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Cybersecurity in telecoms – now needed more than ever

Yehia El Amine



Cybersecurity in telecoms

It comes as no surprise that the telecoms industry ranks among the worst in handling and fighting cybersecurity.

Although telcos have made immense leaps in protecting their networks and customers, the weak link resides among its employees and executives who poorly manage their passwords and access to their data.

Almost 43 percent of telecom companies have suffered from DNS-based malware in 2019 alone, noting that a staggering 81 percent of these companies were sluggish with their response, waiting three days to apply critical patches to remove the breach, a report by US-based cybersecurity firm, EfficientIP.

These attacks are costing organizations a lot of time and money, mainly due to their slow approach of handling data breaches, relatively requiring an average of three employees to collectively spend over 17 hours per attack.

“Last year, a single DNS attack cost a telco organization $622,100. This year, the research shows telcos lose an average of $886,560 from each DNS attack, an increase of 42 percent in just 12 months,” the report highlighted.

This is exactly why network operators are considered fertile ground for hackers far and wide, as each attack costs almost $600,000 on average to remediate.

In parallel, the target placed on a telco’s head attracts the most complex and sophisticated cyberattacks since they hold sensitive data for their thousands and even millions of customers.

“With a large part of their customer base operating online, strong network security has become a business necessity for the entire telco sector in general. Ensuring consistency and reliability in service is a crucial step towards providing elevated customer satisfaction,” the EfficientIP report highlighted.

This damage not only hits an organization’s pocket, but also its reputation among customer bases. According to the report:

  • 45 percent had to close down specific affected processes and connections.
  • 38 percent suffered cloud service downtime.
  • 33 percent reported a compromised website.
  • 31 percent endured in-house application downtime.
  • 30 percent reported sensitive customer information stolen

On the darker side of the spectrum, cybercriminals are targeting telecoms employees by blackmail and recruiting insiders within the company to leak information.

“Cybercriminals often use insiders as part of their malicious ‘toolset’, to help them breach the perimeter of a telecommunications company and perpetrate their crimes,” a report by Kaspersky highlighted.

According to the report, hackers rally disaffected employees through underground channels, or by blackmailing staff using compromising information that they’ve gathered from open sources, a classical Trojan horse behind enemy lines is applied here.

Almost 28 percent of all cyberattacks, and 38 percent of targeted attacks (state-sponsored, or competitive) involve criminal misgivings from insiders.

“The human factor is often the weakest link in corporate IT security. Technology alone is rarely enough to completely protect the organization in a world where attackers don’t hesitate to exploit insider vulnerabilities,” the intelligence report stated.

If it is an attack on a cellular service provider, criminals will seek out employees who can provide fast track access to subscriber and company data or SIM card duplication/illegal reissuing. If the target is an Internet Service Provider, the attackers will try to identify those who can enable network mapping and man-in-the-middle attacks.

According to numbers by SpyCloud, a US-based cybersecurity firm, 74 percent of employees, including C-level executives, working for Fortune 1000 telecom companies are reusing passwords across multiple work and personal accounts. Some of those sites will eventually be breached if they haven’t already.

These weak links can be identified by the human tendency to reuse the same passwords for multiple platforms and accounts, which when compromised, allows hackers to effectively implement a domino effect on that person’s whole online presence.

This is backed by research done by Verizon, which placed compromising or weak passwords as the number 1 method of account takeovers (ATO).

These attacks also take the form of a method called credential stuffing, where hackers flood a company’s servers using bots to try and steal credentials across a high volume of accounts in a short amount of time.

“Credential stuffing attacks may come years after a site is breached. Stolen credentials are typically kept within a tight circle of criminals for the first 18-24 months after the breach, to be extensively monetized with more sophisticated targeted attacks before being sold in combo lists on the dark web,” the report from SpyCloud highlighted.

There are numerous ways employees can defend themselves against a plethora of attacks, which should be encouraged by organizations to create a cybersecurity culture within the ranks.

Don’t click on suspicious links

We’re all used to seeing spam emails, messages and ads online, while they might look harmless, they might hold many sinister implications beneath.

Emails such as these usually appear as a form of claiming a prize from a competition that you haven’t even signed up for; if you have any shred of doubt about it, then just stay away from it, since it might contain malware that could wreak all kinds of havoc on your computer.

Listen to your PC updates

Our computers never fail in nagging us to install that latest update, which is why you need to fight the urge of clicking on that “postpone” button and do it right away. Always keep in mind that the majority of these updates are security related, and remember that the infamous WannaCry malware spread due to devices not being patched.

Avoid the 1-password-for-all tendency

Many people have a tendency to reuse the same password on all their platforms and accounts to eliminate the need of memorizing dozens of passwords. This approach should be avoided. If criminals figure out your password, your other accounts will fall under threat.

There are a number of security apps and software that enable you to localize your passwords in one place, away from the cloud, and tend to use password generators for each platform to keep passwords fluctuating on a regular basis.

Two-factor verification

Also known as 2FA, is simply adding another layer of security to your accounts. The most popular approach is receiving a text message on your phone with a code that you need to enter. This makes it harder for hackers since you’ve essentially removed one integral piece of the puzzle.

Mindful of public Wi-Fi

Many shops, bars, malls, restaurants and the like offer free WiFi, which is more often than not considered prime hunting ground for data. Thus, one should be weary of what they connect to while on that network.

Unsecured Wi-Fi networks could lead to the theft of your private data or devices being hacked.

The underrated power of VPN

Virtual Private Network, or commonly known as VPN, can be used in a plethora of ways to keep yourself away from the threats that surface online. Access your home network remotely or to limit your ISP from seeing what you are doing, or to browse safely on public Wi-Fi.

As many other services, there are a number of VPN services that tailor to specific needs, so do your research, pick the one that suits your behavior online and start using it religiously.

Backups and encryptions

How many times has an electronic device failed you, and made you wish that you had backed up the data? Which is why it is a necessity to back up your sensitive data and things you have been working on recently; thus, if something does happen, you can continue unhindered by the unfortunate loss of your device.

And the same applies for encryption.

While many people underestimate the importance of encryption, it is exactly here where hackers will look to exploit that weakness. So, get into the habit of encrypting anything you deem as sensitive data.

While all of these are being done on an individual level, it is up to organizations to increase awareness as well as encourage employees to remain careful and cautious about their online behavior, which will help foster a cybersecurity culture for all.


Yehia is an investigative journalist and editor with extensive experience in the news industry as well as digital content creation across the board. He strives to bring the human element to his writing.


Sanctioned Russian IT firm was partner with Microsoft, IBM

Associated Press



Sanctioned Russian IT firm

The Treasury Department on Thursday slapped six Russian technology companies with sanctions for supporting Kremlin intelligence agencies engaged in “dangerous and disruptive cyber attacks.”

But only one of them stands out for its international footprint and partnerships with such IT heavyweights as Microsoft and IBM.

That company, Positive Technologies, claims more than 2,000 customers in 30 countries, including major European banks Societe Generale and ING, as well as Samsung, SK Telecom of South Korea and BT, the British telecommunications giant.

Its clients also include the FSB, a successor to the KGB that “cultivates and co-opts criminal hackers” who carry out ransomware and phishing attacks, the Treasury Department said. The U.S. said big conventions hosted by Positive Technologies are “used as recruiting events” by the FSB and the GRU, Russia’s military intelligence agency.

GRU agents are the swashbucklers of Russian intelligence. The agency stands accused of spearheading the hack-and-leak operation that interfered in the 2016 U.S. presidential election to favor Donald Trump. Its agents also conducted the most damaging cyberattack on record, the runaway 2017 NotPetya virus that did more than $10 billion in global damage, its victims including the shipping giant Maersk and pharmaceutical company Merck.

The CEO of the software industry-supported Internet Research Institute in Moscow, Karen Kazaryan, said he was not familiar with most of the Russian IT companies sanctioned on Thursday. But Positive Tech is well-known in the industry for its annual Hack Days conference, which is scheduled for May 20-21 at a Moscow hotel.

Former CIA analyst Michael van Landingham applauded the naming and sanctioning of Russian IT companies known to have aided and abetted malign government activity.

“Naming specific companies can create incentives for educated and skilled Russians who might be able to obtain jobs elsewhere where they don’t support Russian state hacking,” he said.

Positive Tech’s specialty is identifying vulnerabilities in popular software such as Microsoft’s Windows operating system. The world’s intelligence agencies regularly lean on companies like it not to disclose potent vulnerabilities publicly when they find them but to instead quietly share them for hacking adversaries’ networks.

The U.S. did not accuse Positive Technologies of any such behavior and the Treasury Department declined to answer questions about the company’s activities beyond a press release.

Microsoft would not offer details on the the company’s business relationship with Positive Tech but did say it would comply with the sanctions. Spokesmen also said the company was removing Positive Tech from a list of more than 80 security software providers to which it gives early access to vulnerability information so they can make sure their customers get patches quickly. IBM also lists Positive Technologies as a security partner, offering customers one of its scanning tools.

IBM didn’t respond to requests for comment Thursday. Neither did U.S. tech companies HP and VMware, which Positive Technologies lists as technology partners.

On its website, Positive Technologies lists Russia’s Defense Ministry as among its first major clients, in 2004 when it was two years old with just 11 employees. It claimed more than 800 employees in 2018.

Russia’s biggest business database lists the company’s CEO and founder as Yury Maximov, about whom little is known other than he graduated from Moscow State University. The company did not respond to questions sent to press contacts on its website.

Positive Tech’s website boasts of a number of accomplishments, such as providing cybersecurity for the 2018 soccer World Cup hosted by Russia and publishing data that same year on 30 high-risk vulnerabilities. It said it opened its first international office in London in 2010 and its first U.S. office in 2012.

The company has sometimes used Framingham, Massachusetts, as its U.S. location in news releases, though it’s not recorded in city or state records as a business by that name. An office building with an address linked to the company is a co-working space that can be rented on flexible terms for “one person or more.”

Market research firm IDC listed Positive Technologies as one of the fastest-growing companies in security and vulnerability management in 2012, in part because it was so small at the time, growing nearly 82% year-over-year to $30 million in worldwide revenue. Nearly all that revenue came from assessing vulnerabilities. But by 2015, its worldwide revenues fell 37.6% to $26.5 million, according to IDC, which eventually stopped tracking the company.

By FRANK BAJAK and MATT O’BRIEN AP Technology Writers

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Cybersecurity market to reach $300bn by 2027

Yehia El Amine



Cybersecurity market

The beginning of April was considered the worst week for social media firms across the aisle, as news headlines as far as the finger can scroll were swamped with news of billions of user accounts were leaked on a hacker forum for sale.

Leaks affected social networking giants such as Facebook, popular audio drop-in app Clubhouse, and the Microsoft-owned LinkedIn. These are but a glimpse of how businesses across the world and different industries are susceptible to breaches and leaks.

One cannot argue that such data leaks caught the eyes of many, from Big Tech to your everyday consumer, prompting a deeper look into cybersecurity on every scale.

A sentiment not only expressed through feelings of worry but also backed up by numbers.

According to a recent report by Allied Market Research, the cybersecurity market is on its way to reach $304.91 Billion, Globally, by 2027 at 9.4 percent CAGR; a market that had only generated $149.67 billion in 2019.

Drivers, restraints, and opportunities

An increase in malware and phishing threats among enterprises, rise in adoption of the Internet of Things (IoT) and Bring Your Own Device (BYOD), as well as demand for cloud-based cybersecurity solutions drive the growth of the global cyber security market.

However, budgetary constraints and complexities involved in the security of devices hinder the market growth.

“On the other hand, surge in adoption of mobile device applications and platforms, requirement for strong authentication methods, and transformation of the traditional antivirus software industry present new opportunities in the coming years,” the report noted.

Impact of COVID-19 on the cybersecurity market

According to the report, the number of cyberattacks has been increased during the lockdown as many organizations adopted the work from home strategy. “The need to implement cybersecurity for addressing security issues and facilitating secured access increased considerably,” the study stressed.

Not only that, one of targets by hackers were classified as being hospital data, healthcare apps, and wearable devices – which have been increased as the volume of patient data increased. “The need to secure and authenticate data in healthcare organizations surged,” the authors advised.

It is important to note the rise in COVID-19-related phishing and ransomware attacks, which is due to the utilization of the virus as bait to lead brands astray and attack their websites and apps.

“Cybersecurity providers have been focusing on innovations and development of advanced solutions by including features such as cloud security & AI-integrated solutions to deal with new types of viruses and ransomware used by attackers,” the report said.

The solution segment to maintain its highest contribution

Based on component, the solution segment accounted for the largest market share, contributing to more than two-thirds of the total share of the global cybersecurity market in 2019, and will maintain its highest contribution in terms of revenue during the forecast period.

“This is due to rise in need for vulnerability assessment, penetration testing, and compliance with the leading federal, defense, and industry security standards,” the report said; however, it also found that the services segment is projected to witness the largest CAGR of 11.2 percent from 2020 to 2027, owing to surge in cyber-attacks on the IT infrastructure of organizations.

The on-premises segment to maintain its dominant share

According to predictions based on deployment, the on-premises segment held the largest share in 2019, contributing to more than half of the global cyber security market, and is expected to maintain its dominant share during the forecast period.

“This is due to rise in need to secure critical data and track the influx of data within the organization,” the report said. However, the cloud segment is estimated to manifest the highest CAGR of 11.2 percent from 2020 to 2027, owing to lack of capital cost and low maintenance cost.

North America to continue to lead by 2027

Based on region, North America contributed to the highest market share in 2019, accounting for nearly one-third of the total share of the global cyber security market and will continue to lead by 2027.

“This is attributed to presence of major key players, high ICT spending, and huge number of cyber-attacks on various enterprises,” the study highlighted.

However, Asia-Pacific is estimated to portray the fastest CAGR of 11 percent during the forecast period, owing to adoption of wireless & mobile devices, rise in cyber-crimes, increase in awareness regarding data security, and strict security standards & government policies.

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Biden names 2 ex-NSA officials for senior cyber positions

Associated Press



Biden names 2 ex-NSA officials for senior cyber positions

President Joe Biden has selected two former senior National Security Agency officials for key cyber jobs in his administration, the White House said Monday in moving to fill out a team whose role has grown more urgent after two major hacks that have consumed the government’s attention.

Chris Inglis, a former NSA deputy director, is being nominated as the government’s first national cyber director. Jen Easterly, a former deputy for counterterrorism at the NSA, has been tapped to run the Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency at the Department of Homeland Security. The two officials are expected to work closely with Anne Neuberger, the administration’s deputy national security adviser for cyber and emerging technology.

The cyber director position, a job established by federal law and long championed by lawmakers and outside experts, is designed to help ensure a more streamlined strategy and coordinated response to cyberattacks that invariably pull in officials from multiple agencies. In filling it with a veteran intelligence and national security expert, Biden is likely signaling the importance of cybersecurity to his administration as it continues to grapple with two major cyber incidents.

“I’m proud of what we are building across the U.S. government when it comes to cyber,” national security adviser Jake Sullivan said in a statement announcing Biden’s plan to nominate Inglis and Easterly. “We are determined to protect America’s networks and to meet the growing challenge posed by our adversaries in cyberspace — and this is the team to do it.”

The administration is expected to soon announce a response to the SolarWinds hack, a breach of federal government agencies and American corporations believed to have been carried out by Russian hackers, and has also been occupied by an intrusion affecting Microsoft Exchange email software. The company has said that hack was carried out by Chinese state hackers.

Former President Donald Trump, who was seen as minimizing the importance of cybersecurity as he diminished Russian interference in the 2016 presidential election, eliminated the position of cybersecurity coordinator at the National Security Council in 2018. The move was widely condemned by lawmakers at the time who said it made no sense to do so with mounting hostile cyberthreats from adversaries.

The Cyberspace Solarium Commission, a bipartisan group that had recommended the establishment of a cyber director position, praised the appointments, saying “the need for a leader with statutory authority to coordinate the development and implementation of a national cyber strategy to defend and secure everything from our hospitals to our power grid could not be more clear.”

Sen. Angus King, an independent from Maine who has previously expressed frustration with how long the Biden administration took to fill the position, said he’s hopeful the appointments can be quickly confirmed by the Senate.

“We don’t want to rush the process in any way. On the other hand, another attack could occur at any moment,” King said.

Inglis spent 28 years at the NSA, including as a top deputy of the spy agency. His former boss, Gen. Keith Alexander, called Inglis a level-headed leader who excelled at bringing different groups together. He said he had a deep knowledge of U.S. adversaries’ capabilities.

“The seven years that I was with him, I was thankful for every day that he was there,” Alexander said. “He’s a master at working with people and getting people to work together.”

Besides her job at the NSA, Easterly also served on the National Security Council as senior director for counterterrorism and special assistant to the president in the Obama administration, and as a managing director of Morgan Stanley, heading the firm’s cybersecurity fusion center.

Easterly’s private-sector experience will also be valuable at CISA, said Thomas Warrick, a former Department of Homeland Security official.

“Her years at Morgan Stanley give her greater knowledge about how the private sector and CISA will need to work together to address today’s cybersecurity challenges,” Warrick said. “Her nomination bodes well for the kind of leadership that’s needed at CISA today.”

A third official with cyber experience, Robert Silvers, was announced Monday as the president’s pick for Under Secretary for Strategy, Policy, and Plans at the Department of Homeland Security.

The planned nominations were first reported by The Washington Post.


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