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The first Zero Trust SIM


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The first Zero Trust SIM

The humble cell phone is now a critical tool in the modern workplace; even more so as the modern workplace has shifted out of the office. Given the billions of mobile devices on the planet — they now outnumber PCs by an order of magnitude — it should come as no surprise that they have become the threat vector of choice for those attempting to break through corporate defenses.

The problem you face in defending against such attacks is that for most Zero Trust solutions, mobile is often a second-class citizen. Those solutions are typically hard to install and manage. And they only work at the software layer, such as with WARP, the mobile (and desktop) apps that connect devices directly into our Zero Trust network. And all this is before you add in the further complication of Bring Your Own Device (BYOD) that more employees are using — you’re trying to deploy Zero Trust on a device that doesn’t belong to the company.

It’s a tricky — and increasingly critical — problem to solve. But it’s also a problem which we think we can help with.

What if employers could offer their employees a deal: we'll cover your monthly data costs if you agree to let us direct your work-related traffic through a network that has Zero Trust protections built right in? And what’s more, we’ll make it super easy to install — in fact, to take advantage of it, all you need to do is scan a QR code — which can be embedded in an employee's onboarding material — from your phone's camera.

Well, we’d like to introduce you to the Cloudflare SIM: the world’s first Zero Trust SIM.

In true Cloudflare fashion, we think that combining the software layer and the network layer enables better security, performance, and reliability. By targeting a foundational piece of technology that underpins every mobile device — the (not so) humble SIM card — we’re aiming to bring an unprecedented level of security (and performance) to the mobile world.

The threat is increasingly mobile

When we say that mobile is the new threat vector, we’re not talking in the abstract. Last month, Cloudflare was one of 130 companies that were targeted by a sophisticated phishing attack. Mobile was the cornerstone of the attack — employees were initially reached by SMS, and the attack relied heavily on compromising 2FA codes.

So far as we’re aware, we were the only company to not be compromised.

A big part of that was because we’re continuously pushing multi-layered Zero Trust defenses. Given how foundational mobile is to how companies operate today, we’ve been working hard to further shore up Zero Trust defenses in this sphere. And this is how we think about Zero Trust SIM: another layer of defense at a different level of the stack, making life even harder for those who are trying to penetrate your organization. With the Zero Trust SIM, you get the benefits of:

  • Preventing employees from visiting phishing and malware sites: DNS requests leaving the device can automatically and implicitly use Cloudflare Gateway for DNS filtering.
  • Mitigating common SIM attacks: an eSIM-first approach allows us to prevent SIM-swapping or cloning attacks, and by locking SIMs to individual employee devices, bring the same protections to physical SIMs.
  • Enabling secure, identity-based private connectivity to cloud services, on-premise infrastructure and even other devices (think: fleets of IoT devices) via Magic WAN. Each SIM can be strongly tied to a specific employee, and treated as an identity signal in conjunction with other device posture signals already supported by WARP.

By integrating Cloudflare’s security capabilities at the SIM-level, teams can better secure their fleets of mobile devices, especially in a world where BYOD is the norm and no longer the exception.

Zero Trust works better when it’s software + On-ramps

Beyond all the security benefits that we get for mobile devices, the Zero Trust SIM transforms mobile into another on-ramp pillar into the Cloudflare One platform.

Cloudflare One presents a single, unified control plane: allowing organizations to apply security controls across all the traffic coming to, and leaving from, their networks, devices and infrastructure. It’s the same with logging: you want one place to get your logs, and one location for all of your security analysis. With the Cloudflare SIM, mobile is now treated as just one more way that traffic gets passed around your corporate network.

Working at the on-ramp rather than the software level has another big benefit — it grants the flexibility to allow devices to reach services not on the Internet, including cloud infrastructure, data centers and branch offices connected into Magic WAN, our Network-as-a-Service platform. In fact, under the covers, we’re using the same software networking foundations that our customers use to build out the connectivity layer behind the Zero Trust SIM. This will also allow us to support new capabilities like Geneve, a new network tunneling protocol, further expanding how customers can connect their infrastructure into Cloudflare One.

We’re following efforts like IoT SAFE (and parallel, non-IoT standards) that enable SIM cards to be used as a root-of-trust, which will enable a stronger association between the Zero Trust SIM, employee identity, and the potential to act as a trusted hardware token.

Get Zero Trust up and running on mobile immediately (and easily)

Of course, every Zero Trust solutions provider promises protection for mobile. But especially in the case of BYOD, getting employees up and running can be tough. To get a device onboarded, there is a deep tour of the Settings app of your phone: accepting profiles, trusting certificates, and (in most cases) a requirement for a mature mobile device management (MDM) solution.

It’s a pain to install.

Now, we’re not advocating the elimination of the client software on the phone any more than we would be on the PC. More layers of defense is always better than fewer. And it remains necessary to secure Wi-Fi connections that are established on the phone. But a big advantage is that the Cloudflare SIM gets employees protected behind Cloudflare’s Zero Trust platform immediately for all mobile traffic.

It’s not just the on-device installation we wanted to simplify, however. It’s companies' IT supply chains, as well.

One of the traditional challenges with SIM cards is that they have been, until recently, a physical card. A card that you have to mail to employees (a supply chain risk in modern times), that can be lost, stolen, and that can still fail. With a distributed workforce, all of this is made even harder. We know that whilst security is critical, security that is hard to deploy tends to be deployed haphazardly, ad-hoc, and often, not at all.

But in recent years, nearly every modern phone shipped today has an eSIM — or more precisely, an eUICC (Embedded Universal Integrated Circuit Card) — that can be re-programmed dynamically. This is a huge advancement, for two major reasons:

  1. You avoid all the logistical issues of a physical SIM (mailing them; supply chain risk; getting users to install them!)
  2. You can deploy them automatically, either via QR codes, Mobile Device Management (MDM) features built into mobile devices today, or via an app (for example, our WARP mobile app).

We’re also exploring introducing physical SIMs (just like the ones above): although we believe eSIMs are the future, especially given their deployment & security advantages, we understand that the future is not always evenly distributed. We’ll be working to make sure that the physical SIMs we ship are as secure as possible, and we’ll be sharing more of how this works in the coming months.

Privacy and transparency for employees

Of course, more and more of the devices that employees use for work are their own. And while employers want to make sure their corporate resources are secure, employees also have privacy concerns when work and private life are blended on the same device. You don’t want your boss knowing that you’re swiping on Tinder.

We want to be thoughtful about how we approach this, from the perspective of both sides. We have sophisticated logging set up as part of Cloudflare One, and this will extend to Cloudflare SIM. Today, Cloudflare One can be explicitly configured to log only the resources it blocks — the threats it’s protecting employees from — without logging every domain visited beyond that. We’re working to make this as obvious and transparent as possible to both employers and employees so that, in true Cloudflare fashion, security does not have to compromise privacy.

What’s next?

Like any product at Cloudflare, we’re testing this on ourselves first (or “dogfooding”, to those in the know). Given the services we provide for over 30% of the Fortune 1000, we continue to observe, and be the target of, increasingly sophisticated cybersecurity attacks. We believe that running the service first is an important step in ensuring we make the Zero Trust SIM both secure and as easy to deploy and manage across thousands of employees as possible.

We’re also bringing the Zero Trust SIM to the Internet of Things: almost every vehicle shipped today has an expectation of cellular connectivity; an increasing number of payment terminals have a SIM card; and a growing number of industrial devices across manufacturing and logistics. IoT device security is under increasing levels of scrutiny, and ensuring that the only way a device can connect is a secure one — protected by Cloudflare’s Zero Trust capabilities — can directly prevent devices from becoming part of the next big DDoS botnet.

We'll be rolling the Zero Trust SIM out to customers on a regional basis as we build our regional connectivity across the globe (if you’re an operator: reach out). We’d especially love to talk to organizations who don’t have an existing mobile device solution in place at all, or who are struggling to make things work today. If you're interested, then sign up here.

We protect entire corporate networks, help customers build Internet-scale applications efficiently, accelerate any website or Internet application, ward off DDoS attacks, keep hackers at bay, and can help you on your journey to Zero Trust.

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Matt Silverlock|@elithrar

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