Bridging the EU’s broadband divides: The importance of trust and security

Ethernet data cables are seen in a server room in Canberra, Australia, 03 May 2016. [EPA/MICK TSIKAS]

This article is part of our special report Europe’s gigabit future.

The EU has long been plighted by patchy broadband coverage, so much so that previous Commission targets set out for 2020 were put to bed last year by the European Court of Auditors. But could 2019 prove to be a tipping point in the bloc’s connectivity potentials?

As part of its Europe 2020 strategy, in 2010 the EU set out a series of broadband targets, including the objective of providing by 2020 all Europeans with broadband connection of over 30Mbps.

However, towards the end of last year, the European Court of Auditors intervened in the pursuance of these objectives, citing the difficulties of rolling out fast broadband coverage across remote areas of the Union.

“Rural areas,” the report wrote, “where there is less incentive for the private sector to invest in broadband provision, remain less well connected than cities, and take-up of ultra-fast broadband is significantly behind target.”

That is not to say that EU member states don’t recognise the need for improvements to be made in the bloc’s broadband coverage.

France’s President Emmanuel Macron, for example, has made ambitious pledges in this area, with the country’s Prime Minister Édouard Philippe announcing at the end of 2018 that the Treasury would invest €620 million in order to accelerate territorial coverage.

10G revolution

Against this backdrop, last week at the Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas (CES), three industry groups including Brussels-based Cable Europe presented their plan for bolstering broadband speeds from 1 gigabit per second to 10 gigabits per second worldwide. Known as the ’10G’ plans, Cable Europe has described the measures as the “next great leap for broadband.”

Industry in the EU is starting to make moves in an area that has historically proved challenging. Last week, Cable Europe launched a white paper delivering policy recommendations, featuring a number of crucial areas for policymakers to take into consideration if Europe is to be as ambitious as previous targets have aimed at.

One such area is the importance of increasing trust and security of network infrastructures, a subject delicate for citizens across the EU.

Phil McKinney, CEO of CableLabs, a US research and development organisation centred about the cable operator industry, noted the importance of high-security standards when exchanging views on the matter with EURACTIV.

“To ensure the highest levels of security, there are best practices. Things like information sharing are vital when breaches do happen, in order to plug those holes to make it harder and less interesting for the bad actors.”

“If you raise your security bar, the bad actors will ignore you and go after somebody that is weaker. The challenge is, how do you raise the bar for everybody?”

Should security standards be led by the industry or by regulators? McKinney was clear in his stance. “Industry can move much faster than regulators,” he said. “Regulators need to think about unintended consequences, while the industry has been working away at increasing trust in the privacy and security of IoT devices in particular.”

IoT vulnerabilities

Meanwhile, with the ever-increasing demand for Internet-of-things (IoT) products, a new horizon of security threats are expected to hit servers.

The European Commission’s ‘Advancing the Internet of Things in Europe’ working paper, published in 2016 as part of the Digitising European Industry project observed that the main challenge for IoT devices remains “user trust ” while “security and the protection of personal data issues are a key concern for a successful take-up of the IoT.”

In 2017, the EU’s cybersecurity agency ENISA also recognised the challenges ahead if the growth of connected devices is to reach projections of more than 30 billion connected devices worldwide by 2020.

EURACTIV spoke to ENISA’s IoT expert Apostolos Malatras on the security threats surrounding the use of connected devices.

“These types of products should come with security-by-design standards,” he said, adding that one of the major challenges for Europe is to ensure that the public is appropriately informed as to the risks surrounding specific sectors.

“With connected devices, some sectors haven’t taken into account that security measures are vital for the safe operation of the products,” he said. “The growing market for connected toys, for example, has a blind spot in taking into consideration the ramifications of not meeting proper security standards.”

Malatras’ warning in this respect is echoed by Ursula Pachl, deputy director general of the consumer group, BEUC, who recently raised a stark warning with regards to the security of connected toys.

She even told EURACTIV that some such devices should not even be kept in the home while security flaws still exist, highlighting the importance that manufacturers and network providers have in ensuring that connected devices are both safe to use as well as being cybersecure.

IoT ubiquity

The importance of security in IoT devices not only affects the consumer market. With connected device use on the up across a range of sectors, including health and transport, ubiquitous connectivity will be vital to ensure that public and private services can be carried out safely all across the continent.

High-capacity connectivity in cable networks can ensure the swift expansion of Europe’s broadband coverage and deliver such important services to people, but only if people are able to fully trust the products that they are operating.

Without the commitment to increase public trust through high-security standards alongside appropriate private investments in the field, many areas of Europe risk remaining alienated from the future high-speed revolution.

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