SEN editor John Adams speaks with Daniel Sultana, director of Security and IoT Systems, Paessler AG – PRTG The Network Monitor, about the importance of network security, IoT, smart cities and the increasingly ambiguous nature of networks.
JA: We bandy around concepts like IoT and smart cities but how realistic is it that such solutions can be created and defended without securing the infrastructure on which these ecosystems must depend?
DS: With IoT, we will undoubtedly be analysing and monitoring large parts of our personal and community life, through smart devices, smart buildings, and smart cities. A city is dubbed ‘smart’ if it integrates information and communication technology (ICT), and Internet of Things (IoT), in a secure fashion to manage its assets. The interconnectivity of these assets allows the city to monitor what’s going on in the city, how it’s evolving, and how to enable a better quality of life.
There’s no doubt that securing smart cities will be both a challenge and a balancing act over the coming years. Smart cities have the potential to make urban areas safer, convenient and more comfortable for residents. But governments and citizens need the education, training and assistance to improve security to drive success. Smart cities need to be equipped to manage the data load and connectivity of IT assets on the network if they are to uphold the convenience and security they promise their residents.
JA: What would you say is the scope of a smart city – what lies at its core and what systems can then be arrayed around that core and managed in an integrated way that maximises situational awareness and return on investment?
DS: According to market analyst Roland Berger, there are 3 areas which affect the technological advancement of any urbanisation – specific areas of application, strategic planning and IT infrastructure. The Smart City Strategy Index indicates which cities are becoming smarter. A smart city strategy has 6 fields of application: Health, education, energy and environment, buildings and mobility – covering just about every area of public administration. The technological intricacies of a smart city depend on both bottom-up (citizen) activities, and top-down (government) measures, requiring synergy between them.
Singapore is a prime example of where these 2 elements come together. The nation-city presents something of a paradox: Highly connected citizens, technically advanced infrastructure, and a forward-thinking government, yet traffic and pollution are very real challenges. The city represents an excellent proving ground for smart city technology and is in the top 3 of the world’s most technologically-connected cities.
The haze which blights Singapore on occasion is caused by a sudden rise in particulates – for instance, caused by Sumatran farming practices at the beginning of the dry season. The particulate matter at a granular level can be visualized using PRTG Network Monitor from Paessler. PRTG can hook-in to systems collecting sensory data and display the data in a digestible format. Thresholds and fault notifications can be used to inform the city authorities if pollution levels are getting critical.
JA: Broadly, what is the scope of that ambiguous word ‘network’, where does the network begin and end in a typical major integrated solution, in your opinion?
DS: Networks are complex and ever changing, especially in recent years. With the explosion of IoT devices and connectivity initiatives by employers – networks vary tremendously project to project, business to business. What we do know for sure is that the parameters of the network are growing, which is why network monitoring has become so important. Network monitoring describes the use of a system that constantly monitors a computer network for slow or failing systems and that notifies the network administrator in case of bottle necks or outages, so they can act quickly before the end-user notices any depreciation in performance.
When we say network, we typically mean the internal network (LAN) of an organisation as well as the external infrastructure like the connection to the Internet and server systems accessible via the Internet that are located somewhere else. Our PRTG is an end-to-end monitoring solution that covers the entire scope from basic network monitoring to cloud computing monitoring. This includes LANs, WANs, servers, websites, applications, cloud services, and many more.
JA: How important is the security of network infrastructure?
DS: In rapidly evolving IT, security becomes more important every day. New technologies and a world of Internet of Things create new threats, making security an immensely complex challenge to overcome. As a result, it is essential for organisations to have complete visibility of their networks. Implementing an all-encompassing security strategy is the only way for businesses to respond to today’s dynamic security needs.
This is not only beneficial from an operational perspective, but can also benefit customers, increase compliance, and positively impact a company’s bottom line. By making network security a crucial element in the development of your organisation, IT administrators can ensure the network is protected and maintained 24/7, leaving time to focus on other essential tasks.
JA: What would you argue are the most common vulnerabilities in typical WAN-type networked security solutions?
DS: Wide area networks (WANs) are especially prone to network problems, as they are distributed over large areas and often span several countries or even continents. The data accessed via WAN flows through emails, and many other business-critical applications, such as databases, CRM systems, VoIP traffic, etc. In addition, this data needs to be available in real time, and accessed by a tremendous number of people, such as employees and contractors. This is where the weaknesses lie – in the users, access and applications.
JA: What lessons could major users of networked security solutions – universities and smart cities – learn from major events such as the London Olympics or the recent Commonwealth Games on the Gold Coast which used very large networks to manage transient digital solutions across dozens of remote sites? What do big event organisers get right?
DS: For large networks, permanent (university infrastructure) and temporary (major events), it’s incredibly valuable to leverage network monitoring to keep an eye on all devices in the network. For today’s schools this could include devices like smart boards, lecturer’s laptops and student’s tablets. Visibility is the key to success, and the one thing administrators should not under-estimate in value. Visibility provides administrators with the ultimate control over their network, the power to see challenges ahead, and the ability to quash issues before they impact mission critical systems.
Our technology enables users to oversee system performance from security cameras and perimeters, to bandwidth and applications, making it a must have at any event to ensure guests and staff have no trouble connecting into the network.
As an example, our Paessler Router Traffic Grapher (PRTG) Network Monitor system, a multi-dimensional solution, was used by Idonix, a company contracted by the BBC to deliver a range of graphic automation systems for the 2014 Winter Olympics coverage.
Idonix used PRTG to deploy custom sensors that monitored the availability of their customer’s graphics rendering system and created a custom reporting tool that collated the data needed by the teams on the ground. It meant that Idonix had up-to-the minute information on stall and load time, and other KPIs to keep the live broadcast running smoothly. Thanks to the success of the project, Idonix also used PRTG to remotely monitor their systems hosted at the International Broadcast Centre in Rio De Janeiro, Brazil for the 2014 FIFA World Cup.
JA: What message would you give them large end users in corporate and government looking to create serious networked solutions – what can Paessler offer them?
DS: The creation of these seriously networked solutions, like smart cities, is a gradual process that is usually always a work-in-progress. Technology works 2 ways: Top-down, as governments or businesses install infrastructure, or bottom-up, as citizens or employees use tech to empower themselves. Paessler can also offer entities using networks a safe and continuous connectivity with PRTG Network Monitor – a software solutions that simplifies network monitoring regardless of your business, or your application.