For Carriers, Security Threats Come From All Directions

NEWS ANALYSIS: Keeping threats away from customers is only part of a carrier's job—carriers also have to protect themselves.

security threats

FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla.—When your job is to carry someone else's messages, things can get complicated. This is why voice and data carriers make sure they're meeting the requirements for getting messages or calls to where they're supposed to go without losing them, and why they have meetings such as the Competitive Carriers Association annual meeting that taking place here this week.

One of the thorny problems these carriers are dealing with, like other organizations, is security. But for them it's a more complex problem than it is with some other organizations. The reason is that a telecommunications carrier is responsible for getting voice and data messages from where they originate to their destination. The voice messages are what you call telephone calls. The data messages are email, SMS messages, Websites and pretty much everything else you'll find on the Internet.

Part of the responsibility for moving the voice and data traffic is making sure that the contents won't cause problems for the customers because they're security threats. But there's more. Carriers must also protect themselves.

The job of protecting the carrier's network is substantial. Their networks are vast, with millions of users, and they're accessible to the public. In addition, they must deliver reliable service all day, every day. The responsibility is enormous, and so is the threat.

This may have something to do with why the Competitive Carriers Association asked me to do a security seminar at its annual meeting focusing on the carriers themselves and their networks. Despite the fact that I'm pretty cognizant on how corporate security can impact an organization, it was only while working closely with carriers and their vendors that I grew to appreciate just how enormous their task really is.

After the seminar, I spoke with one of my panelists, Angela Knox, about the roles that the carriers play in security. Knox pointed out that carriers have control over only part of the communications traffic that it serves to enterprises. A carrier can, Knox said, examine some types of traffic in real time. This is especially true with SMS and MMS messages such as those text messages you send and receive on your cell phone.

Knox, who is a director of engineering at Cloudmark, a security company that makes communications security products, said that real-time inspection of network traffic can play a critical role in making sure that some threats are removed from the messaging stream even before they reach users. This can help control some sorts of phishing, she said.

Wayne Rash

Wayne Rash

Wayne Rash is a freelance writer and editor with a 35 year history covering technology. He’s a frequent speaker on business, technology issues and enterprise computing. He covers Washington and...