FirstNet contract award deadline slips

Lawmakers want assurances on FirstNet’s security

An AT&T representative assured lawmakers on Wednesday that the FirstNet broadband wireless communication network, which it won the contract to build, will be well protected against cyber threats.

Both sides of the aisle in the House Energy and Commerce Committee emphasized the importance of  security as states weigh whether to join the nationwide first responder communication network. States have until Dec. 28 to decide whether to opt into the network or build their own.

“We cannot afford for cybersecurity to be an afterthought because the consequences could be fatal,” Rep. Jerry McNerney (D-Calif.)  said in his opening remarks.

AT&T Senior Vice President Christopher Sambar said the company is focused on making the network as secure as possible. One way the network will increase security is by reducing the number of network cores, he said.

“Part of the strength in that nationwide interoperable network is reducing what I call seams, or vulnerabilities,” he said. “And when you try and have cores interoperating and force interoperability between cores you introduce seams.”

That’s why the network is not interested in core-to-core interoperability, because it introduces vulnerabilities, he said.

AT&T is planning to build an end-to-end encrypted public safety core separate from the core used for its commercial to meet “various state and federal requirements,” he said.

FirstNet CEO Michael Poth testified that the network will have “built-in redundancy to provide end-to-end [Federal Information Security Management Act] compliant cybersecurity.”

Certification of devices that first responders can use on the network will be done by both AT&T and FirstNet, Sambar said.

The recently announced first responder app store also will help ensure security. The store is not open to the public, and users go through an authentication process. Additionally, the security of the apps in the store is verified, he said.

About the Author

Matt Leonard is a former reporter for GCN.

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