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Addressing Cyber Security Threats in the Telecom Industry

Telecom operators face a variety of security-related vulnerabilities stemming from the overall complexity of their infrastructure, supply chain problems, network misconfigurations, and privacy concerns. To prevent expensive downtime, interrupted service, and stolen data, carriers should identify and address potential network infrastructure vulnerabilities that hackers can exploit.

Largest Telecom Network Threats and Recommended Solutions

Malicious attackers targeting the telecom industry use a variety of tactics and focus points to circumvent security measures and compromise communications data.

SS7 and Diameter Signaling 

Hackers targeting the financial services sector frequently target telecom carriers’ Signaling System No. 7 (SS7) and Diameter protocols. As part of this strategy, malicious attackers intercept two-factor authentication (2FA) codes to gain access to user accounts. 

To combat this threat, telecom operators should put security measures to monitor interconnect and outgoing traffic, as well as the network infrastructure itself. Carriers should also conduct regular network penetration tests and install anomaly detection systems to better identify potential threats. 

Session Initiation Protocol (SIP) 

Session Initiation Protocol (SIP), usually used with voice-over-IP (VoIP) and instant messaging communications, is another prime target for telecom hackers. During the pandemic, carriers provided enterprise customers with more SIP endpoints to support remote work, which exposed parts of their network to the public network and added vulnerabilities. 

Threats associated with SIP include identity theft, malware and viruses, fraud, hijacking, and eavesdropping. To prevent these potential outcomes, telecom operators should focus on real-time signaling level analysis, combined with advanced machine learning technology to take a proactive approach to SIP hackers, rather than a reactive one, which is often too late to prevent fraud.

DDoS 

In Q1 2021, the telecom sector was the most targeted industry for distributed denial-of-service (DDoS) attacks. This malicious strategy involves flooding the traffic of a targeted server or network with enough bots to cause complete service shutdown or other technical issues. DDoS attacks are often used to weaken existing security measures, such as firewalls, or to distract from other attacks. The most severe DDoS attacks can cause weeks of downtime, which cause carriers to take a pretty heavy blow to their profitability and overall brand perception. 

To mitigate the risk of a DDoS threat, telecom operators can implement web application firewall technology or content distribution networks to filter out unauthorized traffic. Another common solution is to reroute DDoS-generated traffic through a dedicated “scrubbing center,” which removes malicious traffic and allows normal traffic to flow forward. 

Read More: Addressing Top Network Challenges of the Telecom Industry

Addressing 5G-Specific Threats

The transformational nature of 5G brings exciting new capabilities for carriers, but it also opens the door to new security vulnerabilities. The next generation of wireless technology supports more interconnected devices than ever before, increasing the total surface area for malicious threats to the telecom industry. 

A 2021 Department of Defense guide, “Potential Threat Vectors to 5G Infrastructure” provides operators with information on the most pressing threats when rolling out or providing 5G services, and what can be done to address them.  

Carriers should consider possible vulnerabilities within their 5G systems architecture, including: 

    • Software configuration – A hacker could modify software or network components to further reduce security measures, install viruses, or grant unauthorized users administrative permissions.

 

  • Network security – Malicious attackers can target the connectivity between mobile devices and small cell towers to intercept, alter, or destroy critical data communications.
  • Network slicing – Slicing 5G networks into multiple sections adds complexity to the overall infrastructure and can allow for hackers to target and access data from specific slices.
  • Legacy equipment – Since 5G builds on existing 4G hardware, carrier infrastructures likely contain parts that aren’t updated to modern security standards that can be exploited. 
  • Spectrum sharing – Carriers providing 5G services will likely use a variety of spectrum frequencies, ranging from low to high, which may provide attackers with the opportunity to interrupt important communications avenues.
  • Software Defined Networking (SDN) – SDN enables network operators to easily configure their network routes, however hackers could embed code in SDN controller applicants that reduce performance and limit bandwidth.  

 

To mitigate risks stemming from 5G, carriers should consider:

  • Implementing a zero trust architecture, which means that carriers should make security policies that assume the malicious attacker already has access to the network  
  • Taking advantage of Security Edge Protection Proxies (SEPP), which provide end-to-end authentication, application layer securities, and eavesdropping protections
  • Replace time-consuming and manual security process with network automation tools that leverage threat intelligence analytics and auto remediation capabilities

Read More: How to Prepare for 5G

Carriers looking to improve their network infrastructure security can also leverage services from an experienced network provider, in the form of managed network solutions and proactive monitoring. Edison Carrier Solutions specializes in providing telecom carriers with high-performance,

Learn more strategies carriers can use to secure their infrastructure as they add 5G services by reading the “Telecom Carrier Strategies For Successful 5G Rollout” guide.

If you need hands-on network support or want to get an evaluation of your telecom infrastructure, reach out to the Edison Carrier Solutions team today.

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