Last month, Kris Good, CTA communications and technology designer, appeared on Billings, Montana-based KTVQ-TV‘s “Face the State.” The topic of the episode was cyber-crime, and its participants — including host Jay Kohn and Billings Police Department Det. Brett Lapham — discussed actual events, how to be aware of them, and what to do to prevent them.
Prior to the taping, Kohn told Kris about a recent phishing incident at the station involving the inadvertent disclosure of personal information to a hacker. It had all the hallmarks of a cyber-attack: a Friday send date, end of day delivery, and an urgent call-to-action. It also featured a threat of consequences for failing to respond, playing on the very real fear of getting in trouble.
Kris’s segment on the program included demonstrating the physical portion of a network that is susceptible to hacking or violation. The cable part of a network, literally the wires between devices that run all the bits and bytes around, is called Layer 1. It is a copper cable, fairly susceptible to being tapped into for the purposes of draining information. A gigabit passive optical network (GPON), which alternatively uses fiber, or glass, is not so easy to infiltrate. “Even experienced hackers would need an awful lot of luck on his side to be able to tap into it,” Kris said.
Kris explained that in addition to direct, physical access to the wiring, the devices on a network are also capable of putting your network at significant risk, and there are many ways in which this can manifest. A recently-documented instance was through a security camera manufacturer affiliated with the Chinese Communist Party General Council. Attractive in both price and capability, their cameras were installed in hundreds of U.S. government facilities. What no one knew at the time was malware had been placed not only on the cameras but also on the cell phone application that interfaced with the system. The malware would remain dormant for up to three years, then suddenly awaken and infect the entire network to which all of the cameras were connected.
Another opportunity for intrusion is for seemingly harmless devices, such as a smart HVAC system connected to the network so it can contact the “mother ship” for service calls or software updates. Sometimes these calls are routed to local service technicians, often times through their mobile phones. Viruses or malware can be implanted onto the phone, allowing them to burrow into and infect the entire network. Kris’s point in this line of discussion was that not all cyber-attacks or network bugs come in via internet hacking. “These scenarios are referred to as doors to the networks, and it is important to close them and only use them with someone’s full knowledge,” he noted.
One of the biggest selling points of GPON is its efficiency. With a traditional copper network, there is a distance limitation of 295 feet. If you have a large building, the only way you can use copper is to build multiple data closets. These are traditionally tied together with fiber. The issue is that you not only have to dedicate space to additional closets, you also need to install racks and supporting electronics, which need to be cooled as they operate. You need lighting in the room, and cable pathways such as cable tray and conduits.
With GPON, all of those requirements evaporate. This means you save on the ongoing costs of power, heating, cooling, lighting, and more — and the square footage can be used for more purposeful applications. Unlike copper, GPON has a distance limitation of 20 miles — hence, all devices can be served out of a single closet. Copper must be dug out of the ground, processed, modified, and the final product trucked across the country. It typically arrives in a wooden or plastic reel covered in cardboard and stacked on a pallet. GPON is packaged in a very small container about the size of a coffee table book.
“Compared to copper, there are vastly fewer materials used in GPON,” Kris said. “Silica is the most abundant material in the earth’s crust; it is easy and inexpensive to mine, so it’s less impactful on the environment; costs less to operate; and allocates less shipping materials and fuel to transport it. This all makes GPON a financially- and environmentally-responsible choice!”
Watch the entire episode of “Face the State” here: