Cybersecurity, Redundancy, and Resilience in the time of COVID-19

By Kevin Bohan, Link Oregon Network Architect

In the midst of this global pandemic, the likes of which hasn’t been seen in over a century, millions of Americans have shifted to working from home, students are continuing their education remotely via online learning environments, and many other facets of everyday life—from banking and grocery shopping to birthday parties and even routine healthcare—have gone from being primarily in-person to online activities. This epic change means that we are using our home networks more than ever before.

The intensified dependency on connectivity changes the landscape for network providers and introduces new challenges for network resiliency and cybersecurity. It is now more important than ever that network services and data remain both available and secure for daily work and unforeseen events.

In addition to serving schools, statewide networks typically support government agencies, higher education institutions (public universities and research facilities), and healthcare facilities (public hospitals and clinics) as well. As such, these networks have been designed with a level of security and resiliency sufficient to withstand a variety of interruptions and attacks and still remain operational.

Link Oregon’s network is no exception. Our backbone features redundant paths between sites in the Willamette Valley and central Oregon. These sites include Portland, Hillsboro, Salem, Corvallis, Eugene, and Bend. We’re also aggressively working on a major network overhaul that will establish resilient fiber rings to our service locations in the southern and eastern regions of the state, encompassing Roseburg, Grants Pass, Medford, Ashland, Klamath Falls, Hermiston, Pendleton, La Grande, Ontario, and Burns.

We operate redundant gear at each site: two sets of fiber optical electronics equipment, two sets of routers, and so on. In the event of a fiber cut or equipment failure, traffic will automatically transition to the other side of the ring. This allows Link Oregon to lose half of its backbone fiber and gear in each point of presence (POP) and continue to operate at full capacity. We also have multiple offices staffed by network engineers and an infrastructure that makes heavy use of provisioning and monitoring tools that limit the risk of a network outage.

Maintaining network cybersecurity has always been a concern, but even more so now as so many people are now working and learning from home—and potentially exposing data stored on un- or under-protected home networks. One way that Link Oregon is helping protect our member-institutions’ data and networks is by providing more bandwidth for Virtual Private Network (VPN) connections so students, faculty, and staff can remain secure when working on their institutions’ networks. Another way we are helping safeguard members is by participating in national sector-specific advisory organizations. The Research & Education Network Information Sharing & Analysis Center (REN-ISAC), for one, keeps us engaged with other state and national networks, helps us quickly respond to security issues on our network, and provides us with a plethora of information that can help our members respond effectively to cybersecurity events. Unfortunately, new threats to network security often surface during challenging times such as this one, so we’re improving the event detection and analysis capabilities of our own infrastructure so we can find and mitigate questionable traffic before it reaches our members.

Our mission is to maintain the focus on resiliency and security as we expand the network capacity across the state to include all Oregonians living and working in urban and rural areas so they can stay connected to work, school, healthcare, and other public services and resources. These enhancements will also enable new services that were previously unavailable or limited by connectivity constraints, such as access to rural telehealth, the Internet of Things (IoT) applications for agriculture and other domains, additional services available on Tribal lands, effective distance learning for remote school districts, and better vocational training across the entire state.

While the current health crisis has been the impetus for fortifying our equipment and services to better support our member communities immediately, there will clearly be longer-term benefits that will come out of this situation—for our members, for their communities, and for all Oregonians. We likely will find that when the crisis subsides, the strength and resiliency of our network will have helped position Oregon as a key facilitator of sustainable connectivity and as a model for innovative education, research, healthcare, and public service data exchange for our entire state and beyond.  

If you have ideas or questions on cybersecurity, network resilience, redundancy, or other related topics, please don’t hesitate to contact us!

Thank you,