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Another hat to wear: security guard in an ISDN world.

Assuring security on the ISDN network is going to be pretty much left up to the users.

That's the implication of a new report from the National Institute of Standards and Technology.

As ISDN rolls out from the public network providers, "there is already a huge investment in ISDN-compatible switching equipment which does not incorporate security," notes the report, authored by William E. Burr.

"While some security features might be incorporated as software changes, such changes require years to design, code, test and deploy. Hardware changes are even more difficult."

But user-to-user security that is transparent to the network can be implemented where and when it's needed, and far more quickly.

The good news is that all-digital ISDN will give a boost to encryption of voice and data. Also, inclusion of the packet data facility for signaling on the D channel will make it possible for basic ISDN voice terminals to implement digital security protocols.

There's more good news, too. Out-of-band signaling between switches reduces the network's susceptibility to fraud.

The bad news? Well, because the operational, maintenance and administrative systems of the public networks typically use X.25 packet services, there's a chance these systems could be penetrated from a D channel via X. 25. There are no access control, authentication or confidentiality provisions in the ISDN terminal-to-network signaling protocol.

What it boils down to is a little like what the politicians keep asking you: Are you better off now than you were four years ago? The answer with the ISDN security question is that you won't be any worse off than you were before ISDN. You'll probably be at least a little better off.

Making security your concern may not be so bad. Managers like to control things; some need to control things to make sure there's a job for them tomorrow.

For you as user, to maintain security means controlling access--to the network, to terminals or CPE, and to network databases.

Network access lacks any good personal authentication standard. Someday, service providers might offer some sort of password protection for specific services.

Outward access controls are easy to build into terminals, so that users need a password or token to use them. Inward access is a little tougher, because as the report says, "the only present useful standardized ISDN service is Calling Line ID . . . Terminals or PBXs could refuse to accept calls from any number other than those specifically authorized."

But that should be looked at more as a screening device than strong access control, the report adds.

Control of access to network and PBX databases is crucial. You can imagine the damage an intruder might do with that kind of an opportunity.

Effective access control requires effective authentication. One such method might be "smart cards" that contain personal ID information, information about their access privileges, and a private access key designed not be read directly. Provision could be made to bind all the user's privileges into one card.

You can read more on this topic; the 76-page NIST report is a bargain at $19. Write to the Superintendent of Documents, U.S. Government Printing Office, Washington, DC 20402, and ask for NIST publication 500-189.
COPYRIGHT 1992 Nelson Publishing
No portion of this article can be reproduced without the express written permission from the copyright holder.
Copyright 1992 Gale, Cengage Learning. All rights reserved.

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Title Annotation:ISDN Forum; security of Integrated Services Digital Networks will be the user's responsibility
Author:Tanzillo, Kevin
Publication:Communications News
Article Type:Column
Date:Apr 1, 1992
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