3GPP Long Term Evolution – new threats or not?


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3GPP Long Term Evolution (LTE), is the latest standard in the mobile network technology tree that produced the GSM/EDGE and UMTS/HSPA network technologies. It is a project of the 3rd Generation Partnership Project (3GPP), operating under a name trademarked by one of the associations within the partnership, the European Telecommunications Standards Institute.

The question is, what will be the data security  impact of LTE deployments? As LTE is IP based and IPv6 becomes more common in the marketplace, will the security requirements of mobile devices become similar to traditional networked devices?  There is already a huge trend  for BYOD or Bring Your Own Device to work, which certainly causes a lot of headaches for information security staffs. Will more bandwidth and flat IP networks of LTE increase the threat surface for corporate IT?

Other than higher performance, LTE features a flat IP network, but I don’t see how that increases the threat surface in any particular way.  The security requirements for mobile networked devices are similar to traditional wired devices but the vulnerabilities are different, namely the potential of unmanaged BYOD tablet/smartphone to be an attack vector back into the enterprise network and to be a channel for data leakage.  The introduction of Facebook smart phones is far more interesting as a new vulnerability to corporate networks than smart phones with a 100MB download and 20MB upload afforded by LTE.

I am not optimistic about the capability of a company to manage employee owned mobile devices centrally and trying to rein in smartphones and tablets with awareness programs.  Instead of trying to do the impossible or the dubious, I submit that enterprise that are serious about mobile data security must take 3 basic steps after accepting that BYOD is a fact of life and security awareness has limited utility as a security countermeasure.

  1. Reorganize physical, phones and information security into a single group with one manager.  This group must handle all data, software IT, physical (facilities) and communications issues with a single threat model driven by the business and updated quarterly. There is no point in pretending that the only phones used by employees are phones installed and operated by the companies telecom and facilities group. That functionality went out the door 10 years ago.
  2. Develop a threat model for the business – this is  key to being able to keep up with rapidly growing threats posed by BYOD.  Update that model quarterly, not yearly.
  3. CEO must take an uncompromising stance on data leaks and ethical employee behavior. It should be part of the company’s objectives, measurable in monetary terms just like increasing sales by 10% etc.

 

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