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Alife Jianbin Zhao, GL.iNet: “the decision-makers often underestimate the risk imposed by a vulnerable network”

These days, a single unprotected or misconfigured device on the network is all that a hacker needs to gain access to critical enterprise assets.

In recent years, the use of smart devices both in home and businesses environments increased significantly. While the technology offers convenience and allows people to keep an eye out on their house or business operations while being away, the abundance of IoT devices also offers more entry points for threat actors looking to exploit overlooked vulnerabilites.

To discuss the challenges of securing the full network perimeter, we invited Alife Jianbin Zhao, the CTO at GL.iNet – a company providing solutions that help enterprises and navigate their ever-expanding network landscape.

How did the idea of GL.iNet originate? What has the journey been like since your launch in 2011?

When we founded GL.iNet, we were a small group of technophiles who noticed a growing worldwide negligence of security architecture technology and malicious ambitions taking advantage of such vulnerabilities.

In 2011, the network industry was a Wi-Fi performance tournament for companies competing in developing technologies focusing on connection speed and range for the home and office use. Although many security solutions were available, they were often expensive and had a complicated setup process, and therefore disregarded by families and businesses.

We spent our first few years developing our own devices and optimizing them for user-friendly applications. In 2014, we entered the market by introducing a line of highly customizable devices at an affordable price for families and businesses to access secured connectivity when connected to public Wi-Fi in hotels, coffee shops, and shared working spaces.

Immediately following our launch, the market responded by having overwhelming demand and we established our position in the market as a secured travel router company. There were also product expansion requests on variations of our product for home and office applications, edge computing, and IoT architecture. Within the next four years, we quickly went from having a small office to having our own manufacturing facility, testing laboratory, R&D facility, and three international offices in Shenzhen, Hong Kong, and the United States.

Today, our company’s vision is to inspire smarter business and lifestyle solutions for customers and enterprises all over the world. We have gathered together international talents to build hardware and software network solutions that bring affordable and secure internet to families and businesses all over the world.

Can you introduce us to your network solutions? What are their key features?

We offer a wide range of cost-effective network solutions for enterprises including supporting enterprises’ digital transformation with IoT network infrastructure, setting up private VPN servers or clients for remote access, and simplified SDWAN configuration. GL.iNet is a leading developer of OpenWrt routers, IoT gateways, and remote device management platforms for a wide range of connectivity applications. We design, develop and manufacture all the network devices in-house to ensure the quality of our products. We work with a wide range of industries, solving everyday internet problems in offices, and providing complex IoT networking solutions such as smart buildings and fleet management. Our products and services are recognized by CES and ICT awards.

Our routers and gateways are designed to be highly customizable – we have a user-friendly Imagebuilder software that simplifies OpenWrt firmware customization or installing third-party applications into our devices. Our devices also run various security protocols including IPv6, WPA 3, and DNS encryption. Most importantly, all our routers support high-speed VPN encryption, protecting all network traffic within the connected network, including guest devices and client devices that are not capable of running VPN encryption.

We also developed a sophisticated remote device management platform – GoodCloud, an effective centralized IoT device management platform for enterprise network architecture of any size. The platform allows engineers to monitor and configure network settings, view visualized data in real-time, and run firmware updates in batch, simplifying diagnostics and maintenance procedures. Best of all, you can do all that remotely.

In your opinion, why companies sometimes might be unaware of the threats hiding in their own networks?

Small enterprise business owners are trying to build up their business quickly in a low-cost way. However, without enough investment in secure network solutions, they might get into cybersecurity troubles, such as data breaches, cyber-attacks, etc.

SMEs usually build their system with a traditional network architecture that is not equipped to deal with the rapidly evolving cyber threats. The decision-makers often underestimate the risk imposed by a vulnerable network and do not allocate sufficient resources to enhance cybersecurity. As the COVID-19 transformed people’s digital life and working remotely has become the “new normal”, the remote workers are often accessing corporate sensitive data from an unprotected network, and the majority still haven’t developed a protocol to prevent, detect and respond to cyberattacks.

How did the recent global events affect your field of work? Were there any new challenges you had to adapt to?

This pandemic causes supply chain shortage, increased logistic costs, working from home, international travel ban, and more, and it really impacts our business in the long term. For example, we need to invest more in new product development because hardware shortages also shorten our existing product life cycles. However, the new changes bring challenges as well as opportunities. I found that people prefer to work remotely at home and rely on networking technologies more than ever. Our future products will keep embracing open technologies but with advanced networking software and hardware.

What myths and misconceptions surrounding smart home devices do you notice most often? What do you think they are based on?

I notice that many people think smart homes are expensive to deploy. I think it’s not true. GL.iNet has many users buying the mini Wi-Fi routers to do personal smart home projects, and they shared their interesting projects on our forum. We also introduced some low-cost smart home wireless gateways, such as our GL-S10 BLE gateway and GL-S200 thread gateway.

Another misconception is that smart home devices require internet access. I met some users who want to keep things within their local network and have their private smart home solutions. In fact, deploying a smart home without Internet access is possible, all you need is a hub or gateway supporting low-energy radio waves to allow smart appliances to connect and exchange data and commands. Internet-less smart homes can offer a better cybersecurity experience against data breaches as they are not part of the public cloud.

People have misconceptions mainly because they have no idea how smart home solutions work and I think it’s because they have not accessed enough information about this field.

What predictions do you have for the future of technology in the public safety field?

Open technologies will get more and more people involved. Public safety will be very much based on how transparent we use the technologies, and everyone can help to improve it.

What tips would you give to those looking to secure not only their homes but also their networks?

  • Enhance your wifi password and avoid using an easy-to-guess router admin password
  • Don’t use ISP routers. ISP routers usually monitor and track your internet activities.
  • Use VPN when you need to access sensitive information.
  • Separate WiFi network for IoT devices and your computers.

What other aspects of our lives do you hope to see enhanced and secured by technology in the near future?

Personal data and privacy. We are giving away so much personal data every day in exchange for so-called “free services”, but we can prevent this by using cyber security-enhanced network technologies. With privacy law enforcement in some of the major markets, we can see people demanding more and more protection for their personal data and privacy.

Tell us, what’s next for GL.iNet?

It is still at the start of our journey to make good products for security and privacy. We will make our software much easier to use, even for users that know little about security and privacy. We will also enrich our product line for IoT products and solutions.

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