Telecommunication and Cybersecurity

When a Teleco falls from grace, Hackers are ready to pounce. 


The telecommunication sector should embrace technological advancements in cybersecurity in a similar vein with the way they adopt new technologies such as 5G and the Internet of Things (IoT) in their business.

In 2017, total Canadian telecommunications revenues exceeded $67 billion, with a consistent increase over a five-year period. Canadian households spent an average of $222.83 monthly for communication services in 2016, which was a 2.02% increase from 2015. More than 99% of households subscribe to landline and/or mobile service, with slightly more than 18% of them owning 3 or more mobile devices. More than 5 billion users depend on telecommunication operators to offer connectivity and communication services. 3.9 billion users were using the Internet by 2018. In fact, the United Nations considers this service a basic human right under UN Article 92 on the promotion, protection, and enjoyment of human rights on the Internet.

Beyond a shadow of a doubt, the telecommunication industry preserves large clientele, motivating cybercriminals to attempt ways to gain unauthorized access to the data. The sector principally entails the use of mobile devices that users install potentially vulnerable apps and connect to insecure Wi-Fi, offering hackers a broader surface to conduct malicious activities. Telecommunication service providers also develop and operate complex infrastructure networks to meet the lofty user demands, which further makes it attractive for malicious cyber activities.

Impacts of Cybersecurity on Telecommunications

Hackers understand the importance of the sector that keeps the world connected and broadly supports economies and business infrastructures. A successful attack on a telecommunication service provider has far-reaching consequences, not just on the organization and its clients but also on a nation.

Certainly, a business in the sector can lose revenues, suffer damaged infrastructure, and defamed reputation in case of a breach. Customers risk losing their credit card information and identities to hackers. A telecommunication firm would require ample resources to restore systems and to cover for legal and noncompliance suits following an attack.

On the other hand, the telecommunication sector acts as a gateway to millions of other businesses. Hackers will attempt to infiltrate on the telecom core infrastructure to intercept user calls or penetrate subscribers’ networks. Such scenarios cause significant damage to business reputation and data privacy.

Common Cyber threats Affecting the Telecommunication Sector


Cyber attackers engage in malware activities to target subscribers and devices connected to telecommunication services. They infect smartphones with malware downloaded through untrusted and insecure apps. In most cases, the malware exploits payment services and targets user accounts to collect financial and personal information. 

DDoS Attacks

Distributed denial of service (DDoS) is a common direct attack in the telecommunication sector. While DDoS is not unique only for this industry, telecommunication firms receive these attacks more than any other sector. Cybercriminals launch DDoS attacks to incapacitate networks and servers, aiming to disrupt service availability. A 2015 DDoS attack on the TalkTalk Group telecommunication company caused a distraction that enabled two hackers to steal personal and financial information for 157,000 customers.

With an increased number of connected devices in the sector, hackers are devising sophisticated DDoS attacks that utilize smartphone-based botnets, international standards, and network protocols.

Man-in-the-Middle Attacks (MITM)

Cybercriminals target telecommunication service providers by intercepting routes and misconfiguring services. This attack allows hackers to spy on victims, steal sensitive information, and disrupt services.

Social Engineering

Cybercriminals use social engineering and phishing attacks to infiltrate businesses and subscribers in the telecommunication sector. Hackers impersonate service providers by making calls to collect information that leads to further infiltration of corporate and customer information.

Government Surveillance

Government agencies launch infiltration attempts on telecommunication infrastructure and service providers to establish surveillance on citizens. With a vast pool of resources, government actors deploy advanced persistent threats that can go undetected, especially in situations where they operate with insiders.   

User Device Threats

Hackers target insecure consumer and network devices. In most cases, subscribers connect using unpatched devices such as android phones and routers. Cybercriminals are actively looking for vulnerabilities that provide channels for attacks.

Insider Threats

In 2015, a rogue telecom employee, and not a hacker, exposed 70 million inmate calls. 14,000 of the recordings included sensitive conversations between attorneys and their clients. As mentioned earlier, government actors, as well as state-sponsored hacker groups recruit telecommunication organizations’ employees to help commit cybercrime and espionage. Cybercriminals blackmail or offer financial gains to insiders in exchange for illegal access to data and other corporate network resources.

Vendor and Supply Chain Risks

In 2017, an estimated 19% of data breaches were directly attributed to vendors. Telecommunication firms outsource less essential processes to service providers. However, their suppliers’ risk and security controls may not commensurate with those applied at the company. Hackers can effectively steal data or disrupt service delivery by penetrating a service provider’s network. 

Mitigating Cyber Threats in the Telecommunication Industry


Innovation in Cybersecurity

Telecommunication organizations should step up their game in innovating cybersecurity solutions to mitigate the numerous security threats faced. For instance, businesses should utilize artificial intelligence (AI) and machine learning (ML) to analyze traffic and report anomalous activities in real-time.

The telecommunication sector should invest in appropriate technologies, processes, and people to support research and adoption of innovation in their cybersecurity strategies.

Awareness Training

50% of Internet users receive at least one phishing email daily. 97% of all subscribers cannot detect a phishing email, while more than 20% will click or open attachments on such messages. Training employees and subscribers creates a culture of cybersecurity awareness that helps a telecom company mitigate cyber risks caused by the weakest links. 88.07% of employees believe that security awareness training is useful in improving an organization’s cybersecurity posture. Businesses in the sector should make employees and customers aware of different ways hackers target them and the measures they need to prevent cyberattacks.

Vendor Risk Assessment

Telecommunication organizations should conduct a comprehensive supply chain risk management plan that helps identify the suppliers and risks they pose, quantify the impact of the risks, enact mitigation measures, and respond to residual risks and attacks on outsourced services.

Partnering with ISA to Enhance your Cybersecurity Strategy

Having the right cybersecurity experts onboard is fundamental to the success of cybersecurity strategies in the telecommunication sector. As cyber-attacks become sophisticated and frequent, security experts should evolve their skill sets to mitigate them.

Demonstrate your company’s commitment to fighting cybercrime by partnering with ISA. With over 28 years of demonstrated industry excellence, ISA’s team of experts will take you through ways you can uniquely combine technologies and cybersecurity intelligence to process and monetize vast amounts of data without compromising on security and privacy.

Please visit our website to learn more.


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