NAB 2012 was extremely well attended by both vendors (all three exhibition halls were fully occupied) and participants. Thanks to the continuing conversion from analog to digital broadcasting, TV companies are investing heavily in equipment and software solutions. Every company was presenting digital solutions from cameras to studio equipment to TV transmitters to Microwave Radio transport.
Every facet of the solution set must be upgraded to accommodate the intricacies of digital networks. In the case of the Microwave Radio, they are moving to bi-directional radios that can not only carry the studio content up to the transmitter site, but also can carry collected content from various mobile generating platforms (trucks, helicopters, etc) back to the studio for editing.
It was interesting to see Cisco, HP and other networking companies exhibiting. The integration of Internet Protocol (IP) into the broadcasting community has created a real demand for networking appliances like routers and switches. Other devices like Microwave Radio must also be able to accommodate IP protocols for efficiently carrying the video content to the various transmitters in the network.
I was amazed at the range of nationalities represented. Clearly this show offers value to broadcaster across the globe. I heard a figure of over 400 people from Brazil attended the show. I think I heard people complain about their tired feet in 25-30 different languages! The combined attraction of NAB and Las Vegas is very difficult to pass up.
See you at NAB 2013.
Director Business Development
- April 25, 2012
- Aviat Networks, backhaul, Dubai, emerging markets, Managed services, managed services for emerging markets, microwave networking, Middle East, wireless, Wireless Backhaul, wireless transmission
This time last week, we were participating in the Managed Services for Growth Markets conference in Dubai. The conference consisted of two days of presentation and panels discussing the latest trends in Managed Services for emerging markets. We heard how several customer organizations have leveraged Managed Services to improve performance, costs, and, ultimately, their bottom line.
This is similar to what we are seeing and hearing across our own customer base. There is a growing demand for wireless network services suppliers to take on more of the support and maintenance of networks. By outsourcing operational activities, our wireless customers can focus on perfecting the services they offer to their customers.
Our own Ross Gillett, Director of Services for the Middle East and Africa, participated on a discussion panel focused on how suppliers, such as Aviat Networks, bring value to their customers through Managed Services. Ross emphasized that specific knowledge of the local customer requirements is key in developing a successful solution. Whether it is a mobile service provider, low latency customer or a state agency—they are all basically looking for someone who can bring value to their investment.
The bottom line is that good partners focus on making their customer successful!
Emerging markets are an important area of focus for us and this particular event had strong support from a number of our existing customers as well as several potential new customers from these markets. We heard a number of presentations outlining some of the unique challenges customers and Managed Service providers have to address in this region. We also had a chance to speak with conference participants and share our experiences with managing multiple customer networks.
In our exhibition hall reception area, we had numerous opportunities to interact with suppliers, media and even competitors to share stories, challenges and where we see the market headed. These one-to-one conversations are the best part of a conference since it gives us an opportunity to share, on a personal level, how Managed Services are being leveraged on a broad basis.
We will definitely be returning next year.
Director, Global Support Services
Even though microwave communications have some built-in security-like features such as scrambling, narrow beamwidth, proprietary airframe, coding and other factors, it is not very hard for them to be broken by those with the proper expertise. Some vendors even openly offer digital microwave interception systems for “legitimate” monitoring. This and the growing sophistication and willingness of those attempting to break into wireless networks makes a high level of security for microwave more important than ever.
Historically, security and encryption measures were primarily employed by government or defense agencies or by the financial industry to protect sensitive information. But in today’s connected world the issue of network security can apply to any type of communications network, whether it is fixed, mobile or private.
Is Microwave Ready?
In general, microwave packet radio security is a concern. However, there are different aspects of microwave radio protection that must be considered. The information payload of microwave communications is the most obvious part. For operators that participate in the public switched telephone network (PSTN), the main issue is the security of the communications traffic they are carrying. That would involve both voice and data traffic.
Both popular and scholarly publications have been rife with stories of how easy it has become to tap into mobile calls. For example, the GSM code has been ineffective arguably since a hack was announced in August 2009. With GSM encryption broken, degraded or bypassed, mobile phone calls and text messages can be monitored and diverted by snooping parties. This can happen even before they get to the basestation. The BBC recently demonstrated GSM hacking in an online video.
Once calls and messages are in the mobile backhaul network, in many cases, no encryption is applied at all—not even the broken GSM code. In the past, hackers would have had to buy or by some other means obtain radio equipment identical to that they wanted to take over illegally. This was not an obstacle for those intent on industrial or governmental espionage, but it put it beyond the means of the run-of-the-mill hacker who has become familiar since the mid-1990s. Even if the hacking was not beyond the average hacker’s technical capabilities, it was beyond his economic capabilities. Now commercially available microwave monitoring equipment can be employed to pick out communications channels, to listen and record all conversation and ambient noises for up to 72 hours. One research firm also demonstrated how cell towers can be spoofed to intercept communications.
Another aspect of microwave security encompasses how secure is the management of the network. Even if the payload of a microwave backhaul network is secure, the management may not be, allowing hackers or others with malevolent motives to drop or kill traffic. Unsecure management channels can allow them to create mismatched frequency settings between radio pairs, reconfigure circuitry or reroute payload traffic to another radio if a cross-connect is present. For example, there was an instance where unauthorized users took control of a motorized antenna and repeatedly sent instructions for the motor to adjust the position of the antenna, eventually draining the batteries for the entire site, rendering it “dead.” However, with the shift to the all IP/Ethernet network of the future, hackers are finding ways to wreak havoc on backhaul networks from their desktop PCs, smartphones and other powerful mobile computing devices.
Access control of the microwave network is also a cause for concern. It is critical that only authorized personnel are allowed to log onto the administration of a microwave backhaul network. Like many computer-based systems, microwave radios are set up with some basic logon access procedures. Oftentimes, the logon screen will not look very dissimilar from the typical Windows or Macintosh workstation. There will be a dialog box for a username and a password. However, unlike the typical desktop computer, a microwave radio’s graphical user interface is not logged onto that much. Therefore, as per human nature, their usernames and passwords become all too predictable. “Root” and “admin” and “123456” and “password” were very popular as usernames and passwords, respectively, according to one security study. A “mechanized” or “dictionary” attack can randomly generate username-and-password combinations and succeed in unlawfully logging onto a radio on this premise: that the logon will be subject to people being creatures of habit. Thus, there must be a way for microwave network administration to enforce a hard-to-guess username/password security policy.
Another aspect to access control is the issue of the level of control. It is also essential to control what each legitimate user is allowed to perform once logged in—to prevent voluntary and involuntary damaging actions. Not only must users be limited to their area of responsibility and knowledge and avoid involuntary commands that could damage the network but also reserve critical activity for designated key personnel (e.g., cryptography officers).
Would my Radio Network be Secure?
Given the security issues around microwave payload, management and access control, many questions have been raised. Would my microwave radio network be safe from intrusion? What would be the impact of breached calls or text messages? There could always be potential for a Greece type of incident. More importantly, the proactive questions to ask about microwave network security include:
- Who does need a high level of security?
- What comprises the high level of security necessary to protect my microwave backhaul?
- What precautions will a high level of security invoke to protect my network?
- How is this high level of security implemented?
- What are the options for high-level security?
- How do I get a high level of security for my network?
- Is this high-level security solution standards-based?
- What type of threats does my high-level security solution need to protect against?
We’ll examine these questions more in future posts. Or see our white paper.