Is Your Backhaul The Cybersecurity Weakness In Your LMR Network?

Cybersecurity In LMR Backhauls

Traditionally, cybersecurity is not a concept often discussed in the context of Land Mobile Radio (LMR) network backhauls. Cyber-attacks were relatively infrequent, and backhauls could be air-gapped (physically isolated) from the internet and other networks as a means of providing effective security.

Today, the complexity and frequency of cyberattacks are increasing at an alarming rate. LMR systems are often used for critical communications in emergency situations, making them a prime target for cyberattacks. Disruption of these systems can have serious consequences for public safety.

Additionally, LMR networks are becoming increasingly connected, which is demonstrated by the widespread move to IP-based backhauls. Modern LMR systems may be connected to the internet and other networks to enable remote access and control. This connectivity increases the risk of cyberattacks as the system is exposed to a wider range of potential attackers and diminishes the ability for air gapping to be a viable security solution.

Just as network backhauls are evolving, so too must the cybersecurity methods used to protect the communications vital public safety organizations use. Though the need for increased cybersecurity in network backhauls is becoming more widely recognized, key challenges remain to meeting these security needs.

In this article, Part 3 of a series, we’ll explore the challenges that need to be addressed in cybersecurity for LMR network backhauls to ensure the adequate protection of these communication systems. Read Part 1 and Part 2 here. 

Network Monitoring

One of the most important aspects of cybersecurity is the ability to monitor your system properly. Effective monitoring can detect and analyze suspicious activities in real time, allowing for security measures to be implemented before significant impact can occur. However, system cybersecurity monitoring is a key challenge in modern network backhauls.

LMR network backhaul architecture can be significantly complex, with many network elements, specialized protocols, and modulation schemes in place. This can make it challenging for traditional network monitoring technologies to monitor the network for suspicious or abnormal activity effectively.

Additionally, LMR networks are typically spread out over large geographic areas, with multiple remote sites and endpoints that need to be monitored. This can make it difficult to establish a centralized monitoring and management system that can effectively track and respond to threats.

Limited monitoring capabilities can also make it challenging to identify normal network behavior due to a lack of accurate data points. Identifying normal network behavior is normally used as a means to create a network baseline, which is used as an input to monitoring tools. Without a robust baseline, it can be significantly more difficult to detect anomalies or suspicious activities that could be indicative of a cyberattack.

Missing Basic Cyber Protections

Many LMR network backhauls were built before cybersecurity was a major concern. These legacy systems, therefore, were likely not designed with modern cybersecurity standards or features in mind. As a result, they often lack the necessary security features such as encryption, access controls, and intrusion detection systems.

Additionally, older technologies may not be able to integrate with newer security technologies or may require significant modifications to do so. The lack of cybersecurity protections in legacy systems can be compounded by the fact that they are often difficult and expensive to replace or upgrade, leaving organizations with few options to secure their networks beyond basic protections.

Upgrading legacy LMR backhaul systems for cybersecurity requires significant investments in both time and resources to retrofit the system with modern cybersecurity features. However, LMR network backhaul is often critical infrastructure that must be available at all times. This focus on availability means that organizations may prioritize uptime over costly and time-consuming cybersecurity upgrades.

Diversity Of Equipment/Systems

Network backhauls can be made up of a variety of different equipment and systems, each with its own unique security vulnerabilities. Mature systems may also have a mix of equipment ages depending on the upgrade strategy of the network operator. This makes it difficult to implement a standardized security approach across the entire system.

For example, different equipment and systems may have dissimilar security protocols, configuration options, and compatibility requirements. These variances can make it challenging to ensure that all components of the network are properly secured and working together effectively to protect against cyber threats.

Moreover, the age and legacy nature of some LMR systems can make it difficult to incorporate modern cybersecurity measures. Some older systems may have limited options for upgrading or replacing outdated equipment. Older systems may not be compatible with newer technologies, which means replacing only a portion of the network equipment at one time may leave significant security vulnerabilities.

Expertise And Awareness

Another major challenge that LMR network operators face in implementing adequate cybersecurity measures is both a lack of resource expertise and awareness of cybersecurity threats. This can result in the slow implementation of cybersecurity features or the implementation of inadequate measures.

As stated earlier, the threat of cyberattacks is relatively new to LMR networks, as older network technologies were not as susceptible to these threats. The nature of LMR networks themselves may also contribute to a lack of awareness of cybersecurity threats. Traditionally, these networks were often closed systems that did not rely on external connectivity, enabling air-gapping as a valid security measure. This may have resulted in a false sense of security among some network operators that have upgraded to current IP-based technology that may still be present today.

Cybersecurity is a rapidly evolving field, and keeping up with the latest threats and best practices requires specialized knowledge and ongoing training. Many organizations that use LMR networks may not have dedicated cybersecurity professionals, and their IT staff may not have the specialized knowledge and training required to effectively secure LMR networks. There may also be a lack of understanding about the specific cybersecurity risks associated with LMR networks, which are often different from those associated with other types of IT systems. Furthermore, LMR networks are often operated by public safety agencies, which may have limited budgets and resources to devote to cybersecurity. This can result in inadequate staffing and training for cybersecurity personnel, as well as a lack of investment in security tools and technologies.

Overall, establishing effective cybersecurity measures for LMR networks requires expertise in both LMR technology and cybersecurity. However, the limited number of LMR experts and the rapidly evolving nature of cyber threats make it a challenge for many organizations to effectively protect their LMR networks. Additionally, a lack of awareness of cyber threats may further slow the adoption of cybersecurity measures by LMR network operators.

Addressing Challenges In Network Backhauls

With the complexity and frequency of cyberattacks increasing, and LMR networks becoming more connected, traditional security methods like air gapping are no longer sufficient to protect these systems from cyber threats. Cybersecurity in LMR network backhauls is becoming increasingly important as these systems are used for critical communications in emergency situations.

However, there are significant challenges to implementing effective cybersecurity measures in LMR network backhauls. These challenges include complex network architectures, outdated equipment and systems, and a lack of expertise and awareness of cybersecurity threats. Additionally, upgrading legacy LMR systems for cybersecurity requires significant investments in time and resources, which may be challenging for organizations that prioritize system availability over security.

To address these challenges, LMR network operators must prioritize effective monitoring, upgrading legacy systems for modern cybersecurity features, implementing standardized security approaches, and increasing expertise and awareness of cybersecurity threats.

Effective monitoring is key to understanding and securing LMR network backhauls. We built Cyberzcape NMS to help radio operators of critical infrastructure solve their biggest stability challenge: identifying and resolving issues that are tied to the backhaul. The key benefits of Cyberzcape NMS for LMR network operators include:

  • Actionable QoS performance Metrics
  • Cybersecurity
  • Network Anomaly detection
    • New device discovered
    • New connection detection
  • Router Anomaly Detection
    • Configuration monitoring
    • Access monitoring
    • Port monitoring
    • Routing Table monitoring
  • Backhaul Element Monitoring
  • Designed specifically for Radio Operators
  • 24×7 Network Monitoring and Alerting

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