The National Security Agency (NSA) and the Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency (CISA), through the Enduring Security Framework (ESF), have published an assessment of Open Radio Access Network (Open RAN) security considerations.
Open RAN is the industry term for the evolution of traditional proprietary RAN architecture to an open ecosystem of interoperable hardware, software, and Artificial Intelligence/Machine Learning enabled intelligent network optimization. Shifting to an Open RAN based mobile network allows for interoperability between different suppliers, removing the proprietary nature of traditional RAN and reliance on a single vendor.
The ESF working panel focused on security considerations for several key technical aspects of Open RAN: multi-vendor management, the Open Fronthaul connecting radios to base station equipment, a new RAN application framework comprising rApps and xApps that use AI/ML for RAN optimization, and other general network considerations including open source software, virtualization, and a cloud based 5G core network.
“Security considerations always emerge in new open systems aiming for improved cost, performance, and supply chain benefits” said Jorge Laurel, ESF Project Director. “Open RAN shares these security considerations too, and, with continuing efforts by the Open RAN ecosystem, they can be overcome.”
The working panel also addressed the associated resources required to fulfill the vision of interoperable, multi-vendor RAN powered by cloud services and software, which drives innovation on a global platform.
“Open RAN is an exciting concept, one that opens up several doors to innovation, improved network performance, and a more diverse and competitive cyber ecosystem,” said CISA Acting Assistant Director Mona Harrington. “However, with those benefits come the potential for additional security concerns. As a community, we must work together to not only identify these concerns but also develop the practices and architecture to mitigate them.”
As standards are developed and adopted by equipment manufacturers, software developers, integrators, and mobile network operators, these security considerations may be mitigated through the adoption of standards and industry best practices. Some of the security considerations identified in this assessment are not unique to Open RAN and exist in current closed RAN deployments, both would benefit by mitigating these security considerations.
“Limited competition in the telecommunications infrastructure market can reduce supply chain resilience and contribute to higher prices for operators and consumers in the long run. Open, interoperable approaches to network architecture, such as the development of Open RAN, have the potential to increase the number of trustworthy suppliers in the market and to lower costs and improve security,” said U.S. Department of State’s Bureau of Cyberspace and Digital Policy’s Director for Bilateral Affairs Mark Cullinane.