It’s an exciting time to be involved in telecommunications. We have witnessed a major push towards remote work this year and telecom companies, both on the provider and supplier side, are scrambling to meet new demands. The growth is being driven by an exponential bump in traffic from both human and IoT footprints. To add to it all, many telcos are gearing up to launch 5G services as well – but, like all things in life, it’s a mixed bag.
The rise in digital activity across the globe has also been accompanied by a nearly unbelievable surge in cyberattacks, much of which is highly sophisticated and increasingly targeted at enterprise rather than individuals.
Many organisations and business leaders had a tough time in 2020 dealing with a relentless spate of virus, ransomware, phishing, and DDoS attacks. For their part, telecom providers have been forced to reconsider the limitations that come with legacy infrastructure, especially when it comes to ensuring the security of mission-critical data.
Also consider the sheer scope of change in business models for carriers and providers, if they could finally move away from their pitched battle around pricing. By offering high-value, premium security solutions that guarantee peace of mind, the telecom industry can create something customers will be willing to pay a higher price for: reliability.
The need to rethink security from an infrastructure perspective
The complexity of security issues has moved beyond ‘gatekeeping’ firewall solutions in the core. Think about it. Legacy security solutions are largely based on sampled traffic. The traditional firewall sits in the core network and is generally too busy dealing with high traffic volumes to do much beyond a basic source-destination check – leaving the network vulnerable to malicious content housed undetected in particular packets of communication.
These solutions are typically slow to detect and mitigate the kind of advanced attacks that are increasingly prevalent in 4G networks and will be “de rigour” in 5G. While enterprise networks can be enmeshed in multiple layers of security, that technique is simply not tenable for telecom networks that have too many connections going in every possible direction to be effectively protected.
The problem gets magnified and compounded for 5G. Picture the huge variety of devices feeding into the networks, ranging from very high-speed mobile broadband to numerous complex and connected IoT devices, vehicles, autonomous drones and more. To put this in perspective, each of these devices is estimated to generate 20-gigabits of traffic per second that all needs to be routed and checked for security. In the case of an attack, the volume of data generated can increase manifold and significantly stress system resilience.
Telco Security Innovations initiative takes security to the next level
Telcos understand this only too well. And it’s not surprising that in recent surveys, the need for advanced security in the manufacturing of application delivery controllers trumped evergreen asks from telecom providers like lower latency, higher capacity, and throughput.
This is why I was so excited to talk with Folke Anger, Head of Solution Line Packet Core, Ericsson Digital Services and Yasir Liaqatullah, Vice President Product Management, A10 Networks to discuss an interesting innovation around the security of 5G Core technologies – the Packet Core – a high-performance cloud-native firewall.
Building security into the DNA of 5G Core infrastructure
With CSPs moving from centralised data centres to edge cloud, the threat landscape has evolved to a point where attacks need to be mitigated as they arise. This means bringing down the scale of response time from minutes or seconds to milliseconds. That’s physically impossible to achieve on legacy infrastructure, so Ericsson thought about the problem differently.
They combined their cloud-native principles with the design of the user plane and built-in its Packet Core Firewall, powered by A10 Networks’ security capabilities, by adding micro-services into the user plane in Packet Core Gateway. The result is a fully integrated security solution that eliminates the need for additional cloud-native functions, separate management or multiple instances.
The Packet Core solution is completely unique in terms of embedding security within the data plane. It’s fully automated and backed by ML in the form of artificial intelligence. It also requires minimal human intervention – all of which result in millisecond level mitigation of even advanced threats.
Opening up a new horizon for telecoms and carriers
The implication of security built into the DNA of the 5G infrastructure is huge for the telecommunication industry.
For one, the resiliency brought in by an integrated security solution ensures that the infrastructure is strong enough to reconfigure and re-spawn itself in case of an attack and continue to function with minimal impact on latency.
It also offers granular security by monitoring all connections with full visibility and can detect threats as they appear and take corrective action – ensuring minimal human intervention and mitigation of attacks in milliseconds. It’s integrated with automation systems and can easily scale to keep pace with higher traffic volumes.
Implementing an integrated security solution will result in lower TCOs for service providers. That, by itself, should be a huge benefit for companies negotiating various partnerships to negotiate the high costs of implementing 5G infrastructure. But it holds out scope for something much more important.
In effect, this innovation can finally offer what telecoms and carriers have been craving for years – a solid differentiator in terms of the value they offer to customers. The pricing battle that telecoms and carriers have been stuck in for years can finally end as they choose to evolve to offer more premium offerings to meet the core demand of many customers on faster networks – complete, reliable security in mission-critical applications.
Eventually, we might see security-as-a-service being bundled as a value add-on to service packages, but given the current threat landscape, security can be the differentiator that sets apart exceptional enterprise service providers from the rest.
I want to thank Folke Anger and Yasir Liaqatullah, and all the wonderful people at Ericsson Digital Services for making this interview possible. Please tune in to the conversation at the link below, and use the other resources to learn more about the technology and innovations we discussed.