Koch continues telco march with OneLayer investment

Koch Industries, the first manufacturer named by AWS as a customer of its private 5G service, has made another commitment to telco technology. Through its venture arm Koch Disruptive Technologies, the company is investing $6.5 million in OneLayer, an Israeli software company looking to bring enterprise network security practices to cellular networks.

Koch Disruptive Technologies has also invested in Alkira, a network-as-a-service startup developed by the founders of Viptela. And Koch says it has invested a total of $700 million in Mavenir, which sells core network and open RAN software. 

With an estimated $115 billion in sales last year, Koch Industries ranked second only to Cargill on Forbes’ 2021 list of America’s largest private companies. The conglomerate is led by politically active billionaire Charles Koch, and it owns companies that manufacture glass, paper, plastics, and car parts, as well as subsidiaries involved in energy, logistics and commodities trading.

Koch has deployed Mavenir's radios and evolved packet core, along with OneLayer’s security solution, to create a private network for a U.S. factory that makes products people use every day. The company is not disclosing specific use cases, but OneLayer co-founder and CEO Dave Mor said the LTE network is in use at the factory. He said Koch is expected to connect more devices to the network over time, and that the company is exploring private cellular connectivity for autonomous vehicles within the factory.

The private network uses the shared CBRS spectrum, which enterprises can access without a license. So far, most CBRS deployments have used LTE; Mor said the Koch Industries network is upgradable to 5G.

Koch said Mavenir’s core network management and end-user device authentication are hosted centrally on AWS’s cloud infrastructure. The manufacturer noted it does not consider the solution an AWS private network, since it is not deployed on AWS edge infrastructure at the factory.

Enterprise security for cellular networks

Enterprises that connect manufacturing equipment to IT networks have a long history of implementing security protocols to separate mission-critical infrastructure from “vulnerable” endpoints, such as tablets or scanners.

“That separation is important, but when you connect all these devices to a cellular network, you lose it,” said Mor. OneLayer exists to help enterprises that deploy private cellular networks reclaim device segmentation, he said.

Mor, who spent more than a decade doing intelligence work for the Israeli military, said he wanted to start OneLayer because he saw the gaps between cellular network security and enterprise LAN security. “Cellular is built for carriers, and their job is to keep the network going,” he said. “They are not responsible for preventing malicious attacks against every end point.”

Mor sees private 5G as a “new enterprise LAN” and as such it should be able to extend zero-trust security protocols to all connected devices, he said. OneLayer has developed a solution that integrates with the packet core and can assign access approvals to devices based on their function, their manufacturer or other parameters. The company describes this as context-based segmentation.

For example, smart cameras are emerging as an important use case for private 5G networks, since they can capture and process data from the factory floor and potentially detect equipment problems before they manifest on the line. Mor said these cameras are typically more vulnerable to a security breach than a mission critical machine would be. OneLayer’s solution can prevent communication between these devices, even though they may connect to the same cellular network.

"Private cellular networks introduce new technologies and potential threat vectors that could impact our business,” said Matthew Stucky, enterprise security architect at Koch Industries, in a press release. “We want to enable the benefits of cellular networks while maintaining visibility and segmentation policies in a zero-trust model."

The OneLayer solution can be implemented in a cloud or on-premise, Mor said. Koch Industries deployed OneLayer on-premise at its factory.

In addition to Koch Industries, OneLayer counts Grove Ventures and Viola Ventures as investors, as well as nine angel investors from leading cybersecurity and cloud firms, Mor said. The company has raised $14.5 million to date.

This story was updated 10/3/22 to reflect additional commentary from Koch Industries.