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Is Fiber Optic Networking Technology More Secure Than Copper?

August 19, 2020

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Fiber optic cabling is commonly perceived as a solid choice for mitigating network security concerns. Because optical connections transmit data using light, they don’t radiate signals that can be intercepted. Security for traditional copper Ethernet connections can now be significantly enhanced, however, thanks to end-to-end encryption standards.

The MACsec IEEE standard (IEEE 802.1AE) enhances security on networks by providing point-to-point, Layer 2 encryption between devices on a virtual or physical local area network (LAN). This eliminates the need for a dedicated security device, in some instances. Though MACsec was introduced in 2006, its adoption has been gaining traction recently after support was added to the mainline Linux® kernel. As a result, modern MACsec-enabled network switches and computing hardware can now deliver enhanced security for LANs, regardless of network media. This reduces the security advantage fiber optics had over copper.

In addition to providing data confidentiality through Layer 2 encryption, MACsec defines a security infrastructure to provide data origin authentication, data integrity, and replay protection. The protocol authenticates nodes through a secure exchange of randomly generated keys, ensuring data can only be transmitted and received by MACsec-configured nodes. This prevents disruption or data loss from transmission or reception by unauthorized devices. In addition, each MAC frame carries a data integrity check value to ensure accuracy and consistency throughout transmission. That means all frames copied from the LAN cannot be resent into the LAN without detection.

When it comes to security, MACsec’s strong encryption capabilities have given traditional twisted-pair (copper) networking stronger network security legs to stand on. This has positioned copper wiring for some applications where fiber optic cabling was formerly the sole contender.

For more information about copper and fiber optic cabling, download the white paper Copper or Fiber for Military and Aerospace Networks? Clearing up the Misconceptions about Copper Cabling and Fiber Optics

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