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Cybersecurity Challenges in the Transformative Age of the Telecoms Industry

The Covid-19 pandemic has accelerated the rollout of digitalisation causing disruptions in customer expectations and the manner in which telecoms services are purchased and used (Firth & Sharma, 2020). Telcos sit at a disadvantage to digital service providers, as digital service providers can “quickly leverage multiple disruptive digital technologies” (Firth & Sharma, 2020). In order to stay relevant in this fiercely competitive market, Telcos need to embark on a transformative journey by adopting a new business model that focuses on customer experience and technology dominance, as well as investing in digital infrastructure (Firth & Sharma, 2020).

The top technologies that Telcos need to assist them in this transformation are Cloud, 5G, and Internet of Things (IoT) (Firth & Sharma, 2020). According to research by EY, 71% of enterprises believe that the Covid-19 pandemic has accelerated digital transformation plans and 52% have indicated a noteworthy interest in 5G and IoT (Telecommunications In A New Post-Pandemic World: A Focus On Security Services, 2021).

Although investment in these technologies provides incredible opportunities to develop new revenue streams, cybersecurity implications can be a challenge. The telecoms industry is a favoured target for cybercriminals as they operate infrastructure used to store and transmit massive loads of data (Slijkerman and Nijboer, 2022). Following the emergence of the Covid-19 pandemic, the frequency of attacks on business clouds increased by 630% within the first few months (Firth & Sharma, 2020).

Cybersecurity threats associated with Cloud, 5G and Internet of Things (IoT)

Cloud:

Cloud computing provides Telcos with the opportunity to transform into digital service providers. In addition to the new variety of digital services that Telcos can offer, utilising the cloud also provides business-related benefits such as a reduction in operating costs, faster speed and delivery to market, as well as promoting an improved customer experience (Cloud Computing in Telecom: Technologies for Your Business Growth, 2021). 

Cybersecurity threats associated with the Cloud:

Cloud platforms are more exposed to cyberattacks, because of the following vulnerabilities, as stated by Firth & Sharma (2020):

  • Shared tenancy vulnerabilities
  • Poor access controls
  • Vulnerabilities due to misconfiguration
  • Supply chain vulnerabilities

In order to grow and remain relevant and competitive in the digital marketplace, Telcos must invest in new digital technologies, such as 5G, cloud and IoT technologies while remaining vigilant when it comes to cybersecurity.

5G:

Analysts project that 5G networks will cover about 60 percent of the global population by 2026 (Telecommunications In A New Post-Pandemic World: A Focus On Security Services, 2021). 5G is quickly becoming the “standard for mobile communications technology” and offers features, such as increased capacity, high reliability, reduced energy consumption “low latency, and massive connectivity” (Telecommunications innovation. Powered by 5G., n.d.).

5G presents Telcos with opportunities for new revenue streams by providing 5G-reliant services to end-users (Telecommunications innovation. Powered by 5G., n.d.). 

Cybersecurity challenges associated with 5G:

According to Firth and Sharma (2020), the key cybersecurity challenges presented with the rollout of 5G are:

  • The new infrastructure and capabilities of 5G networks may cause issues in the interoperability of network hardware
  • The risk profiles of suppliers and vendors, and the dependence of businesses and mobile networks on third-party suppliers increase the exposure to attacks.
  • Threats, that are network-based, can potentially jeopardize the integrity of 5G networks.

IoT:

Telcos hold the competitive advantage of having the skills and resources in order to connect and manage IoT devices in their networks. Telcos have the potential to create new value-added services by offering “their own network connectivity, sensors, devices, and IoT applications” (Martynova, 2022). 

Vulnerabilities associated with IoT:

According to Firth and Sharma (2020), the key vulnerabilities of IoT deployments are:

  • Weak passwords,
  • Unsecure network services and ecosystem interfaces,
  • Use of outdated or unsecured components
  • Poor privacy protection,
  • Unsecure storage and transfer of data,
  • Insufficient device management,
  • Unsecure default settings and
  • Insufficient physical hardening.

Cybersecurity strategies and risk mitigation measures must be in place from the get-go. The accelerated journey to digital services during the Covid-19 pandemic presented a fertile breeding ground for cybercriminals. In 2021, South Africa had the third-highest number of cybercrime victims in the world explains Dolley (2021). In light of these statistics, the drive to implement specialised and sophisticated cybersecurity solutions has never been higher. It is vital for Telcos to ensure cyber-resilience to maintain the trust of customers, stakeholders, and the overall marketplace (Firth and Sharma, 2020). 

A variety of solutions such as Security Information and Event Management (SIEM) technologies and cyber monitoring technologies can be utilised to mitigate the ever-increasing frequency of cyberattacks (Firth and Sharma, 2020).

References:

Aimprosoft. 2021. Cloud Computing in Telecom: Technologies for Your Business Growth. [online] Available at: <https://www.aimprosoft.com/blog/cloud-computing-and-telecommunications/>

Dolley, C., 2021. INVESTIGATION: Cyberattacks: South Africa, you’ve been hacked. [online] Daily Maverick. Available at: <https://www.dailymaverick.co.za/article/2021-11-06-cyberattacks-south-africa-youve-been-hacked.> 

Firth, C. and Sharma, S., 2020. Aligning cybersecurity to enable the Telco metamorphosis in a post-COVID-19 era. [ebook] EYGM Limited, pp.2, 5, 10 – 12. Available at: <https://assets.ey.com/content/dam/ey-sites/ey-com/en_za/article/ey-aligning-cybersecurity-to-enable-the-telco-metamorphosis.pdf> 

Martynova, O., 2022. IoT in Telecom: How Telecom Operators Can Capitalize on IoT – Intellias. [online] Intellias. Available at: <https://intellias.com/the-iot-in-telecom-a-data-driven-path-to-growth/>

Slijkerman, J. and Nijboer, F., 2022. Telecom Outlook: Rising cyber threats a cause for concern, as well as a source of success. [online] ING Think. Available at: <https://think.ing.com/articles/rising-cyber-threats-cause-for-concern-and-source-of-success#a4> 

TELECOMMUNICATIONS IN A NEW POST-PANDEMIC WORLD: A FOCUS ON SECURITY SERVICES. [ebook] Check Point Software Technologies Ltd, p.3. Available at: <https://www.cybertalk.org/wp-content/uploads/2021/11/WP_Telecommunications-Post-Pandemic-210609.cleaned.pdf>.

PWC. n.d. Telecommunications innovation. Powered by 5G.. [online] Available at: <https://www.pwc.com/gx/en/industries/tmt/5g/telecommunications-at-5g.html> 

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