How Secure Are Telecom Providers?

By Zachary Amos, Features Editor at ReHack

The telecommunications sector involves many companies, from internet service providers (ISPs) to radio, telephone and satellite corporations. The infrastructure behind these organizations helps keep the world connected. They make it possible to communicate with people on the other side of the planet.

That said, as with any business, they face the reality that a digital threat can occur at any time. Learn why the telecom sector is a frequent target for cybercrime and how secure they are in combating these dangers.

Why Are Telecommunications a Frequent Target of Cyberattacks?

The amount of cyberattacks continues to rise. While the internet has created many wonderful opportunities and most businesses can’t go without it, it opened up people to a new type of threat.

Without proper practices and preventive measures, organizations can face severe challenges. According to AAG IT services, over 53 million U.S. citizens were affected by cybercrime in 2022. Unfortunately, the state of digital threats is worsening. The communications sector saw an increase of 51% in digital attacks from 2020 to 2021, making it the third most vulnerable field.   

There are several reasons why the telecom industry is a frequent target for cybercrime. Here is a quick overview:

  • Sensitive information and intertwined networks: The most significant reason why the sector is so vulnerable is because they have intertwined networks. These networks contain a lot of personal information on them. If threat actors breach a telecom organization’s security, they might gain access to networks with sensitive information such as social security numbers and banking details.
  • 5G contributing to an increased attack surface: With 5G becoming more readily available, it creates multiple new points of entry and expands the attack surface.
  • Employees not following cybersecurity best practices: While telecom companies invest in cybersecurity training, many still struggle with staff not following best practices. Often, the worker does not know their actions present a security risk, making them an insider threat.
  • Legacy systems: Many companies in the telecom sector still utilize legacy systems. The reason for this is not that no advanced solutions are available but that the process takes time. Unfortunately, this legacy technology makes companies vulnerable to several different digital threats.

Why Telecom Providers Should Invest in Cybersecurity Solutions

The telecom sector takes cybersecurity very seriously, even with false threats where they have temporarily shut down operations to assess the situation. This is because a breach in their systems can expose the sensitive information of many people. Such an incident can create serious problems for the organization, consumers and even the country.

While more efforts are needed to enhance their security protocols, telecom providers frequently invest in employee training and new technologies that help them prevent digital threats. This could include AI and automation systems aiding with threat detection and mitigation.

Here are a few reasons why the sector takes cybersecurity so seriously and frequently funds employee training:

  • Damage to reputation and financial risks: Successful attacks can cause severe damage to a company’s reputation and incur serious financial costs. According to IBM, the global average cost of a data breach is more than four million dollars. Investing in cybersecurity staff training can help mitigate these risks.
  • To comply with laws and regulations: Several regulations apply to telecom companies, such as General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR), if they have European clients. In the U.K., the Electronic Communications regulations were introduced to increase data, equipment and software protection. If organizations are found in violation of these regulations, they can suffer massive penalties.
  • Improved abilities to enhance network security: The telecom sector develops, installs and controls essential network infrastructure. With them investing in cybersecurity training, they can better manage these networks and keep them safe from digital threats.
  • Ensuring sensitive information is secured: Telecom organizations have interconnected networks that contain sensitive data they need to ensure are well protected. Investing in cybersecurity training allows them to better protect this information.

5 Threats to the Telecom Sector

While the telecommunications industry has security and preventative measures in place, they face a multitude of threats presenting several challenges.

  1. Internet of Things (IoT) Devices

As more devices connect to the internet, it creates more opportunities for threat actors to exploit — increasing the attack surface. The truth is that many of these devices have lackluster security or they don’t receive frequent updates to keep them secure. 

  1. Distributed Denial-of-Service (DDoS) Attack

The primary intention of a DDoS attack is to disrupt services and cause shutdowns — it is often used as a distraction. An DDoS attack on a telecom provider can create massive financial losses, leave clients unconnected and bring several operations to a standstill.

Similarly, during times of crisis, telecom services like cell towers can quickly become overwhelmed — even without the direct actions of malicious actors. The results of natural disasters, other cyberattacks, or manmade destruction can mirror the effects of a DDoS attack without hackers needing to actually launch the attack, allowing them to utilize their resources elsewhere.

  1. Cloud Attacks

In general, cloud networks are considered more secure than onsite servers. However, they do present some security risks. If these networks become compromised, they can create serious issues for all the other devices connected to them.

  1. Insider Threats

One of the most significant dangers that telecom providers face is insider threats. The term insider threat refers to people who cause harm to a company, either through intentional or unintentional action.

  1. Third-Party

Another prominent threat telecom providers could encounter is through third-party services. Telecom organizations frequently work with other companies that could act as an entry point for digital threats. These third parties could include hosting services, email providers, law firms, vendors, contractors and many others.

The Risk Telecom Providers Face

For years, telecom providers have been the ideal target for malicious actors. While the associated risk of a successful attack can create serious issues, the sector frequently invests in measures to mitigate these risks. With proper best practices in place, the sector can greatly reduce the attacks and threats they face.

As the Features Editor at ReHack, Zac Amos writes about cybersecurity, artificial intelligence, and other tech topics. He is a frequent contributor to Brilliance Security Magazine.



Follow Brilliance Security Magazine on Twitter and LinkedIn to ensure you receive alerts for the most up-to-date security and cybersecurity news and information.