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What is telecom cybersecurity?

Telecom cybersecurity refers to the measures and technologies employed to protect telecommunications systems from unauthorized access, attack, or damage. This field of cybersecurity is crucial as it encompasses the protection of data flowing through mobile devices, telecommunication networks, and other communication infrastructures. With the advent of technologies like 5G, the landscape of telecommunications has become more complex and the need for robust cybersecurity measures has intensified.

The scope of telecom cybersecurity includes the safeguarding of infrastructure such as servers, data centers, and network equipment, as well as the software used for managing and transmitting communication data. It also focuses on protecting the vast amounts of sensitive data transmitted across these networks, including personal user data, business communication, and government information.

Why is telecom cybersecurity important?

The telecommunications sector forms the backbone of nearly every other critical infrastructure, supporting sectors such as healthcare, finance, transportation, and government operations. Thus, an attack on telecommunications infrastructure could lead to widespread disruption across multiple facets of society.

Moreover, the integrity and availability of telecommunications networks are vital for emergency response services and disaster recovery efforts. Any compromise in telecom security can hinder urgent communication and coordination efforts during critical times.

Cybersecurity challenges for telecom companies

The digital infrastructure that underpins modern telecommunications firms is typically large and complex, having grown organically over long periods of time.

These expansive networks see constant change as technology progresses, such as the increasing prevalence of IoT devices and the roll-out of 5G infrastructure. As these companies and the scope of their services expand, so too do their attack surfaces.

Modern telecommunications firms are also burdened with the sensitive data of large customer bases. Protecting this data – which includes personal and financial information – is of course not only a reputational concern but a legal one.

Even more than other industries, telecommunications companies must often answer to government bodies regarding their security measures.

In addition to data breaches, network downtime poses a huge risk to telecom organizations. Prolonged service downtimes as a result of DDoS attacks are increasingly common in the industry, and can have huge public relations implications for affected companies, prompting many customers to switch services.

Preventing such a devastating attack is surprisingly difficult given that most organizations are unaware of all the devices on their own networks, a lack of visibility that renders securing those environments nearly impossible.

In this new era of sophisticated cyber-threat, telecom organizations face the challenge of building IT and OT infrastructures that support their innovations while simultaneously protecting those infrastructures from attack.

Common cyber threats in telecom cybersecurity

The telecommunications sector faces a variety of cyber threats that can compromise individual privacy, corporate security, and national safety. Here are some of the common cyber threats in telecom cybersecurity:

DDoS Attacks: Distributed Denial of Service (DDoS) attacks are prevalent in the telecommunications sector. These attacks overwhelm networks with a flood of internet traffic, rendering them inoperable and denying service to legitimate users. With 5G networks, the impact of DDoS attacks could be even more severe due to the increased connectivity and reliance on network availability.

Data Breaches: Telecom companies store large amounts of sensitive data, making them attractive targets for data breaches. Cybercriminals can exploit vulnerabilities to steal personal information, corporate data, and other sensitive information. Data breaches not only lead to financial losses but also damage the reputation of the affected companies.

Man-in-the-Middle (MitM) Attacks: These occur when attackers intercept and alter the communication between two parties without their knowledge. In telecommunications, this can compromise the integrity of data being transmitted across networks, including voice communications and data transfers.

Ransomware: This type of malware locks out legitimate users from accessing their systems or personal files and demands ransom to regain access. Telecommunications networks are particularly vulnerable to ransomware attacks due to their critical importance and widespread connectivity.

5G Infrastructure Exploits: As telecommunications companies deploy 5G networks, they must contend with new vulnerabilities associated with the technology. These include risks stemming from increased use of software to manage network operations and the integration of IoT devices into the network.

What is the 5G network?

5G is the fifth generation of cellular network technology, succeeding 4G. It represents a significant evolution in the telecommunications field, offering faster data download and upload speeds, wider coverage, and more stable connections. 5G technology utilizes a higher frequency band of radio waves compared to its predecessors, allowing it to handle more data at greater speeds. Due to its higher frequencies, which have a shorter range and are more susceptible to interference, 5G infrastructure relies heavily on a denser network of small cell stations to enhance signal coverage and quality.

How can 5G improve cybersecurity?

5G technology introduces a paradigm shift in network and data security, providing foundational improvements that can strengthen cybersecurity frameworks across multiple domains:

Enhanced Data Encryption: 5G networks offer advanced encryption, which helps secure both user data and control signals transmitted over the network, strengthening 5G cybersecurity measures against unauthorized access.

Network Slicing: This feature of 5G allows telecom operators to create multiple virtual networks within a single physical 5G network. This capability enhances 5G protection by allowing for the isolation and safeguarding of sensitive data, providing it with dedicated slices that have robust security controls.

Improved Authentication Protocols: 5G networks use more sophisticated authentication protocols that improve the verification of user identities, significantly enhancing protection against identity spoofing and other attacks.

Low Latency: The reduced latency in 5G improves the effectiveness of security measures by enabling real-time security monitoring and quicker responses to potential threats, enhancing overall 5G cybersecurity.

How Darktrace helps protect telecom environments

Darktrace’s Self-Learning AI detects and autonomously responds to known and unknown cyber-threats, without updates or human input. This approach is especially helpful for lean security teams managing the vast and complex networks of the telecommunications sector. The AI protects every corner of the digital estate, including cloud and SaaS activity, OT, email and endpoints, leaving no activity unprotected.

Darktrace has the capability to autonomously responds to cyber threats in isolation, ensuring that all normal business operations can continue as an attack is neutralized.

By minimizing business disruption, Darktrace avoids costly network downtime, and helps telecommunication organizations to maintain their services and their reputations. Autonomous response actions can be configured in human confirmation mode, but will otherwise take actions 24/7, even when human security teams are unavailable, leaving no periods of weakened security posture for attackers to exploit.

Darktrace’s Self-Learning AI constantly refines its own understanding of every device and user’s normal activity in order to spot the subtle anomalous behaviors that bypass other tools. For telecommunication companies, this can mean the difference between dealing with a threat in its early stages and settling multimillion-dollar lawsuits after a breach has occurred.

Telecom cyber-attack case study: AI protects customer data for a mobile provider

On the network of a major mobile provider, Darktrace revealed a targeted attack on a critical server. Given the vast quantity of confidential information which could be accessed through this server — including customers’ locations, details, and financial data — this breach had the potential to inflict major financial and reputational damage.

However, the goal of this attack was more serious than acquiring customers’ personal details. If successful, it would have enabled the attackers to track customer phone calls, the time and place that those calls were being made, and even the locations of mobile devices.

Darktrace successfully averted a crisis for this organization by alerting its security analysts to the anomalous behavior before any sensitive information was lost.

By catching this threat early, Darktrace ensured that the es- tablished reputation and economy of the business remained safe. The prevention of this attack was still dependent upon a human security team taking sufficiently fast action.

However, with Darktrace RESPOND activated in fully autonomous mode, it would have taken just seconds after detection for this attack to be brought safely to an end.

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