Mobile Network Security Will Be Laid Bare by Attacks on Small Cells

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Outdoor Small Cells pose increased security risk as mobile networks densify to meet burgeoning traffic demands. Small Cell shipments will exceed macrocells in 2016, and total shipments will reach nearly 15 million units through 2019.

With residential femtocells stagnating, shifting market dynamics favor larger deployment scenarios in enterprise and urban outdoor femtocells. Top-tier operators planning wide-scale deployments include AT&T, Verizon, Vodafone, Telefonica, SK Telecom, and SoftBank.

Regardless of location and size, operators must provide Small Cell networks with at least the same level of security that is expected from the mobile network.

"Small Cells are inevitable parts of future mobile networks, but IP-based backhaul and location risks, like being out of operator direct reach and open to public access, leave the network exposed to various possible attacks," warns Ahmed Ali, research analyst at ABI Research.

Functionally equivalent to macro basestations but less secure, Small Cells are compelling targets for attacks against both subscribers and operators. Ranging in severity, security threats include data privacy threats, service fraud, denial of service, and operation malfunctioning. Security measures must be taken to ensure integrity and validity of information passed to and from Small Cell networks at all times as even a slight security breach will negatively affect an operator's reputation. Security measures like storing credentials in protected unit, authenticating femto and core mutually and performing location verification are essential for main functions such as device booting and establishment of core connection. Also, dangers arising from the use of the Internet as a backhaul are deviated by tunneling data through a more trusted protocol like IPsec.

"The Small Cells market is yet to mature; both technical and business-related aspects are constantly evolving to accommodate future services demands. In return, a Small Cells security structure must restrain any possible new security threat that may arise," continues Ali.

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