Advances in networking and AV technology bring large gains in flexibility, cost savings and functionality to the AV world. While the benefits are substantial and real, misconfigurations and failure can still occur and any such problems will be notably different from those in earlier, non-networked AV systems. This article looks at some of these differences and how to prepare to deal with them.
Early IP networks lacked the bandwidth and time management features to enable real-time media transmission. This left the broadcast industry to develop capable point-to-point solutions that allowed a transition from analog to non-networked digital workflows.
A long-running series of breakthroughs in performance and cost now allow broadcasters and other AV professionals to tap into the power of IT and begin to enjoy the benefits of scaled, low cost and complete data fidelity across a wide range of products and facilities.
Creating networks for audio has enabled versatility, economy and interoperability in the AV industry. Networking requires us to rethink how our AV systems work, as connectivity between devices changes from physical cables that must be moved from one piece of equipment to another to a far more flexible and software-driven approach.
A single network can accommodate a nearly infinite number of patches and routes, saving time and labor associated with moving cable and gear. And, audio is improved as hum, noise and signal degradation are no longer a concern no matter how far apart devices may be.
Networks have become the solution to problems of interoperability as well. Proprietary connectors, mismatched levels or impedances and different data formats are rendered moot by the adoption of network and IT standards-based solutions to create a complete ecosystem that “just works” regardless of who the manufacturer is. With a standards-based approach, AV professionals can deploy complex systems and save configurations for easy reuse and recovery.
Where The Danger Lies
Networks are not inherently insecure, but they do present different problems than previous systems. In 2016, hackers took control of a Barix streaming client device and were able to change the audio content for several U.S. radio stations in Texas and Colorado, replacing the program material with an explicit podcast. The hackers found access through a weak or known password on the device, and then set their own strong password to slow any attempted repairs.
Previously, audio and video processing systems were completely contained within a facility and password management was not a big concern. But with access to the internet, station managers need to start thinking like IT, using strong, unique passwords and keeping them carefully logged for easy retrieval. In this case, the damage was limited primarily to embarrassment, but more dedicated hackers could have done far worse.
That same year, external hackers tried, and nearly succeeded, to literally destroy France’s TV5Monde system. The attack began at night, quickly taking down all 12 channels. Crews had to move rapidly, disconnecting systems to slow the advance of the well-researched attack. Special software was designed to corrupt or destroy the specific internet-connected devices at the heart of the station’s operations – encoders and decoders.
The station was saved by quick acting technicians, limiting the immediate damage of the attack to €5 million. Due to this hack and to prevent it from happening again, TV5Monde was forced to spend millions of additional dollars on improved security.
Addressing AV Security
These examples are just a few of the many outside threats that have impacted AV, IT and broadcast systems. For IT managers, these stories do not seem very surprising due to the previous lack of security in these industries. Many have spent their careers controlling access to networks and understanding how to balance the needs of users against such threats.
Leading audio network platforms solve these problems by utilizing established network tools. Designed around IT security models and integrated with IT best practices, today’s AV management systems encrypt all control traffic and lock network-enabled devices into defined groups, thereby limiting access to content by rogue devices.
These systems create system privileges defined on a per-user basis, and integrate with Active Directory and LDAP authentication, providing a single point of control for managers. As you can see, these is a whole new vocabulary and way for connecting for AV technicians, engineers and users.
To that end, it’s important that AV professionals and system administrators create partnerships with leading manufacturers who can help ensure proper network management tools are in place. It’s critical that administrators be able to visualize the entire system, assign user privileges, and keep activity logs, as with any data network.
Further, good manufacturer partners will help ensure proper product setup and access to the most recent updates.
Finally, remember to bring in all parties and departments involved to any system discussions. Your IT staff has been down similar roads before, and they will know what is necessary to build out an efficient, secure and successful audio network workflow.
Brad Price is the senior product manager at Audinate and has an extensive background in audio engineering, music performance and software product development. He works with the development team to create software for Dante Audio Networking that brings value to audio professionals across a wide range of industry categories.