Recent cyber attacks on TalkTalk and KCom in the UK and Deutsche Telekom in Germany have highlighted the vulnerabilities which telecoms companies suffer from.
The first step telcos should take is to identify their crown jewels, core data which must be protected from attack as a first priority. This typically includes confidential customer data, financial data, business strategies and intellectual property in the form of proprietary technology. Once the company has identified its crown jewels, it mustthen take steps to monitor exactly who has access to this mission-critical data and what security protocols are already in place.
However, in order to protect their core data successfully, telcos must look beyond their traditional security perimeters to encompass areas such as social networking. As companies’ cyber security defences have become more sophisticated, so have the cyber criminals’ counter attacks. Even when a telco believes it has secured its systems, it should be aware that cyber criminals are already unlocking their systems’ back doors.
Phishers of men (and women)
Social engineering facilitates attacks such as phishing that enable cyber criminals to scam unsuspecting members of staff into allowing them entry into the system. This can, for example, be done by amassing enough personal information from Facebook or LinkedIn on a selected staff member to contact other members of staff convincingly posing as that member of staff. Usually a fake email similar to the one used by the staff member is set up to further convince the recipient.
In addition to encrypting confidential emails, companies must also train staff to be aware not only of even vaguely suspect emails, but also alert them to the fact that posting too much unguarded personal information on social networks can make the telco vulnerable to this type of orchestrated attack. As the human element is usually the weak point in even the most effective cyber security policy, educating staff as to the dangers of cyber crime is crucial.
Dangers lurking in the Dark Web
The Dark Web is another outer perimeter of which many telcos are still largely unaware. A typical Google search will reveal only a small proportion of what is available on the internet. The remainder includes not only redundant websites and what is behind pay-walls but also a growing part of the internet known as the Dark Web.
The Dark Web is notorious for websites offering illicit goods such as drugs and firearms. But it also comprises forums where cyber criminals exchange strategies, software and stolen data. Telcos should make themselves aware that their own security details and confidential data are often up for grabs on the Dark Web without their knowledge. As these forums are frequently also the places where cyber criminals plan and orchestrate their attacks, telcos should hire consultants to patrol the Dark Web on their behalf. This will not only enable them to assess existing damage limitation and identify leaked data, but also provide them with advance warning of the type of cyber attacks they are likely to suffer in the short-to-mid-term.
Since telcos are the custodians of vast data banks of confidential data, it is paramount that they become centres of excellence where their own cyber security is concerned. A perceived failure to do so could result in massive damage to any company unfortunate enough to suffer a far-reaching cyber attack. Some telcos may also be tempted to use this expertise to turn cyber security into a revenue-generator rather than a cost centre. Most telcos are looking for additional revenue streams which are not based on their legacy business models and managed security services may be the answer - they could offer managed security service provider services.