For many years telecommunication companies have been a prime target for cybercriminals and nation-state actors, due to their role in managing crucial communication networks that handle vast quantities of private and confidential information.
Recently, nation-state actors have shown a growing interest in telecommunications providers, their infrastructure, and their activities, in order to monitor infiltrated networks and operate discreetly for extended periods of time.
As attacks are becoming more sophisticated and skilled individuals are able to infiltrate telecom providers to engage in surveillance of phone lines, mobile data, and instant messaging or video calls, detecting and addressing these types of attacks can prove to be exceptionally challenging.
The negative relationship between telecommunications and cybersecurity
Serdar Vural, Product Manager at computer software company, Canonical, explains: “Telco is among the most-targeted sectors globally for cybercriminals, and it’s not hard to see why. Sensitive user information is carried at a massive scale on telecom networks, and that naturally makes them an attractive target for malicious actors.
“The increasing use of mobile devices for multi-factor authentication, across a wide variety of applications, makes telecom networks an even more tempting target. The form these attacks take varies from attempts to disrupt or downgrade services, such as by using Distributed Denial of Service (DDoS) attacks, or attempts to breach private or sensitive data. Protecting against these threats is hugely important in the sector and will only become more so.”
What is clear, is that well-structured cybercriminal organisations regard telecommunications providers as incredibly lucrative targets, with one specific area of interest being financial data. This consists of malicious actors stealing credit card information, conducting identity theft, or compromising SMS-based two-factor authentication systems.
“A wave of recent data breaches at U.S. telecoms organisations has seen more than 74 million private records of customers at organisations including Verizon, AT&T, T-Mobile and U.S. Cellular leak onto the dark web,” says Vural. “The scale of these attacks highlights the size of the risks facing the sector, and the responsibility companies in the telco space have to take security seriously.
“In many of these cases, the breaches have occurred thanks to security weaknesses in third-party vendors and managed service providers (MSPs). This has highlighted the complex security challenges facing companies in the telco space, and the need to invest proactively in security.”
Overcoming the challenges faced
Companies need to be as vigilant as possible in order to avoid falling victim to cyberattacks. Various measures can be put in place to prevent these attacks, however as technology progresses, it is important to note that the same technological advancements can also enable malicious actors to execute more intricate and successful attacks.
“Operators need automated, scalable and trusted solutions to protect their vital infrastructure,” comments Vural. “As telecom standards evolve, so too have attack surfaces, meaning that infrastructure and running workloads are at risk.
“The adoption of open source helps here, providing much-needed transparency, which naturally adds security. But telecom operators also need to comply with security standards and adopt scalable, automated systems which can ensure that the ever-growing volume of software used by telcos has no vulnerabilities.”
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