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Data Security: How are MNOs managing this in the digital era?

Data security is impacting the telecommunication industry significantly. The digital transformation shift has seen more and more awareness placed on the value of data as well as a stark increase in data volumes. This associated value has made data a hot commodity, and in doing so a target for cybercriminals. We have said it before, and we will say it again, data is an organisation’s biggest asset – this is why it needs to be protected and secured.

data security

Understanding data security 

To understand the importance of data security within the context of the telecommunications industry, it is essential to define this term. Simply put, data security is the practice of protecting digital information from unauthorised access, corruption, and theft. This process often requires a multi-layer security concept that addresses every aspect of the MNOs network, including software, hardware, servers, and network infrastructure.

You may be wondering why data security has become such a trending topic, and the reason is digital transformation. The shift to digital and implementation of technological advances, especially where the Internet of Things (IoT) and cloud computing are concerned, has led to increasing volumes of data that MNOs need to collect, store, and utilise. The data collected by MNOs is incredibly valuable as they store and manage large volumes of personal information and sensitive data, including customers names, browsing habits, data and network usage, and more. This information is sensitive and thus valuable to cybercriminals wanting to utilise it for illegal activities like fraud. 

rise of data - data security

This sheer volume and value of the data being collected by MNOs has made data security more complex and challenging to monitor and secure. So much so, that there have been multiple new privacy regulations developed globally, including the European Union’s General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) and the Protection of Personal Information Act (POPI Act) in South Africa. These regulations provide guidance and set out critical compliance requirements for data protection standards that should be followed to ensure the highest levels of data security. 

To keep their customer and corporate information safe and secure, MNOs need to ensure that their data security and data privacy measures are a priority, in line with regulatory compliance, and are not an afterthought. This is often difficult considering that the MNO landscape is constantly evolving and has many different moving parts vulnerable to threats. We examine these threats in more detail below. 

data security and digital transformation

Data Security Threats Related to Digital Transformation

Data security threats within the context of telecommunications are vast and wide, especially considering the complexity of a network and the number of moving parts and how the industry is evolving in terms of new technology. GMSA identified the following threats, in their Security Landscape Report, that are affecting MNOs:

  • IoT Ecosystem Threats – With digital transformation, IoT devices have increased in popularity. The threat comes in when there are several poorly controlled commercial and corporate IoT devices, including mobile devices, connecting to business networks. This opens up the network to vulnerabilities, especially where botnet attacks and malware are concerned. One way of managing this threat is for MNOs to secure and track all IoT devices on their network and monitor these for abnormal activities. 
  • 5G Threats – the fifth generation network brings with it many great opportunities but also a number of threats related to the explosive growth of the use of connected devices, IoT security concerns and more. 5G also poses an opportunity for hackers and cybercriminals to utilise the faster network to break past security for older generation networks like 2G, 3G and 4G, which are still used globally. MNOs need to ensure that they are 100% compliant with global 5G security standards to manage this threat. MNOs should also have several tools, policies, and solutions to identify threats and mitigate these risks in real-time. One such solution is a fraud detection and management system.  
  • 3rd Party Supplier/Application Threats – although cyber attackers rarely directly attack MNOs they do often go after suppliers of third party applications. To mitigate this risk, MNOs need to know who they are working with and ensure these suppliers have security protocols in place. To do this, MNOs need to assess their suppliers and adjust their operational security accordingly. 

These threats are just the tip of the iceberg in terms of data security threats affecting MNOs. You also have threats relating to signaling threats, software threats, human error, cloud storage, social engineering attacks, insider threats, ransomware, and the list goes on. With so many threats out there, how are MNOs prioritising data security? We examine this in more detail below. 

data security and MNOs

How are MNOs prioritising their data security? 

There are a number of data security types that MNOs are utilising as protective measures against data security threats and to ensure information security. This includes: 

  • Data Encryption – relates to encrypting data with a code where only authorised people can access that data. This often utilises two-factor authentication, multi-factor authentication, encryption keys, data classification and more to prevent a security breach.
  • Data Masking – data masking refers to the “hiding” or masking of certain pieces of data to protect them from being disclosed to those without authorised access controls.
  • Data Erasure – refers to the removal of inactive data that needs to be deleted permanently from all systems.
  • Data Backup and Disaster Recovery – in the case of data loss, this process ensures that data is backed up and that there are copies available if an organisation needs to recover the data should it be erased, corrupted or stolen during a data breach. 

The above mentioned data security types are often utilised as a part of a multi-layered data security program that MNOs would use across all aspects of their hardware, software, and infrastructure. This approach would include utilising anti-malware and antivirus software.  These data security measures assist in preventing those with unauthorised access from accessing data and aim to alert an MNO to potential threats. 

To ensure that data security is as effective as possible, MNOs need to follow data security best practices. These include auditing their security protocols, making sure that they are in line with the evolving global protocols for data protection, consistently tracking and managing threats, where they are coming from, and ensuring that the latest security versions are in place. 

Conclusion

With technology continuously evolving, the telecommunications industry needs to ensure that data security is not an afterthought but rather a proactive practice. With 5G, IoT, and third party application adoption on the increase, MNOs are more vulnerable to threats due to the sheer volumes of data and the increasing number of sources from which this data is coming.  To prevent threats, MNOs need to ensure that they have the correct data security measures in place to mitigate these risks. 

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