Ensuring data remains cybersecure with optical fibers

Oct. 19, 2021
A secure, encrypted fiber solution is essential for network operators.

By Alain Bertaina, Prysmian Group

As more industries globally embark on digitalization of their companies, cyber threats are inevitably becoming more prevalent and more sophisticated in nature. Additionally, cybersecurity is increasingly affecting organizations with large amounts of data transmission. According to the Thales Data Threat Report 2020 by IDC, nearly half of surveyed global organizations have experienced a data security breach at some point, and 26% were breached in 2019.

Digitalization, increased home networking and the gradual migration to cloud-based storage has meant that cybersecurity is now deemed essential for data security. Without a secure network, financial and personal data can be potentially vulnerable to malicious hacks and breaches in many industries, with the education, finance, government, and health sectors often targeted.

While many companies use encryption technology such as databases, data centers, storage arrays, or hard drives to provide full protection while data is at rest, it is when this data leaves the premises and is transmitted through the networks that it is most at risk of being compromised and intercepted. With most of the world’s traffic traveling within optical fibers, secured optical links are a must-have to prevent such threats before they develop.

Thwarting optical fiber threats

Recent statistics show that optical fiber use and deployments are rapidly on the rise. In fact, it was reported that from 2013 to 2018, the industry grew by 15.2%, even though the number of firms in the industry had only grown by 1.2%. Therefore, this technology is becoming increasingly targeted by organized cybercrime and businesses face a notable challenge when it comes to identifying sophisticated hacking tricks. No network is completely safe from threats when it comes to fiber optics, that can include specialized kit utilization, network software, wiretaps and other methods that require meticulous planning and knowledge.

Furthermore, fiber is vulnerable to leakage through light outside of the guide, and with the tools equipped to create a small bend in the fiber, hackers can extract the light and redirect it to their computer on a diverted route. Hackers can manipulate this when bent to identify transmitted signals. However, without encryption, this can be conducted openly across the network without a disturbance to transported traffic, most vulnerable when being spliced or routed.

By using a strong fiber-optic connection, it can be the most secure way of ensuring end-to-end physical security for operators, and can be much harder to infiltrate when compared to other network infrastructures such as copper-based networks or fixed and wireless satellite infrastructure. Even new technology such as 5G can be more susceptible to potential cyber attacks, as hackers can look to exploit 5G’s network design, that enable additional and common entry points. In addition to this, fiber infrastructure has the advantage of secure endpoints that can actively and automatically detect threats quickly and reliably.

Ensuring reliability and safety in fiber infrastructure

A key solution in helping to effectively combat cyber threats in fiber optics is to directly introduce in-flight encryption mechanisms to those optical systems transmitting and receiving the information, to fully secure the networks end-to-end. Yet currently, such encryption schemes are only applied to a limited number of critical data center interconnect links.

In order to prevent infrastructure vulnerabilities, such as fiber-optic leakage exploited by hackers, operators should look to use efficient specifications that are geared toward guarding against large-scale cybersecurity attacks, such as G.657.A2 fibers. Initially developed for securing access networks and fiber-to-the-home networks, the fibers are naturally more exposed to bends and corners, and this therefore prevents any additional transmission losses created by leakages under bending. The hardened fibers significantly decrease the risk of light escaping when bent, and this can make hacking tools futile, as the lack of detected light makes it difficult to identify incoming signals. The standard can be extended to all parts of the network to ensure full security coverage.

Furthermore, it is essential that operators use fiber that is resilient to microbending effects inside the cable. This ensures that technology is equipped with reliable dependence on channel wavelength. This resilience can cement all transmission bends securely, including upper L-bands and U-bands that present the highest exposure to microbending effects. Additionally, this ensures that cable designs for easier, cost-effective installations in all environments can be introduced.

By adopting a secure, encrypted fiber-optic solution, operators and businesses can be safe with a fully resilient cybersecure network for any data transmission, cloud-based migration, and most importantly, keep personal and financial information safe from cybercrime. In an age when network security is becoming just as important as locking your door at night, it is paramount that the most resilient option is used for full safety and security.

Alain Bertaina is business development and product strategy director for telecom business at Prysmian Group.

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