Ericsson plans to uncloak its mobile network security activities at Mobile World Congress 2014, marking the first time the vendor has sought to raise its profile in this increasingly critical area.
Largely silent on the issue up to now, the Swedish vendor plans to highlight its network security efforts in its existing product portfolio, standardization and research and development.
In an interview with Light Reading, Mats Nilsson, director of product security at group function technology, Ericsson AB (Nasdaq: ERIC), shared some insight into what the vendor has been doing and what it will highlight at the show. "For this MWC, we have increased our message in this area," said Nilsson.
Up to now, Ericsson has been relatively quiet about network security, unlike some of its main rivals, most notably Nokia Networks and Alcatel-Lucent (NYSE: ALU). (See NSN, Juniper Strengthen Mobile Ties, NSN, F-Secure Team on Mobile Security, LTE Brings More Malware, Euronews: BT CEO Calls for Clarity on Data Security and Euronews: Vodafone Makes a Stand on Privacy.)
The change in the Ericsson's willingness to promote this topic comes as mobile operators are increasingly more open about network security issues, particularly in the wake of the Edward Snowden revelations, and as its rivals turn up the heat.
The vendor's reticence on network security has already caused it to lose some marketing ground to competitors. "Ericsson has allowed competitors like NSN and Alcatel-Lucent to get ahead when it comes to communicating their strategy for mobile network security," said Patrick Donegan, senior analyst at Heavy Reading .
"Having been a follower in this regard, Ericsson needs to up its game now and communicate on security more aggressively, just as customers like BT Group plc (NYSE: BT; London: BTA), Vodafone Group plc (NYSE: VOD) and Deutsche Telekom AG (NYSE: DT) are doing," added the analyst, who is hosting a breakfast briefing, Creating Trust in the Mobile Network, in Barcelona on Wednesday Feb. 26 during Mobile World Congress. (See Digging Into Mobile Security.)
Stepping up at MWC
Ericsson's plans for network security messaging at MWC could mark a turning point. So, what is the giant Swedish mobile meatball planning?
In terms of technology development, the vendor will show a proof-of-concept called "radio firewall," which uses intelligence built into the base station to look for anomalies or malicious attacks in signalling in the over-the-air interface. As Nilsson explained, the radio firewall is a good example of how Ericsson can use its radio network experience to deliver network security capabilities.
"From our knowledge of how the radio network works, we're able to implement attack detection mechanisms all the way out in the base station to really protect the network," he said, adding that anomaly detection in over-the-air signalling is a completely new concept.
As for Ericsson's overall security portfolio, Nilsson pointed out that some of it derives from long-standing partnerships with specialist security vendors. Examples of such partnerships include relationships with Juniper Networks Inc. (NYSE: JNPR) and Symantec Corp. (Nasdaq: SYMC). Nilsson said that Ericsson has used IPSec gateways from Juniper and other vendors for several years and that it is building IPSec capabilities into a number of products.
Ericsson’s relationship with Symantec is for malware detection, explained Nilsson, much like NSN's recently announced partnership with F-Secure. "[The Symantec product] is very similar to the F-Secure product -- the difference is, we've had this for five or six years," he added (in the spirit of one-upmanship).
At MWC, the vendor also plans to highlight its security operations center, where it can monitor security behavior throughout the network, as well as its managed security offering. Security will also feature in its machine-to-machine (M2M) demo.
And to kick things off, the vendor has just published a white paper called Guiding Principles for Security in a Networked Society, which outlines Ericsson's visions for ensuring secure communications. It will also promote its efforts in standardizing security implementation in network elements through an initiative called Security Assurance Methodology (SECAM), which is outlined in this Ericsson Review paper.
But with all of this messaging on security, how will Ericsson's efforts compare to those of its mobile infrastructure rivals at the show? Alcatel-Lucent and Huawei Technologies Co. Ltd. are not planning to make network security related announcements, but Alcatel-Lucent will feature its Kindsight security analytics as part of a Customer Experience Manager demo. NSN, meanwhile, will have a section of its stand dedicated to network security, where it will show the work it does with partners including Check Point Software Technologies Ltd. (Nasdaq: CHKP), F-Secure Corp. , Infoblox Inc. , Juniper and Optenet .
Ericsson clearly wants to convey that it is just as involved in the drive to better secure mobile networks as any other infrastructure supplier: MWC14 might be the place where it finally makes enough noise, and displays enough proof points, to be considered a member of the leading pack.
— Michelle Donegan, contributing editor, special to Light Reading