Tackling security threats

When it comes to security, telecom operators are in completely different territory from just a few years ago, when TDM network architecture ruled supreme

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By  Roger Field Published  April 21, 2009

When it comes to security, telecom operators are in completely different territory from just a few years ago, when TDM network architecture ruled supreme. With the old legacy networks, the main threats operators faced usually came from internal fraud, often from people close to the networks with the knowledge to cheat the system.

But with telecom operators increasingly moving towards IP technology, telecom networks are now far more vulnerable to problems that have long plagued internet users and web based businesses.

While most operators seem to be well aware of the increasing threat they face from malware, viruses and hackers, IT security professionals are warning operators to remain vigilant, and also to ensure they keep their customers informed about such threats.

Certainly, the risks to operators that have switched to IP networks are serious, with attempted denial of service attacks, eavesdropping of unencrypted data, and phishing scams targeting VoIP users, all on the rise.

The issue is particularly important for operators in the MEA region, many of which are at an earlier stage of migrating to IP networks than some of their counterparts in other parts of the world.

Web based threats can come from anywhere in the world, and many of the people involved in attacks do not necessarily need to be technically competent, which means the volume of attacks targeting IP networks is far greater than those that ever targeted legacy TDM networks.

For some industry experts, these factors make the likelihood of a harmful attack on an operator in the MEA region far more likely. This is a view held by Ashraf Hassan, senior carrier sales support at Nortel's Dubai office.

"It is the law of averages. As the number of lines that are VoIP or IP based increase, it is inevitable that at some time something is going to happen," he said.

Among the challenges for IP operators are the wide variety of threats, and the number of potential access points for these threats to gain access to the network.

For example, each customer is a potential access point for the node network, which means that each and every customer is also a potential threat to the network, whether this is intentional or not.

While the majority of operators in the region may have most of the bases covered in terms of securing their core networks, they could do a better job of raising awareness of security among their customers.

Despite recent concerns about threats including the Conflicker worm, there was little evidence of operators in the region raising awareness of the problem. Yet something as simple as a news letter from an operator to its customer base, informing end users about new threats and how to protect themselves, could play an important role in protecting the overall network.

The key message from security professionals is that operators should look at all of the access points to their IP network and carry out regular risk assessments - preferably at least every six months.

Operators provide an invaluable service to their users and also hold vital information on their customers, often including bank details. Amid a proliferation of web based threats, security must remain a priority as operators migrate to IP networks.

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