Companies in the telecommunications industry are facing a constant increase in the number of professional IT attacks in 2023. To compound matters, the possibility of Huawei and ZTE being banned is on everybody’s lips. At the same time critical infrastructures are becoming more vulnerable. How can the telecommunications sector develop the greatest possible resilience in order to be fully protected against attacks?
Even the biggest names are not completely immune to attacks. With the industry giant Samsung, a real global corporation was finally caught in 2022. 190 GB of sensitive data was illegally captured, and it was not until a month later that the security leak was identified.
This is not an isolated case: With growing frequency IT criminals are targeting the IT structures of telecommunications companies throughout Europe. Smartphones in companies or in private everyday life are regularly used as a gateway by hackers. Countless critical contact points enable data attacks that are difficult to repel.
The question is being more and more frequently posed by politicians in Europe and the USA: How secure are our mobile phones?
In this context, it is important to emphasise that the telcos cannot simply expect end users to ensure network security themselves. The risks to which private individuals are exposed today are too sophisticated and systemically integrated into the everyday use of devices. Or to put it another way:
Only those who completely renounce the use of smartphones would be completely protected against digital attacks. One result of this discussion is that TikTok software has already been banned in the USA and Canada. Since the app is especially popular among children and younger adults, experts are increasingly concerned about data theft from private individuals.
A TikTok ban is already a realistic scenario, and not only in the United States
TikTok has already been identified as a legitimate threat to the security of companies and consumers in the USA. The “Restrict Act” was launched in order to react to this threat. Such legislation presumably provides an adequate reaction. If the measures come into force, a general ban on TikTok in the USA would become possible.
In the US Congress, the White House and Canada, the video app has long been strictly taboo on official mobile phones. From mid-March the app may also no longer be used on the smart phones of the EU Commission. TikTok is also banned in Belgium and in the Latvian Foreign Ministry.
The German government, too, has banned the installation or downloading of TikTok onto official mobile phones. The biggest concern: espionage by the Chinese state. But resolutions are actually not enough in themselves to guarantee the greatest possible security for networks in companies.
Telecommunications companies often inadequately protected
Because, independent of the individual case of TikTok, there is a general question as to which companies in the telecommunications industry urgently need to find an answer: How good is our protective shield against data attackers?
According to our in-house analysis, telecommunications companies in particular have sadly neglected the subject of cyber security in recent years. And when they have confronted it, the barriers against data thieves were not raised based on any kind of strategic plan, but only sporadically and without a clear direction. Unfortunately, this had practical consequences, leading to very heterogeneous IT structures, which opened up new points of attack for cyber criminals at intersections and weak points.
Digital resilience must integrate the entire ecosystem of a company
In addition, a company’s own digital resilience is no longer in itself sufficient. Due to the close integration and collaboration with alliance partners – from suppliers via investors to various service providers – the entire ecosystem must be armed against attacks by cyber criminals.
Recent cases provide an impressive demonstration of this fact. In the final analysis, it was not the core company which was compromised, but an external distribution partner, thus making it possible to access data records in the first place.
Therefore, even if companies are protected to the utmost, they are indirectly vulnerable due to insufficient protection on the part of their partners. Any chain is only as strong as its weakest link.
Hackers operate professionally and rationally. They rely on a lack of know-how and quietly attack our networks. Today, consumers in particular are not even aware that they can quickly become unwitting accomplices of the digital attackers through careless actions and hasty clicking.
Phishing, malware, “man-in-the-middle”: three intuitive attack methods
Three sophisticated methods of cyber criminals in particular are currently on the agenda: phishing, malware and the so-called man-in-the-middle.
In phishing, IT attackers send fake, often deceptively genuine emails or short messages, often via mobile devices. The goal is obvious – but is often recognised too late. Especially by consumers, but also on the part of many employees in companies:
Disguised as a supposedly trustworthy protagonist – whether a bank or a telecommunications company – cyber criminals want to obtain sensitive data. Once recipients have clicked on the infected e-mail, for example, the door is open: to account access, to the theft of identities or to the installation of malicious software on the computers or smart phones of the victims.
In the case of malware, so-called Trojans are used to install harmful software on the end devices. Like the Trojan horse, appearing as a supposed gift, but once opened they turn out to be a treacherous trap. The malware deletes central files and data on the targeted devices and places blackmail programmes (“ransomware”) or spy files.
Phishing attacks are also a gateway for malware or ransomware. This describes a social engineering technique in which an attacker sends malicious emails to trick victims into revealing personal or company data. The attacker often disguises himself as a legitimate source to disarm his victims.
A third, more common form of fraud is the “man-in-the-middle” approach: This involves a hack between two parties. The aim of a man-in-the-middle attack is to sneak unnoticed into a communication between two or more partners, for example to read or manipulate information. To do this, the attacker redirects a connection request from the sender to himself. Then the attacker establishes a connection to the actual recipient of the message.
If he succeeds, the attacker may be able to view or manipulate all the information that the sender communicates to the supposed recipient before forwarding it to the correct recipient. This method is particularly perfidious because hackers can use it, for example, to hack directly into the communication channels between telecommunications companies and their end customers.
DNS filtering – Why digital prophylaxis makes the difference in case of emergency
Cyber security companies already offer various tools and services against most internet-based dangers. With their help, telecommunications companies in particular can modernise their security structures for the benefit of their customers in the long term.
In the daily defence against cyber dangers, network-integrated filters primarily have two important properties that contribute to digital resilience. In addition to reducing unwanted traffic (up to 15 per cent of the data volume), providers ensure a safer and faster surfing experience. In some countries, as well as in companies, there are already requirements to block certain content categories in accordance with legal requirements.
Innovative domain categorisation using AI/ML, in combination with in-house databases (+300 million entries) that are updated almost in real time, provide resilient protection against phishing, malware and trackers. The connection to these systems can be completed within a few weeks and the activation at the user’s end is possible with a single click. The end result is that possible prejudices against digital security mechanisms, such as the belief that they require long and complex installations, are invalidated right from the start.
About the author
Markus Cserna’s work lays the foundation for cyan’s success: technological progress against Internet fraudsters and competitors. He started his career as a software specialist for high-security network components before founding cyan in 2006 with the vision of protecting internet users worldwide from harm. Since then, he has led the company as CTO with a restless passion for cyber security technology that steadfastly keeps ahead of the curve in dynamic markets.