How to prime your network for better security

By Clive Hogg, Technical Sales Manager, Corning Optical Communications

With digital transformation driving greater access services, productivity growth and enhanced public services, there is increasing pressure to protect against potential security breaches and optimise network uptime. With the Office of the Australian Information Commissioner receiving 60 breach notifications reported in the first 40 days of the mandatory notifiable data breaches scheme, securing of the cloud environment against threats is becoming an increasingly critical exercise for both governments and enterprises.

 Vulnerabilities

Cyber warfare has introduced ransomware attacks on governments and businesses, with attacks such as WannaCry and NotPeya wreaking havoc around the world. NotPetya even halted chocolate production at the Cadbury chocolate factory in Tasmania, Australia, despite its characteristics in only targeting certain entities, the effects were felt around the world.

Cloud adoption introduces new vulnerabilities as applications are increasingly hosted outside the internal data centre, making it difficult for administrators to track and analyse network performance in real-time. System lag and switch overutilisation could crash critical applications in the data centre and storage area network (SAN).

As bandwidth requirements increase, the need is to see all network traffic, including errors and regardless of packet size, in real time. Monitoring for potential security and performance threats such as denial-of-service attacks is seen as critical.

As such, data centre teams are under increasing pressure to continually monitor network performance – not solely for security threats but also to evaluate network efficiency, troubleshoot issues, and optimize traffic.

How to quickly identify security breaches

A preventative approach with networking monitoring is key for network administrators and structured cabling teams to ensure security breaches are identified and mitigated before they become real problems.

The optimal preventative approach while still maintaining the live applications of the data centre is by using a tap (traffic access point). A tap is a passive component that allows non-intrusive access to data flowing across the network and enables monitoring of network links. A tap, when implemented optimally, will allow you to see all network traffic including errors, regardless of packet size, in real time.

A tap uses passive optical splitting to transmit inline traffic to an attached monitoring device without data stream interference. Because a tap splits the signal instead of replicating it, a portion of the signal can be taken offline, or out of band, to conduct analysis of the I/O traffic without affecting live applications. A tap is completely passive and causes no disruption to the network.

What taps should be used? Is it disruptive to add taps to a network?

Taps could either be integrated or non-integrated into your structured cabling, and may either use fused biconical taper (FBT) splitters or thin-film splitters. Additionally, taps can also have different connector types, some of which are more useful than others.

Integrated taps are recommended due to their ability to not only perform the same function as a normal structured cabling network, but also send a portion of the light to the monitoring service. Conversely, non-integrated taps are deployed as standalone devices outside of the structured cabling network, so whenever there is a need to change monitored ports, the link has to be temporarily disabled. 

Integrated tap modules allows moves, adds, and changes (MACs) to monitored ports without disrupting the live network, and can annually save up to eight hours in network downtime.

Integrated tap modules are directly installed into the structured cabling. Used alongside high-performance thin-film multimode splitter technology, there is reduced link attenuation which translates into extended Ethernet and fibre channel distances. While some tap modules in the market today still use FBT splitters, which can cause increased bit error rates (BER) based on where they are placed in the system, thin-film splitters do not introduce any BER penalties, so it is possible to install them anywhere in the system without BER effects.

Further, integrated tap modules enable tapping into all links on day one, with the option to only monitor the required links. As network monitoring requirements grow or change, network administrators can simply add the required cabling between the installed tap modules and the network monitoring equipment.

Because there is no need to change any cabling infrastructure, there will be no disruption of the network. Additionally, since integrated tap modules occupy the same space as traditional MTP/LC modules, adding monitoring to an existing network is as simple as swapping out a traditional module for a tap module.

Finally, it is best to present the tap port as an MTP connector in the rear of the module. This will provide maximum flexibility when designing a structured cabling network. The MTP connector footprint allows separation of live production network ports and tap ports into different cabinet locations if desired.

Using this capability to centralise the active monitoring equipment, rather than installing across multiple cabinet locations throughout the data centre, provides cost savings by optimising the use of active monitoring equipment and reducing the risk of patching errors.

Tapping your network for enhanced security

Digital transformation, usually after tens of millions of dollars investment in building a high-performance network system, brings many benefits to governments and businesses. It is imperative to continually protect the network from potential security breaches while at the same time optimising the network as a whole. Integrated optical port tap modules cause no disruption to the live network while also proactively monitoring the network in real-time. With purely optical splitters, port tap modules are completely passive, requiring no power or IP configuration.

Port tap modules that are fully integrated into the structured cabling footprint of your data centres and SAN ensure ongoing higher performance, improved reliability, and enhanced utilisation of your network.

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