The View from Aruba
The initial ICT Americas Conference was held recently in Aruba, and ECI was pleased to be a founding sponsor. That meant that a few stalwart ECI employees had to spend a few days in beautiful Aruba talking with primarily Caribbean network operators and enjoying the weather and sites in this little slice of paradise.
What was clear from the presentations and conversations is that network operators in paradise have the same issues to deal with as other operators around the world. There are some unique challenges associated with being in somewhat remote locations, but concerns here about the user experience and security are the same concerns that operators are expressing around the world.
Security was by far the most popular topic of the conference, but it took on several different guises. There were discussions of enterprise level security, network level security, and security for critical infrastructures. I suspect many of the attendees left the conference, changed all of their passwords, and deleted a wide variety of applications from their laptops.
Some interesting anecdotes were shared on recent successful cyber attacks, which were as interesting as they were terrifying. Among the numbers shared was an informative one that criminal enterprises in Jamaica now make more money from cyber crime than from drugs. Cyber crime is a very large problem with some very smart black hats using sophisticated tools to steal information and do damage to nearly every type of business. The lessons learned from the conference presentations (other than “use our products to secure your network”) were that no one should assume that their network or information is secure just because there are passwords and firewalls in place. The main focus of most attacks presented was around gaining account access – one presenter said that 100% of the enterprise attacks that they tracked came from compromised account credentials.
The good news after the terrifying anecdotes was that solutions are being deployed that can address most security concerns. Even traditional firewall suppliers are using AI-type solutions that are much more capable than the old signature-based systems. (And ECI has the ability to do anomaly detection on utility SCADA networks that is even more advanced for those industries – but this isn’t a commercial. Look elsewhere on the website for details.)
There were some interesting conversations around securing data not from hackers, but from government intrusion. Not surprisingly, some folks around the world are worried about recent laws in the UK and US that allow unprecedented access to information. The Caribbean with its history of being an offshore sanctuary for privacy has a particular interest in this aspect of information security.
The challenges in the Caribbean for network operators are unique and interesting. Hurricanes not only destroy infrastructure, but can also take out underwater cables. Bandwidth can be significantly more expensive than even trans-Atlantic capacity. In many cases there is little or no competition for service, and most of the underwater cable infrastructure is owned by a monopoly. Major data centers are not close by. There are a variety of laws, languages, and cultures to work with. All of these problems are daunting, but this week’s conference showed that a lot of very smart people are working to solve them. I look forward to even more interactions with the people that attended this year’s ICT Americas and I look forward to seeing the conference grow in the future. And not just because Aruba is a really nice place to visit if you have the chance.