For many enterprises, their connectivity solutions have to be many things: robust, resilient, and always-on. Increasingly, an important factor has also been added to that list: infallible security. It seems like every day we’re faced with news of hacks, breaches, and other types of cyber-attacks, and existing connectivity provisions are coming under heightened scrutiny. So is it time for a rethink? Can enterprises rely on public, macro networks if they need a certain degree of security? Can those providers of macro public networks truly guarantee that data breaches won’t occur?
The reality is that on an open, public network, threats can come from pretty much every angle, and for enterprises dealing with sensitive information, where disruptions to connectivity can significantly impact how they run their business or serve their customers, it’s often not a risk worth taking.
So what are the alternatives for those enterprises? If the macro public network doesn’t meet the security needs of today, where should enterprises turn to?
At a time when cyber-attacks seem to be becoming more prevalent, sophisticated, automated and ‘defense aware’, enterprises are seeking new ways to reinforce their security architectures, protect intellectual property, ensure data privacy, secure business operations and the safety of the work environment. Simultaneously, the growing number of connected devices drives new requirements that traditional macro public networks are not able to address or support. As a result, verticals including manufacturing, healthcare, utilities, logistics and education are exploring alternative connectivity provisions in a bid to meet both their connectivity and security requirements of today and tomorrow.
That alternative lies in private networks. Private networks are a more secure option at the enterprise level as they provide a pre-defined framework for handling network security which becomes simpler to manage, scales more easily, and is more adaptable to changing network conditions. This means doing away with the complexities involved in securing a multitude of public Wi-Fi access points, or the risk posed by “insider attacks” in a public LTE or 5G network.
A private network connects a controlled group of devices which means that security at the application layer isn’t as critical as it is for applications that run in a public domain, as they are set up to operate inside a secured parameter. What’s more, private networks deliver significant security advantages by being isolated from the wider public network through access control policies in the hands of administrators. Access to the network is only permitted to known, relevant devices and users, which also gives enterprises greater control and greater autonomy in defining their own security policies. This is especially true, when enterprises issue their own SIMs and thereby control the encryption and security keys of their devices, something not otherwise possible with a slice of a public 4G/5G network. In turn, this allows enterprises to operate monitoring and auditing functions that will help identify the incorrect or improper use of network resources, further contributing to the network’s overall security and safety.
Private networks in action
Many verticals can benefit from the security advantages that private networks deliver. Private networks’ flexibility can offer the security that organisations demand in order to deliver connectivity within a single site or across multiple sites.
One example is healthcare. Hospitals and health centres usually span wide campus areas and comprise multiple buildings with high occupancy counts. From a security perspective, hospitals need a network that protects highly confidential patient data, as well as one that is secure enough to ensure that mission-critical devices and medical machines are not interrupted. By leveraging private networks, devices sharing sensitive information between staff and between each other can be registered on a completely segregated and access-controlled network, and communicate patient records and data across the network safely and securely. This minimizes external threats and reduces the impact that an interruption in connectivity provision could have on patient care.
The education sector is another area benefiting from private networks. While universities and colleges continue to conduct high-end research and generate high value intellectual property, they will remain a target for hackers. In this context, private networks are ideal as they are deployed to serve a specific organization. The dedicated access with security and managed policies they deliver ensure that only authorized users are allowed to connect with their designated access profiles. This gives universities and colleges that use private networks complete autonomy over who has access, how they access the network, and what they are allowed to do, thereby keeping valuable intellectual property safe. As with healthcare environments, education settings also often span large campuses with multiple buildings and locations. In this scenario, private networks can prove to be critical in creating a safe learning environment that gives students and staff access to academic resources while preventing malicious attacks, directed towards IT resources containing sensitive data, and protecting students from pernicious occurrences such as identity theft.
As enterprises continue on their digital transformation journeys and rethink existing connectivity provisions, their priority must be to ensure that they do not leave themselves vulnerable to security threats. As technology advances, so do the risks. Enterprises need to have the right tools and parameters in place to protect themselves; that starts with the right connectivity solution to meet the evolving needs of the enterprise. While a ‘security utopia’ may sound slightly too ethereal to be truly attainable, private networks are an excellent place to start.