How Wi-Fi Location-Based Services Can Step Up Your Public Safety Game

My first job out of college was working on Sonar Systems for the U.S. Navy. Modern sonar systems passively listen in the ocean to identify targets by the sounds they make. To the Sonar System everything is a target. Targets are classified as unknown, hostile or friendly. Target classification is determined by noise signatures, behavior, heuristics, etc.

Wi-Fi location-based solutions provide similar capabilities as a sonar system. As part of normal operations, a mobile device will probe the network looking for Wireless Access Points (WAPs). Probing helps the device identify and acquire service from the WLAN. When the device is connected to the network, it continues to probe, enabling the device to effectively roam between WAPs. Essentially Wi-Fi enabled devices are projecting energy into the air similar to a ship projecting sound into the ocean.

WAPs listen and respond to the probe messages as part of service delivery. Listening also provides a mechanism to track these devices. A Wi-Fi device probe message includes the Media Access Control (MAC) address of the device, a globally unique identifier. Since most devices probe the network several times a minute, it’s possible to identify the location of a device every few seconds. Therefore, a Wi-Fi location-based solution can identify the location of every wireless device in range of the WLAN.

Wi-Fi location-based services are usually discussed in the realm of suppliers trying to improve customer engagement. However, as Avaya Chief Technologist of SDA Jean Turgeon points out in his recent blog on public safety, there’s an epidemic of man-created tragedies, where people are targeted for harm by other people. Providing safety for the public when a member of the public wants to harm other members of the public is a tough task. Finding a potential antagonist in the crowd is similar to finding the potentially hostile ship in the ocean of ships. Wi-Fi Location-Based Services (WLBS) offer an additional data set that can be used to help identify potential hostiles, and help first responders identify where the friendlies are located.

WLBS uses the signals received by multiple WAPs to triangulate the location of the probing device. In the Avaya solution, performing WLBS is as simple as telling the WAPs to send distance information to an Avaya Breeze™ snap-in that performs the calculation.

Wi-Fi Location-Based Services

The triangulation process provides the ability to identify all of the targets in the WLAN ocean. The next step is to sort the targets. However, rather than classifying as friendly or hostile, the first objective is to sort out known from unknown device owners. Device ownership can be determined in a number of ways, for instance:

  • Connections to the corporate network

    . Employees, contractors, etc. who provide credentials to access the corporate network will have device ownership uniquely identified. Though a single employee may have multiple devices (laptop, phone, tablet) identified to their persona at one time, a device will have a single owner.

  • Device resident apps, such as loyalty apps

    . Apps that provide coupons, track transaction points, etc. can be set up to identify the owner when the app connects to the network.

  • Uniquely identifiable splash page logins

    . Gaining access to a guest network often requires acknowledging appropriate usage parameters on a splash page. The splash page can be set up to require uniquely identifiable information, such as an email address, to gain access.

Therefore, it’s possible to have uniquely identifiable information about the owner of every device that’s connected to your WLAN. Devices that aren’t connected to the network would have unknown owners. However, if the solution maintains an historical database, it may be possible to classify a device if the MAC address has ever been associated to an owner. The current owner may not be the same as the historical, but it’s a starting point.

Now that a mechanism to identify device owners has been established, rules for addressing unknown devices can be generated. The easiest to visualize is the guest-out-of-bounds rule. Most public buildings (civil center, library, court house, school, etc.) consist of areas that are open to the public and areas that are restricted to certain personnel.

When a non-employee’s device is detected in a restricted area, WLBS raises an alert to be processed up-stream. For instance, the feed from the CCTV camera covering the area identified by WLBS could be directed to the security guards computer monitor. The security guard could find the closest member of the security team by looking at a dynamic floor plan display with indicators showing the location of all security personnel (based on their known devices). A message could be sent to closest security person to go to the area and perform a credential check. As the non-employee moves through the area, his position would be updated by the WLBS solution to continue to track the individual. The CCTV and WLBS displays could be routed to the mobile security guard to provide current situational information.

WLBS is dependent on the person of interest having a device with an active Wi-Fi antenna. If the non-employee above is simply lost, they won’t bother to turn off their device. On the other hand, if the person intends harm, they may go to airplane mode. In this case, the security system is relying on more traditional detection methods.

WLBS also has value when looking at people at a macro level. One of the man-created tragedies is the active shooter scenario. In many disaster scenarios, the best course of action is to flee. However, in the active shooter scenario, the best course of action is often to hide. Take a school or shopping mall, people are going to hide all over the place. One of the tasks of first responders is to find where all of the friendlies are hiding without causing the friendlies to expose themselves unnecessarily. WLBS would show where all of the devices are, which provides a good indicator of where people are hiding. So as the first responders are pursuing the hostiles, they would have data to help them understand if the hostiles are heading towards friendlies. Perhaps, the friendlies can be evacuated before a hostile reaches them or the hostiles can be driven to a safer location.

WLBS provides a stealthy way to identify where people are. It isn’t a fool-proof solution. Unlike a ship in the ocean, a person can decide to be silent and thus untraceable. However, in many situations, WLBS will provide valuable information about the location and movement of people. Even if the hostile defeats Wi-Fi tracking, WLBS still provides information about the friendlies. In this case, tracking hostiles may require other technology such as CCTV. (Satellites are used to track ships also.)

The best part of a WLBS solution is that it runs on the WLAN that organizations must deploy to participate in the 21st century. Location data is available on enterprise class WAPs—it’s simply a matter of collecting and acting on the data. With Avaya’s 9100 WLAN, data analysis and workflow development is a Breeze.

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Benefits of Deploying the Avaya Surge™ Solution for Any IP Network

The Avaya Surge™ Solution is designed to work in an SDN Fx fabric environment. But many companies don’t have the luxury of deploying a full Ethernet fabric before they deploy their IoT-based applications. Avaya Surge release 1.0.1 (November 2016) added support for non-fabric IP networks.

The Surge IoT Controller works essentially the same way as in the SDN Fx fabric deployment, except the Open vSwitch on the Open Networking Adapter can’t automate network provisioning. Therefore, the VLANs must be configured manually on the network. The solution still provides centralized inventory, white list profiles, flow filtering, and a single pane-of-glass status for all Open Networking Adapter-enabled IoT devices. Without the SDN Fx fabric infrastructure, segmentation is limited to VLANs that aren’t stealthy and mobility requires manual network service set-up and tear-down. For environments where devices are static, the IP-only version of Avaya Surge may suffice until a full fabric can be deployed.

The risk profile of IoT doesn’t lend itself to “good enough” solutions for long. When a company’s network and data are compromised, less than best practices will be criticized in the media, in the court room, and, as in the Yahoo case, impact executive pay. Avaya Surge Release 2.0, scheduled for the second quarter of 2017, adds IPSec encryption and tunneling to an IP-only deployment. (IPSec will be available for SDN Fx deployments as well.)

A HyperSec gateway is deployed to coordinate the IPSec functionality with the Open Networking Adapters. The HyperSec gateway terminates the IPSec connection from the Adapters and directs the data to the correct VLAN to reach the target application server. Return data is encrypted and sent to the appropriate Adapter, which terminates and forwards the data to the IoT device. The addition of the HyperSec gateway adds encryption to the data on the network, while adding mobility to the solution. The Adapter is able to dynamically create the IPSec tunnel to the HyperSec gateway, reducing manual network management.

The HyperSec gateway is deployed as an active/standby pair. Each Adapter will be set up with primary/secondary tunnels. If the primary is not available, the Adapter will communicate over the secondary tunnel to the HyperSec gateway. The HyperSec cluster is headless. Configuration information is maintained in the Surge IoT Controller. This greatly simplifies scale-out clustering of the HyperSec gateway.

I will blog more about the HyperSec solution closer to availability. Keep in mind that you can get started with Avaya Surge on an IP network today and add IPSec when it becomes available. Also, it is not an all-or-nothing solution. Critical IoT components and services go through the HyperSec gateway and less critical and stationary workloads are deployed with IP and VLANs. Furthermore, SDN Fx fabric can be incrementally added to portions of the IoT portfolio to gain the value of hyper-segmentation, native stealth, and automatic elasticity.

Look at all of this through a different lens. I was talking to a friend, an intellectual property rights attorney, about the exposure that companies face from data breaches. It was one of those conversations where he wanted to know more about the technology and I was curious about his perspective as someone who makes money from a company’s problems. He was especially interested because legal firms are getting $500K to $2.5M for a simple breach defense. When looking at these numbers, I think that even if a company isn’t found culpable in a data breach, they could spend a lot of money in defense. So, it’s probably best to invest in the infrastructure to deploy IoT projects in a safe and sane manner.

In my recent blogs about the IoT, I’ve looked at how the IoT enables Digital Transformation and examined a business-first approach to IoT technology adoption. Then I looked at how Avaya’s SDN FxTM provides a foundation for a safe and sane IoT deployment. Finally, I introduced the Avaya Surge™ Solution, which extends network fabric to IoT devices and provides centralized device management, protection, and flow filtering.

Avaya Surge™ Solution Makes Securing the IoT Easy for All Devices

Let’s explore how you can manage thousands of IoT devices while protecting your network and data from unnecessary risk. Often, we think newer devices will be more secure than older ones that were network-enabled before the current threat profile. However, Gartner predicts devices will remain unsecured for quite some time. The Avaya Surge™ Solution makes securing the IoT easy for all devices.

Avaya Surge, recently named a 2017 Gold Edison Award winner, consists of an IoT controller and an Open Networking Adapter, which is a proxy for IoT endpoints and provides the programmable security for insecure devices.

Key Attributes of Avaya Surge

  • Automated onboarding of IoT devices
  • Inventory reporting, including real-time status
  • MAC-based device security
  • Traffic flow filtering
  • Tight integration with Avaya SDN Fx (but works with any IP network)
  • IPSec encryption and tunneling in release 2.0 (coming in the second half of 2017)

How Avaya Surge Works

  1. An Open Networking Adapter is paired with an IoT device on the IoT controller by matching the serial number of Adapter (or QR code) to the MAC address of the IoT device. The IoT Controller sees the Adapter/IoT device as an inseparable pair and manages the IoT device through the Adapter.
  2. The IoT device is connected to the Adapter which is connected to the edge switch (plug RJ45 connectors together).
  3. The Adapter uses DHCP and DNS to locate the IoT Controller. The Adapter negotiates security keys with the IoT Controller and the onboarding process begins.
  4. The IoT Controller looks up the profile identified for the device type connected to the Adapter and down loads it to the Adapter. The profile contains network configuration, service requirements and allowable flows.
  5. The IoT device establishes connection to its application server and the Adapter begins monitoring network traffic.

Key Operational Benefits of Avaya Surge

  • The Adapter doesn’t retain profile information through a power cycle. If an Adapter is disconnected from the network or loses power, data in memory is lost. When power is returned, the Adapter must connect to the IoT controller to get its profile to function. Avaya Surge will indicate the Adapter/IoT device has lost network connectivity. Without a valid registration, the Adapter does nothing. Network or profile information can’t be learned from a stolen Adapter.
  • The Adapter is based on white list security. When the Adapter boots, it doesn’t allow traffic from the IoT device. The profile provides a white list of approved devices and flows. For instance, if the only IP addresses that an IoT device is supposed to contact are its application server and network services (DHCP, DNS, etc.), the Adapter will block all other traffic. This prevents a compromised device from infecting its peers.
  • The Adapter has a learning mode. A profile can be complex to create. Therefore, the Adapter can be set to accept all traffic and mirror it to the IoT controller. The IoT device operates normally with Avaya Surge cataloging the traffic. This allows the IoT device to operate normally under the supervision of IT staff. When adequate time has passed (dependent on device operation), the captured traffic is converted to a reusable profile that becomes the standard for all like devices. The Adapter is taken out of learning mode, updated with the new profile, and a new device has been added to the network—safely and sanely. Under normal circumstances, the IoT Controller receives reports only from the Adapter and isn’t in the data path.
  • The profile stops MAC spoofing. If all the Adapter did was lock down a MAC address, an antagonist could disconnect the IoT device and connect a computer with the same MAC address. Technically, the Adapter will allow this to happen. However, as soon at the antagonist tries to do something that the IoT device isn’t normally allowed to do, the Adapter will block the traffic and report an abnormal flow attempt to the IoT Controller. One of the issues with IoT is many devices can’t be physically secured and are susceptible to tampering. Avaya Surge addresses this challenge.
  • The inventory addresses all use cases. IoT devices will be deployed within an organization across many use cases and application stacks. For example, a facility may have point-of-sale terminals: CCTV cameras, HVAC sensors and controls, security key pads and door controllers, medical devices, robots, assembly stations, and more. Each of these is deployed with its own application servers with device status monitoring and inventory management. Avaya Surge provides network IT with a single pane status for all IoT devices that are secured with Adapters within the infrastructure.
  • Avaya Surge supports device mobility. Devices can be automatically moved from one network port to another. The Adapter contains OVS 2.4 code, including support for Auto-attach (IEEE 802.1Qcj). Auto-attach provides the ability for the Adapter to signal Avaya Fabric Attach to create the required services on the edge switch, such as VLAN and ISID mapping. If a device needs to be moved, a technician would simply unplug the Adapter from the switch, move the device and Adapter to the new location, and plug the Adapter into the new port. When the Adapter is unplugged, the Adapter loses its profile and the SDN Fx network disables the services to the old port. When the Adapter is reconnected, it contacts the IoT Controller to get its profile and the OVS requests the services be provisioned on the new port. Within a couple of minutes, the IoT device is functioning in its new location and the move has been done safely, sanely and without Networking IT involved. Note that networking IT would have been notified when the Adapter was disconnected and reconnected through the Avaya Surge dashboard.

In my recent blogs about the IoT, I’ve looked at how the IoT enables Digital Transformation and examined a business-first approach to IoT technology adoption. Then I looked at how Avaya’s SDN FxTM provides a foundation for a safe and sane IoT deployment. Next in this blog series, I’ll explore deploying Avaya Surge in a non-SDN Fx IP network.

Secure IoT Deployments with Avaya SDN Fx™ Architecture Solutions

Let’s look at how to deploy the IoT in a safe and sane manner—a top-of-mind business challenge. Before diving into the technology, let’s remember why secure IoT deployments are so important. The Yahoo breach is a lesson learned: Yahoo CEO Marissa Mayer lost $12M in bonuses over the Yahoo data breach and Yahoo paid $16M to investigate the breach and cover legal expenses as of March 2, 1017. It’s clear that the cost of not building a safe infrastructure is much more than the cost to build one.

Software Defined Networking (SDN) is sometimes over-hyped. At a base level, separating the control plane from the data plane makes sense (if one understands the definitions of a data plane and control plane). In a practical sense, it means the network infrastructure doesn’t need to be managed on a node-by-node basis (i.e., logging into network devices on each end of the cable to make complementary changes to configure a network link). This is where SDN can be over-hyped. The SDN solution automates the process of making the changes to each end of the cable, making the network easier to manage. But, it doesn’t reduce the complexity, increase the resiliency (other than reduce outages due to typing errors), or make it easier to troubleshoot or expand.

Avaya SDN FxTM Architecture is based on fabric, not network technology. The architecture was designed to be managed as an entity of subcomponents and not a bunch of nodes that are interconnected to create a larger entity. In other words, it’s like designing something to manage a forest, as opposed to managing the trees. Would you really want to manage a forest one tree at a time?

How SDN Fx Architecture Benefits the IoT

Although the SDN Fx network architecture wasn’t specifically designed for the IoT, it works well for providing a solid foundation to deploy IoT solutions. These are the key components of the SDN Fx Architecture that benefit the IoT:

Avaya Fabric Connect is Avaya’s implementation of Shortest Path Bridging (SPB/IEEE 802.1aq). SPB replaces the traditional network stack, greatly simplifying network configuration, management and security. Three key benefits of Fabric Connect apply directly to IoT deployment use case:

  • Hyper-Segmentation: SPB supports 16 million+ network segments. In theory, every IoT device on a network could have its own segment. More realistically, every device type can have its own segment. For instance, HVAC could be one network, security cameras could be on another, employees on a third, guests on a fourth, etc. It’s worth noting that the NSA sees segmenting IoT networks as a key to limiting exposure of IoT deployments. (In my next blog, I’ll examine how Avaya solutions provide security between devices on the same segment.)
  • Automatic Elasticity: Services in SPB are provisioned at the edge without touching the core of the network. This makes it very straightforward to provision network services for the hundreds or thousands of IoT devices that the business wants up and running yesterday. Plus, edge provisioning makes moving devices simple. When a device is disconnected from the network, the network service to that port is disabled and eliminates open holes in the network security. When the device is connected to the same or different port, the device is authenticated and services are automatically configured for the port.
  • Native Stealth: SPB operates at the Ethernet, not the IP layer. For example, if a would-be hacker gains access to one segment of a traditional network, they can go IP-snooping to discover the network architecture. A traditional network is only as secure as the least secure segment/component. With Fabric Connect, if a security loophole is overlooked in a less important network project, there isn’t a back door to access the rest of the network and the corporate data.

Avaya Fabric Extend provides the ability to extend an SPB fabric across a non-fabric network, such as IP core, between campuses over Multiprotocol Label Switching (MPLS), or out to the cloud over WAN. IoT deployments enable the phased adoption of SDN Fx so that IoT projects can gain the values above, without ripping and replacing significant network infrastructure or affecting non-IoT workloads.

Avaya Fabric Attach automates the elasticity of the SPB fabric for IoT devices and other devices supporting Automatic Attachment (IEEE 802.1Qcj). Fabric Attach allows the device to signal the network that it needs in order to connect to a service. If the device is authorized, the service is automatically provisioned. When the device is disconnected, the service is terminated. If the device is moved to a different network port, the service will be provisioned automatically to the new port. This makes deploying and moving Fabric Attach-enabled devices very simple. For a real-world example, see how Axis Communications is starting to deploy Fabric Attach in their IoT devices.

Avaya Open Networking Adapters—an Open Network Adapter is a small device that sits in-line with an IoT device to provide programmable security for IoT devices that lack adequate network security. One component of the solution is Fabric Attach, which provides automated service provisioning and mobility to devices that don’t have the auto-attach capability. (I’ll explore more about the power of Open Networking Adapters in an upcoming blog.)

The Avaya Identity Engines Portfolio provides powerful tools for managing user and device access to a network, commonly referred to as Authentication, Authorization, and Accounting. In the IoT use case, Identity Engines authenticate a device by MAC address or MAC address group and use predefined policies for the device type to dynamically configure services. For instance, a camera could be assigned to Video VLAN 30 and provisioned for multicast, while a phone would be authenticated, assigned to VLAN 20, and configured for SIP communications. This provides security for unauthorized devices joining the network and provides automatic segmentation based on device type and service requirements.

I’m not sure if there ever was a time when network design and implementation was static, but there was a time when the devices connected to the network could be predicted: servers, printers, storage, PCs, etc. With IoT, IT is being asked to design networks for devices that haven’t been thought of yet. The old network technologies were designed for mobility by work order, and IT was able to list the number of device types that wouldn’t work on the network. SDN Fx provides a true software-defined network and not software-defined automation on old network constructs. A fabric network has the intrinsic flexibility and security required for tomorrow’s IoT projects, today.

In my recent blogs about the IoT, I’ve looked at how the IoT enables Digital Transformation and examined a business-first approach to IoT technology adoption. Next in this blog series, I’ll explore the newest component of the SDN Fx solution for the IoT, the Avaya Surge™ Solution.