C Spire’s Chief Information Security Officer: ‘Security needs to be aware of where the business is going’

For a long time, increasing network availability and speed has dominated the rural broadband conversation; those aspects continue to be part of the ongoing debate around the pending $1 trillion infrastructure bill. However, as A10 Network’s Director of 5G and Service Provider Product Marketing Terry Young has told RCR Wireless News, another crucial part of the conversation is network security. Rural locations — hospitals, schools, banks and so on — are often considered to be more vulnerable to cyberattacks, including DDoS attacks, simply because they are more critical to local communities, but less monitored due to fewer security resources.

“If you look at the larger industry, network speed is becoming less and less of a key component for the value proposition,” Young argued, adding that moving forward, subscribers will be less concerned about having the fastest network and instead will focus on the security features that an internet service provider (ISP) can offer.

C Spire’s Vice President and Chief Information Security Officer Conrad Bell agreed that there is a growing awareness of the importance of network security, particularly following the recent and highly publicized hacks and data breaches such as the May 2021 Colonial Pipeline incident, which temporarily halted the distribution of fuel products up and down the East Coast.   

C Spire’s approach to rural broadband security

“Our approach to security changes daily,” Bell shared. “We look at these different attacks and make sure we are not susceptible to the methods used and if we find gaps, we fill them, because we don’t want to be the next one.”

Established as a wireless company in 1988 under the name Cellular South, C Spire primarily provides broadband service throughout most of Mississippi and parts of Tennessee and Alabama, making it an expert in connecting rural communities.

How C Spire handles rural broadband security, specifically, said Bell, depends on the situation because more important than the technology used to connect rural networks, he stated, is the type of data moving across the network.

He explained further: “When it comes to broadband, we’re only talking about transport. There is nothing that increases from a point of view of vulnerabilities, so the approach depends on how we are using that broadband connection. Each site may have its own unique threat level, so our approach is determined by how we actually connect each site to the network. For instance, a typical site, connected through our core, will have DDoS and other basic security features already in place, but if it’s a corporation with more sensitive data, we will sell additional security services, like managed firewalls.”

Hackers are relentless, and Bell said that security must change as their tactics change, adding that as the industry moves towards a cloud environment and as the workforce becomes more remote, C Spire is focused on evolving its approach to security while maintaining the business’ larger objectives.

“As CIO, I am in every line of business meeting, I brief the board monthly and I’m in the twice-a-week senior leadership meetings,” he stated. “This is not because I am speaking on security; it’s because security needs to be aware of where the business is going.”

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