Telcos face more cyber attacks amid 5G roll-out: Study

Danger felt even more with increasing number of users working remotely

The average number of cyber attacks experienced across all sectors increased to 9.5 last year from 9.45 in 2018.
The average number of cyber attacks experienced across all sectors increased to 9.5 last year from 9.45 in 2018.PHOTO: THE NEW PAPER

Telcos have consistently topped the victims list for cyber attacks that seek maximum disruption to Internet activities.

But recent trends indicate that these attacks are increasing in frequency and intensity, with telcos suffering an average of 11.4 attacks last year on their domain name system (DNS) infrastructure, which routes Internet user traffic to intended online destinations. This is compared with an average of seven attacks in 2017.

The data comes from the recently released IDC 2020 Global DNS Threat Report commissioned by cyber security firm EfficientIP.

The average number of cyber attacks experienced across all sectors increased to 9.5 last year from 9.45 in 2018.

The findings from a survey of 900 respondents across the Asia-Pacific, North American and Europe put 5G network roll-outs under the spotlight, as 5G technology will power a connected future where robots run factories and ports, and driverless cars ply the roads.

"With Covid-19 having caused a large-scale shift to remote work, telcos rely more than ever on a stable network availability and the high capacity needed to serve customers' requests as quickly as possible," said EfficientIP vice-president of strategy, business development and marketing Ronan David. "A successful DNS attack can have far-reaching consequences - not just for the affected provider but also for its customers experiencing disruptions and outages."

In 2016, Internet services on the east coast of the United States went down for a day after DNS provider Dyn suffered an attack, bringing down popular online services such as Twitter, Netflix and Reddit.

The Dyn attack was also indirectly responsible for two disruptions to StarHub's home broadband network in October 2016, when StarHub systems were inundated by traffic from users accessing services in the US affected by the attack.

EfficientIP's report indicated that awareness of DNS security is on the rise, with 77 per cent of respondents deeming it critical, compared with 64 per cent in the previous survey.

DNS security will play an increasingly important role in Asia as more new applications which rely on 5G's increased speeds continue to emerge in the next decade or so, said EfficientIP vice-president for Asia-Pacific Nick Itta.

For example, DNS attacks could cause even greater disruption in the future as the number of Internet of Things (IoT) devices increases exponentially with the roll-out of 5G, Mr Itta said. Such devices usually come in the form of sensors that record and transmit data over a network connection.

They can be embedded in anything from smartphones, TV sets and security cameras to industrial machines used in manufacturing, medical devices and driverless cars, allowing these objects to "talk" to one another.

Market research firm Gartner has estimated that IoT devices in use would grow from 8.4 billion globally in 2017 to 20.4 billion this year, with twice as many consumer installations as industrial ones.

More than half of Singapore will have 5G mobile network coverage by end-2022, with nationwide coverage to come by 2025.

  • 9.5 

  • Average number of cyber attacks experienced across all sectors last year.

StarHub launched 5G trial services in August, while Singtel and M1 followed suit in September.

In South Korea, there were 8.7 million 5G subscribers - or about 12 per cent of the country's 70 million mobile users - as of August, according to Yonhap news agency, after the country became the first in the world to roll out commercial 5G services last April.

South Korea is aiming to establish nationwide 5G coverage by 2022.

In contrast, 5G roll-out in Europe has been stalled by an ongoing debate over whether to ban the use of networking equipment built by Chinese telecoms giant Huawei.

The Financial Times reported in September that more than half of the European Union's member states had yet to launch 5G commercial services.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on November 03, 2020, with the headline 'Telcos face more cyber attacks amid 5G roll-out: Study'. Print Edition | Subscribe