Dr Nuss has over 20 years of technical and management experience and is a recognized industry expert in Ethernet technology. He serves on the board of directors for the Alliance for Telecommunications Industry (ATIS) and is a fellow of the Optical Society of America. He told a packed audience at 4G World that while small cells are an integral part of 4G LTE, LTE-Advanced (LTE-A) deployments and Carrier Heterogeneous Network (HetNet) strategies, their very accessibility makes them easy targets for hackers.
Dr. Nuss observed that while mobile networks are inherently more secure than WiFi hotspots, the emergence of small cell base stations required for LTE and LTE-A capacity improvements poses a new security risk. Being located at street-level, small cells are more susceptible to tampering and hacking than traditional macro base stations. He noted that small cell backhaul often will also occur over third-party access provider networks that may not have the same security standards as the wireless operator. Consequently, the small cells themselves need to be authenticated on the service provider network and traffic encrypted back to the service provider, including over the third-party access provider network. While encryption technologies such as IPSec can be used to accomplish this, newer Ethernet-based technologies, such as flow-based extensions to MACSec (IEEE 802.1AE), may be more cost-effective and better suited to small cell deployments.
Citing the highly accurate timing requirements of LTE and LTE-A networks, Dr. Nuss also noted the importance of timing security, since GPS timing becomes untenable in cases where reception is poor or non-existent. This is the case with small cells in dense urban corridors with no line of sight to satellites or indoors where GPS signals cannot penetrate walls. Small cell susceptibility to GPS jamming and spoofing poses another concern. He continued that packet-based network timing using IEEE 1588 (1588) is the right GPS alternative for small cells, as long as 1588 can be secured. Encryption and timing accuracy are usually incompatible, but modern flow-based MACsec implementations do not suffer this flaw, now combining line-rate AES encryption with nanosecond accurate network timing.
These developments are critical as small cell deployment remains vital to the continued growth and success of mobile technology. With much of the traffic on these cells coming from an array of mobile devices, Dr. Nuss comments came as IDC reported that 1.25 billion smartphones were shipped in 2014 more than 23% over the previous year. These shipments are expected to rise to 1.8 billion annually by 2018 when small cells will be everywhere and with careful network planning and awareness, the security threat will have been overcome.
BYOD is revolutionizing Enterprise connectivity, with the real potential to enable a better-connected and more productive workforce, said Martin Nuss, CTO at Vitesse. As an industry, however, we need to focus on overcoming this potential security threat so that 4G LTE networks can continue to flourish and businesses can reap the benefits of BYOD, while keeping their networks secure.