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As private networks for enterprise IoT accelerate, a security gap is widening

As enterprises spanning verticals invest in digital transformation strategies with an eye on doing more with less, global adoption of private networks, both 4G and 5G, is poised for a major ramp in investment. While private networks aren’t necessarily new, the advancement of 4G and advent of 5G open up significant new opportunities for connecting the Internet of Things and gleaning data insight from sensors and other objects.

Indeed, research house IDC reckons the private 4G/5G wireless network infrastructure market will grow to $8.3 billion by 2026. According to analysis from ABI Research, the total addressable market for private networks, including radio access, multi-access edge compute, core and related services, will increase from $3.7 billion in 2021 to more than $109.4 billion in 2030. But, as enterprises consider the role of private networks and the IoT, there are a number of challenges, chief among them enterprise-grade security for cellular networks.

“We provide enterprise-grade security for private cellular networks,” Dave Mor, co-founder and CEO of security specialist OneLayer, told RCR Wireless News. “The IoT revolution is here. More and more devices are being connected. We’re bringing the enterprise perspective to a new type of network.”

The company, which recently emerged from stealth mode, is laser-focused on enabling enterprises to leverage private 4G and 5G without compromising on security. This shines a light on what Mor called the security gap. This gap opens when enterprises accustomed to using security tools tailored to Ethernet/IP networks–visibility, policy enforcement, zero-trust, device and network posture, and anomaly detection/response–move over to a cellular protocol.

To say that another way, when the type of network changes, the security needs stay the same. OneLayer is looking to help enterprises make the necessary changes to close that gap and keep the tools they’re accustomed to, while taking advantage of going wireless.

“Security is not one move for enterprises,” Mor explained. “Almost all security solutions we currently see in the domain are firewalls and encrypted SIMs, encrypted data. Those are capabilities to secure the network but the reason we built OneLayer is all those capabilities are missing when you move to cellular. We have a dedicated solution for the private 4G and 5G market.”

In terms of an expanded attack surface created by the move to private cellular, consider a typical enterprise network wherein IT and OT environments are separated from one another and from public networks. In a private cellular network those IT and OT environments may converge as traffic passes through the cellular core; at the same time, and depending on the network configuration, the private network may also share a core with a carrier’s public network.

Now consider an IT device like a security camera that connects to an OT machine like a robotic arm. The vision of private 5G, in this case, would be to enable computer vision-type use cases like automated quality control. “Typically,” Mor said, “IT/OT network separation protects the operational environment. If you take a cellular camera communicating to an IT server and OT machine, without OneLayer, you’re using two different network devices but it’s the same core, the same route, so you disrupt separation. If a camera is compromised, it can attack the core and the IT/OT environments.”

OneLayer is able to provide automated, rules-based segmentation based on policies like device type, device manufacturer, location, or IP destination. This means a user could enforce policy dictating that cameras cannot talk to autonomous guided vehicles for example. But trying to apply enterprise security methodology to a cellular network is a manual and insufficient inadequate. “It’s not an efficient way to do policy in a cellular network the same way you’re used to doing policy in an enterprise network,” Mor said.

Bringing the best of enterprise security to private 4G and 5G allows enterprises to hold ownership of key security capabilities while leveraging existing domain expertise rather than investing in acquiring domain expertise in cellular. Removing this impediment is key to driving enterprise investment in private cellular in a way that users can be confident in security, people and process.

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