The Importance of Network Encryption in Protecting our Privacy
Are you aware that shepherding is still an occupation today? The demand is less due to modern ranching practices and a reduction in natural predators, but there are still shepherds watching over their herds as they roam the pastures. The occupation arose to protect the sheep from wolves and other predators. It wasn’t much protection, but it was better than leaving the sheep unprotected.
Technology has exposed us to a different type of predator. We are increasingly dispersing our identities, financials, and other private information across the growing Internet. It’s no longer good enough to install antivirus software or change the settings of the firewall. The attackers on the Internet have knocked down those lightweight barriers. We build stronger fences, and they take those down as well.
Mary Meeker, a venture capitalist, has released an annual report on who is connected online and the number of people using the Internet since 1995. A recent article published on Decipher, an independent editorial site covering information security, referring to Meeker’s report, stated,
Cloud providers, telecommunications companies, and data brokers (such as Equifax) are seeing more attack activity. According to the report, more data is now stored in the cloud than on private enterprise servers or consumer devices. Attackers are increasingly going after the data stored within cloud providers.
The attackers in our new digital world are dangerous and relentless. They have years of training and experience – the hands-on type, not the skills taught in colleges and universities. They know their prey. They won’t stop their attacks until they succeed. Even then, the thrill of the hunt is enough to keep them hunting.
5G Security Specifications
Verizon released 4G to the US market at the end of 2010. A decade has passed, and we are now witnessing the beginning of a 5G wireless network in the US. 5G includes many significant improvements over its predecessor – increased speed, lower latency, more connectivity, and perhaps most importantly, better security.
In 4G networks, each user or device is assigned an International Mobile Subscriber Identity (IMSI). This IMSI is sent using plain text. This allows “IMSI catchers” attacks to identify, locate, and track users. The attackers only need to intercept packets, and the IMSI is theirs. No decryption is required.
5G security specifications do not allow plaintext transmissions of the user or device ID, referred to as SUPI (Subscriber Permanent identifier). Not only is the SUPI encrypted, but it is transmitted with another layer of encryption. This provides much needed enhanced privacy. Attackers can no longer identify, locate, and track users.
The layered security approach of 5G also encrypts all data sent between a user device and the cloud. Exium’s network security service assumes all underlying networks, including the carrier 5G networks as untrusted networks. With a Zero Trust Network approach, it is not enough to be granted access to a network. Access must be requested and granted at every endpoint within the system.
It is not enough for the wolf to get past the fence guarding the herd. Each sheep has a fence or building as a defense against anything inside the outer fence – even other sheep. Trust no one. Authenticate everyone.
Everyone who uses the Internet should know at least a little about network security. We know not to give our personal or financial data to a site that is not secure. To most, secure means the URL begins with “https://” or a lock symbol in the URL field. Sadly, that’s the extent of security knowledge by most Internet users.
Until recently, most Internet securities encrypted data only when transmitting between endpoints. Security remained relatively constant for many years, and attackers found ways around low-level security measures. If they couldn’t decrypt the data sent between servers, they would wait for the endpoint server to decrypt the data and then take it.
Newer security strategies include encrypting data, even within private networks. If an attacker finds a way past your firewall and other protective measures, they will only find unusable data. These more robust security measures implement a Zero Trust policy. System Administrators can’t enable an exception for themselves. Even the boss has to provide validated credentials at every endpoint within the network. If you leave a gap in your network security model, the wolves will find it, and much more quickly than you can.
The need for more robust security measures is vital for everyone – from financial institutions to coworkers communicating using virtual meetings, messaging, and file-sharing tools. The network security of your home is equally critical to that of a social media giant. Think about something as simple and routine as ordering pizza delivery. How many endpoints handle your personal and financial data to get the pizza to your table? If you walk through the process in your mind, you will include your home router, ISP, the pizza company’s servers, the service they use for payment authorization, the notifications sent to your phone, and many more.
Network encryption is critical in keeping our online activities, personal data, and business information safe from predators. The techniques employed by these attackers are sophisticated and evolving. The days of a shepherd protecting the herd are gone. It is no longer enough to encrypt server to server communications. To fully protect against attackers, more robust measures are required.
In a September 2020 Forbes Technology Council post, Harold Li, a Forbes Councils Member, wrote:
Most of us don’t realize the role that encryption plays in our day-to-day lives, especially as more and more of our lives move online. Our ability to send private text messages and emails or make online purchases safely is all possible thanks to encryption. It’s also used for sensitive data like photos, passwords and health information that’s stored on our devices.
Our personal and business information is out in the open. It is on servers located around the world. In this time of cloud computing, no one knows where their data resides. It is incumbent on device manufactures, OS developers, cloud service providers, and everyone else in the vast expanse of devices comprising our new, virtual society to protect our data and ensure it remains protected from danger. Encrypting data while transmitting it through the cloud, utilizing it within private networks, and storing it in the cloud or on our devices helps protect our privacy and identity.
There are wolves among us. Adding more levels of protection will keep us and our data safe. Relying on outdated technologies and basic security protocols and practices will expose us to attackers. It’s time to let the shepherd go and move the herd to a safer, more secure pasture.