Private Networks - Security Issues. Part 1
10 March 2022

Private Networks - Security Issues. Part 1

10 March 2022

Our team of IoT experts are being asked more frequently about private networks - what they are, where they can help improve an organisation’s communications and what any challenges might be.

Vodafone’s definition of Mobile Private Networks can be found here. Basically a Private Network (PNs – also known as ‘non-public networks’ or NPNs) is a “dedicated business network that allows businesses to interconnect people and things using 4G or 5G technology” and also “provides an ultra-secure network solution that can support businesses moving to Industry 4.0”.

Mobile Private Networks differ from public mobile networks in that they provide “private reserved coverage that is subject to agreed performance and local, protected data flow”.

The growth of Private Networks is not a new phenomenon, but LTE and, more recently, 5G technologies have drawn considerable attention to their potential, particularly in the manufacturing industry, as well as the transport and logistic sectors (such as airports). So much so that spending on 5G private networks is forecast to outstrip that of 5G public networks within the next decade.

Polaris Market Research predicts that the global 5G private network market will grow at a CAGR of 40.9% between 2020 and 2028. A rise in demand for ultra-reliable low latency connectivity for industrial applications, including industrial sensors and collaborative robots is a key factor driving the market growth, it says. 

Meanwhile, ABI Research forecasts that the private network market could be worth US$16.3 billion by 2025. Furthermore, it predicts that spending on private and shared enterprise networks will surpass spending on public cellular networks within the next 15 years.

Mobile Private Networks for Cruise Ships and the Merchant Navy

We’ve previously discussed Mobile Private Networks for Cruise Ships and the Merchant Navy.

As a result of our own experiences, and those of our customers, we firmly believe that vessels of all shapes and sizes should be able to have their own mobile private networks on-board in the same way businesses on land have private terrestrial networks over fibre, wireless or satellite on their business premises.

Mobile private networks would enable ships to have control over their own networks and billing - as well as providing cruise ships with another source of revenue from passengers who would be able to use their domestic SIMs on the ship’s mobile private network.

However, there are a couple of major blockages to the rollout of mobile private networks. Most notably, operators are reluctant to turn off what is still a cash cow for them in terms of expensive roaming charges. But really why should a domestic operator benefit in any way whatsoever when their customers are operating on an MPN in international waters? Why shouldn’t a vessel be able to buy its own telco equipment, set up its own network and then utilise it how they want?

Private Networks and security

In Telecom26’s white paper Meeting the enterprise data security challenge of roaming on 4GLTE and 5G Private Networks we discuss how private networks are growing rapidly - and are forecast to receive more investment than public networks over the next decade. But we also point out that there are challenges around ensuring data security when devices roam between private and public networks. 

Private networks are not new, but the interface between private and public networks is (that is, roaming between private and macro networks), and this creates unique challenges for maintaining corporate security including:

  1. Devices on the network essentially act as a USB drive. Data can be transferred to and from devices undetected – by means such as NFC, USB, Airdrop, Bluetooth, and so on. Once data is on the device, it can then be transferred on to the macro network / internet. Overcoming this requires be able to visualise, manage and control data transfer on each device, and therefore prevent transferring the data.
  1. Employees need to travel into and out of private networks. The only options to maintain this “walled private network security” are to either give employees two phones (one for the private network and one for the macro/public network), a dual-SIM, or to ban macro network-attached mobile devices from the private network altogether – no scenario is ideal.
  1. Using a dual-SIM phone (which uses one SIM for the macro network and one for PN) should theoretically overcome this challenge. However, this can still create issues:
  1. Corporate data that has been transferred to the device in the private network becomes visible once the device has moved into the public network – creating a security breach. But, as we will read later, T26 offers a unique solution to this problem.
  2. Handover between a private network and the macro public network can cause devices to ‘drop out’, with phones needing to reconnect to the public network – and vice versa – during the transition. In some cases, phones can go into ‘idle’ mode for up to 6 minutes.
  3. Handover is also hampered by the fact that the signal from a macro network is often stronger than that from a private network, and so the device connection preferentially connects to the public network, without any handover to the private network.
  1. Network slicing – as offered by an increasing number of operators for private networks – means that data on a device is still exposed to the operator network. More importantly, there is no visibility and control of the subscriber and data being transferred between networks.

Telecom26 and Private Networks

Telecom26 provides a unique, reliable, and highly secure solution to overcome all of the challenges of private networks in a number of ways including ensuring controlled subscriber access, and reliable and rapid handover to improve QoE.

But most importantly, T26 enables complete visibility into all mobile data transferred to or from any T26-enabled device on any network – public or private.

To learn more about private networks, roaming on 4G and 5G private networks please read our white paper Meeting the enterprise data security challenge of roaming on 4G LTE and 5G Private Networks

And, if you’d like to discuss your requirements in more detail then please contact us.
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