Telecommunication means communication across a distance. From AM radio, amateur (ham) radio, and taxi dispatch networks, to broadcast networks, cellular networks, and satellites, never in human history have there been so many ways to communicate across space.
The industry has grown from Alexander Graham Bell’s days, in ways he undoubtedly never imagined. What once included a few points of land communication and radio, then became government-owned services, and now includes both private and public communication providers of a wide variety:
- Internet service providers
- Wireless service providers
- Radio broadcast networks
- Television broadcasters
- Cable companies
- Satellite television providers
While many companies include services in more than one category, there are telecommunication companies of every size communicating across an electrical wire, optical fiber, radio, light, and/or electromagnetic fields.
What do they all have in common?
Nikola Tesla may have envisioned power created with the earth’s resonant frequencies, a theoretically infinite supply of clean energy, but the rest of humanity has yet to catch up. Today’s telecommunication companies depend upon power generated in large power plants, usually by fossil fuels, renewable fuels (like wind, water or geothermal resources), or nuclear fission.
Now we also know for sure that computer viruses exist that are capable of taking out telecommunications, both directly and through the power grid.
Here’s what you need to know.
The Successful/Unsuccessful Cyber Attack
Spanish telecommunications giant Telefonica fell prey to a massive cyber security breach, a ransomware attack that also hit telecom companies in Portugal, Megafon in Russia, and a total of at least 150 countries in some capacity.
This cyber attack, though widespread in scope, was relatively ineffective and easily remedied.
So why sound the alarm?
Two reasons. One, simply because this particular malware was relatively unsuccessful, in some ways, it could be viewed as a warm-up: threat actors do not tend to fire once and give up. Rather, they learn from prior attempts, gain copycat threat actors, and strike again.
Secondly, because of new data, independently released by two cyber security firms, reveals that at least two other viruses out there could infect power grids.
Turning Out the Lights for Telecom
Security firms ESET and Dragos both released reports about a virus, Industroyer (also known as “Crash Override”) utilizing the capability that executed the cyber-attack on the Ukraine electrical grid in 2016.
This data follows on the heels of information publicly released about a US-created virus, Stuxnet, originally designed to sabotage nuclear capability in Iran (but like so many other lab creations, may have gotten out of hand).
That means that the number of viruses with known ability to cause power outages has grown.
What to Do About It
Like so many other threats of security breaches, each company has a decision to make: do something about it, or not do something about it. If we choose to act, what do we do?
In the case of a potential power outage, one could decide the “do nothing” route. After all, power companies deal with widespread outages every time there’s a major storm: it’s what their dedicated personnel and infrastructure prepare for.
How they handle viral threats is up to the power companies.
But since telecommunications companies rely upon power to operate, and experience their own cyber security threats, they can independently prepare for such attacks.
The key to winning the fight is a three-fold approach: defense, preparation, and support:
- Defend your system operations with the most high-tech cyber security protections available,
- Prepare by having a cyber security action plan at the ready,
- And enlist support that can stay ahead of the game through industry-relevant insight and top-notch threat mitigation tools.
Telecom, we’ve got your back.