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Fiber-optic security for LANs protects data assets

Written by Ed Sullivan

The need to keep data LANs secure from intruders who could easily tap into cable has become as vital today as protecting tangible and financial assets. Military-certified fiber-optic perimeter protection technology now keeps intruders away from data LANs, eliminating the need to invest in expensive, maintenance-intensive cryptographic systems.

The primary protection against data theft has been encryption. While encryption will become increasingly crucial to communications applications, when it comes to LANs, cryptographic systems that provide encryption and decryption are expensive and can be maintenance intensive. “When it comes to LANs, the cryptographic solution is costly,” said Duane Thompson, general manager of Fiber SenSys LLC, a Hillsboro, OR-based provider of fiber-optic asset protection systems. “With the cryptographic approach to LAN security, you run data through a computer algorithm, send the encrypted data down the line, then undo the encryption, or computer algorithm. Therefore, your system is limited to the speed at which the cryptographic computers can encode and decode the data.”

Thompson added that maintenance costs of cryptographic systems are also expensive because users have to deal with key management, and depending on the industry, they may need multiple maintenance technicians to cover various levels of network security clearances. To avoid those cost and performance drawbacks in LAN applications, Fiber SenSys recently applied a perimeter-protection technology that the firm developed over a decade ago along with its fiber-optic cable supplier, Optical Cable Corp. (OCC) in Roanoke, VA.

With information systems increasingly under attack, Fiber SenSys recognized that its world-class perimeter protection technology could be applied to a growing need for physical protection of LANS from intruders who could otherwise tap directly into data traffic. “Our firm is in the business of asset protection,” Thompson explained. “Certainly data that passes through LANs is a vital asset for a broad range of industries.” One of the first applications for the new LAN protection technology, SecureLAN®, was the U.S. military.

With regard to the broader perimeter-security threat (physical assets ranging from buildings to aircraft), Fiber SenSys engineered a fiber-optic cable-based system with embedded sensors that detect intrusion or any type of disturbance that is considered “threatening.” Each perimeter installation is tuned for “natural” disturbances such as wind and small animals and can be equipped with accessories such as anemometers to augment this calibration.

“We were already recognized as a global leader in perimeter protection and are certified as Priority Level One (PL-1) by the DOD,” Thompson said. “With military and industrial customers all over the world, we felt that a system [that] provided physical LAN protection could be a viable solution for an even broader base.”

As with the perimeter systems, Fiber SenSys worked with OCC to develop an alarmed fiber optic cable. OCC is well known for its customized fiber optic products, including the development of tight-buffered indoor / outdoor cable and armor-jacketed cable that is widely used by the enterprise market, the military and harsh industrial applications.

The initial military customer for SecureLAN was the U.S. Air Force. After receiving approval by Scott Air Force Base, for Protected Distribution Systems (PDS), several other Air Force and Navy bases installed the system as well as defense contractors. Today’s ever-increasing security concerns for data networks is driving demand for SecureLAN in the commercial and industrial sectors.

“The reason people like using SecureLAN to protect their data lines is that it is a low-cost, high-value solution,” Thompson said. “Compared to the expensive cryptographic alternative, the fiber-optic sensor protection is much lower in price and also requires very little maintenance.”

The system can be retrofitted by collocating it with existing LANs or included as a virtually unnoticeable component of new LAN installations of any size, indoor or outdoor, subterranean or above ground.

Thompson notes that the sensor solution is a complete one. It includes a graphical-user head end and provides users with programmable responses to intrusion alarms.

“Many of the customers have implemented HP Open Source or other network-specific protocols,” he said. “We provide both dry relay, for the simplest method of bringing alarm data back into the command and control center, or as basic as serial communications via Ethernet or RS232, depending upon the customer’s requirements.”

Like perimeter-security systems, the applications for LAN security today are growing. “Ten years ago, network security began to take on serious importance,” Thompson said. “But the dollars lost by corporate America were very marginal in those days compared to today’s potential losses. Lost assets could include trade secrets, ID theft and customer information.”

Ed Sullivan is a technical writer based in Hermosa Beach, CA. Photos courtesy of Optical Cable Corp. and Fiber SenSys.

Published in Public Safety IT, Jul/Aug 2009

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