How telecom providers are navigating the changing threat landscape in 2023

Telecoms has undoubtedly been one of the more prominent areas for continued technological advancements over the past few years, with the deployment of 5G infrastructures, artificial intelligence (AI), automation capabilities and the Internet of Things (IoT).

With the market valued at $1,805.6 billion last year, this is only set to increase as telecoms providers invest in, and adopt, new technologies in order to meet the soaring demand for high-speed data connectivity. However, the industry needs to be embracing advancements in cybersecurity at the same pace.

The abundance of sensitive data, constant interactions with third-party entities, and the indispensable communications infrastructure it forms, means that telecoms providers have always been a high-profile target. Malicious actors understand the importance of the sector that keeps the world connected, which also broadly supports economies and business infrastructures. A successful cyberattack on a telecoms provider has far-reaching consequences, not just on the organisation and its clients, but also on a nation.

As of October 2022, the Electronic Communications regulations came into action. Their introduction was pioneered by the UK Government, National Cyber Security Centre and Ofcom, and works in conjunction with the Telecommunications (Security) Act 2021. The aim is to guarantee the entire telecoms sector complies with specific security regulations.

The regulations intend to increase data, software and equipment protection, reinforce a deeper understanding of security risks and take control of supply chains. As a result of these combined regulations, Ofcom will monitor the compliance of telecoms providers, issuing fines to companies that fail to meet the measures. According to GOV.UK, the regulator can issue fines up to 10 per cent of the companies turnover, with continued infringements incurring penalties of £100,000 a day.

There is no doubt that successful cyberattacks can cause profound legal, financial, reputational and operational repercussions. Even false claims can force telecoms providers to halt and shut down their services. However, staying ahead of the cybersecurity curve can help fortify providers’ positions within the industry. Here are five trends gaining traction in 2023 and beyond:

Telecoms providers can improve their performance by creating secure foundations

Think adaptive AI, digital immune systems, and building AI Trust, Risk and Security Management (AI TRiSM). These foundations, especially digital immune systems, are key to organisations creating a superior user experience (UX) and ensuring that the customer experience (CX) isn’t compromised by system failures. The added benefit of such systems is the ability to detect malicious activities providing the much needed first step in the cyber kill-chain.

Enhancements and expansions in telecoms offerings and increasingly connected assets is fuelling cyber threats

Enterprise investment in cloud-based security and infrastructure offerings such as ZTNA, SD-WAN, SSE & SASE, has increased as a result. According to Gartner, more than half of enterprise IT spending in key market segments will shift to the cloud by 2025. Furthermore, 75% of containers are running with high or critical vulnerabilities, which could be patched, and 73% of cloud accounts have publicly-exposed S3 buckets, putting sensitive data at risk.

The adoption of 5G is impacting the number of unregulated entry points

This year, 5G is anticipated to enrich machine and human communications significantly, introducing use-cases that were never possible before, but it is also impacting the number of unregulated entry points hackers have access to, increasing risk of data breaches. The software driven models of 5G mean higher exposure to risks in the underlying software stack (protocols, Operating Systems, hypervisors, apps, containers, APIs, VNFs, shared software libraries), and new opportunities for lateral movement and exploitation (VNF -> app for example). The adoption of a new protocol stack in 5G using more familiar software architectures than previously (EAP, IPSec, TLS & OAuth, and more) will shorten the vulnerability to exploit window, and the integration of cloud services further broadens the attack surface.

A  sustained use of artificial intelligence (AI) and automation

In order to collect and correlate data from across the enterprise, carry out a triage of generated events, forensic investigation and evidence capture, and even mitigation; AI and automation is key. It can surface only those urgent or high-priority security events to the humans who remain at the top of the security tree, resulting in faster detection and the remediation of threats. Organisations are increasingly looking to security solution providers that  can deliver automated real-time threat identification and monitoring

Telecom providers are prioritising cybersecurity and compliance

Telecoms remains one of the top industries dedicated to incorporating cybersecurity strategies. Telecoms providers are prime targets for supply-chain attacks because they build, control and operate critical infrastructure that processes a large amount of sensitive data. The increase of 5G has only served to further exacerbate this dilemma. Providers are continuing to focus their efforts on security abstraction, leveraging Network Function Virtualisation to provide scale and speed of response and an ability to integrate security functions at carrier level.

Cybersecurity will undoubtedly continue to adapt and evolve, creating a continuous ripple effect across the entire telecoms sector. We’ve started to see the implementation of secure systems and processes fuelled by AI and automation and this looks set to continue. These advancements will ensure real-time threat identification and monitoring, whilst creating a superior user experience at the same time.

The cybersecurity battle is far from over within the world of telecoms. Having the right cybersecurity solutions, processes, and people in place is fundamental to the success of mitigating against threats as they become more sophisticated and frequent. By being aware of the potential vulnerabilities, companies have a much greater chance of preventing themselves from becoming the next cyber victim.

About the Author

Matt Poulton is General Manager & Vice President EMEA & APJ at Forescout. Forescout Technologies, Inc. actively defends the Enterprise of Things by identifying, segmenting and enforcing compliance of every connected thing. Fortune 1000 companies trust Forescout as it provides the most widely deployed, enterprise-class platform at scale across IT, IoT, and OT managed and unmanaged devices. Forescout arms customers with more device intelligence than any other company in the world, allowing organizations across every industry to accurately classify risk, detect anomalies and quickly remediate cyberthreats without disruption of critical business assets. Don’t just see it. Secure it.

Featured image:  legan80