Mobile security is not created equal


By Dan McBride, vice president of marketing, Stoke

How safe is your LTE smartphone? Even if you don't lose it and never use suspicious apps, you might be more vulnerable than you think.

In recent years, mobile users have grown to expect wireless networks that reliably connect and stay connected. That's not what 3G cellular networks have delivered, so mobile operators are moving rapidly to upgrade to 4G/LTE to reverse the tide of consumer disillusion.

Convenience, performance and mobile web access continue to drive the rapid adoption of smartphones. So what's the deal about security? Well, it's a lot like insurance; it's one of those things that's never a front line priority until the worst happens.

Treasure trove

So why should we worry? To begin with, any cellular network core is a virtual treasure trove of sensitive information about you and all of your daily interactions via mobile. Think of the operator's core network as a kind of vast control center that processes and manages all the information that is sent to and from your smartphone and the smartphones of millions of other users. Now imagine how, in the wrong hands, even the most limited glimpses into that information could be put to use.

The opportunities for data thieves are virtually limitless: a Facebook mobile app gets diverted to fraudulent links; mobile check deposits are intercepted; when you sync your hacked phone to your PC or laptop, all of your personal data is suddenly compromised.

When the scale of potential breaches expands to extremely large data sets, the dangers become even more frightening: political subversion, terrorism, bank fraud and market manipulation are all very real possibilities if smartphone data is not secure.

LTE = IP = danger

Today's closed 3G mobile environment allows operators to apply rigorous end to end authentication and the network and the communications it carries are reasonably safe from tampering and theft. But the mobile security environment is changing in a big way as operators are transitioning to LTE architecture, the next generation of mobile broadband. This immediately places a higher premium on security, since the LTE network is all-IP, meaning that it opens smartphones or mobile device users to the same security vulnerabilities as any PC or business network.

LTE promises to dramatically expand capacity, and thereby preserve performance levels that consumers expect, but it's time for operators to confront the inherent dangers of all-IP mobile networks. Typically, such networks will stitch together a diverse array of radio base stations varying in size and signal strength, and involving multiple vendors and multiple.

Moreover, these base stations will be deployed in locations that are often impractical or impossible to secure physically, from lamp posts to the roofs of convenience stores. The threat profile of LTE networks is very different from previous mobile networks indeed.

Cybercrime continues to evolve, and these days the goal of the underworld is to stay under the radar for as long as possible. With the movement by mobile networks to IP, a protocol all too familiar to cybercriminals, and the growing use of mobile payments from smartphones, consumers can expect similar assaults to be made on their favorite mobile device.

This is why consumers need to pay attention to how their mobile broadband provider secures the next generation network.

Get with the programme

On the operator side, it has been proposed by some of the legacy infrastructure providers that security can be added on to the core network equipment. Are we hearing this correctly? The very equipment that resulted in mediocre 3G service will now host the complex security processing? Why aren't operators bringing modern security solutions into play?

As consumers, we need to stay in touch with that debate and lobby for appropriate protection, rather than something designed for a different purpose. At the end of the day, it's our data, our money, and our identities at risk.

Stoke is a transformation platform, delivering future-focused thinking and solutions for 3G mobile broadband and LTE core infrastructures. Stoke enables mobile operators to overcome limitations inherent in legacy approaches and architectures, helping them tackle the new realities of 3G mobile data service delivery today and successfully navigate their transition to 4G services platforms tomorrow.  


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