solution for FTTH and FTTP. Yet there needs to be a severe increase in awareness to potential PON vulnerability into the next generation.
If we can catalyze the telecom industry to develop methods and measures to protect infrastructure, such crippling network security issues will be stopped before widespread exploits occur.
The industry needs to address these concerns sooner rather than later or else be left without effective countermeasures against these very real threats.
About Shrihari Pandit:
Shrihari Pandit is the President and CEO of Stealth Communications, the NYC-based ISP he co-founded in 1995. Stealth, having built its own fiber-optic network throughout the city, provides high-bandwidth connectivity services to a broad roster of customers in business, education and government.
Prior to Stealth, Mr. Pandit was a network-security consultant to various software and telecom companies, including MCI, Sprint and Sun Microsystems. He also served as an independent consultant to several U.S. agencies, including NASA and the National Infrastructure Protection Center (NIPC), now part of the Department of Homeland Security.