Telstra’s Security Operations Centre – Long Overdue

Telstra is approaching cyber crime detection from a different angle.

It could happen to anyone

Last month, a young woman in Toowoomba received an email from her bank, informing her of a $6000 withdrawal she had not made. Shocked, she logged into her account to discover the money was indeed missing. She immediately contacted her banks and asked them to freeze her account. She then contacted Telstra, her mobile operator, to suspend her mobile number and prevent the hackers from accessing phone banking. That’s when she received another massive shock. Someone had ported her number to Optus! Before the banks could freeze her account, the hackers had drained her entire savings.

With more and more personal data moving online, identity theft is becoming more commonplace. The hackers in this story probably got some basic information on the victim’s account ( for example, a birth date from this woman’s social media account) and used it to port her mobile number to another operator. In order to change one’s phone service, with an operator, it’s only the basics which are required : Name, address, and date of birth are often all that is needed. The change can be performed by with a single call to the new (destination) operator. Here, once they had her mobile number, they used it to reset her online banking password – and stole all her money.

Cyber Security – The latest technology trend

With cyber espionage, cyber crime, ransomware, and phishing, cyber risk is real and growing threat to everyone. It is no longer about big companies or celebrities being targeted, ordinary victims are subject to cyber theft. Major players in the technology industry are shifting their focus to cyber security, but unfortunately, it remains one of the most under reported technology trends.

After Optus invested $8 million last year in its new Advanced Security Operations Centre, Telstra has now jumped on the bandwagon. It has opened what is touted to be the first of a chain of Security Operations Centres that will deliver security services to Telstra’s many clients.

If Telstra’s full-year results are anything to go by, the tech giant has invested nearly $3.4 billion in its security division, 30% more than last year’s spend. This spending includes, among others, a $100 million investment in CrowdStrike – the security firm investigating Russian hacks into America’s political institutions. Telstra maintains a global security network of 500 security experts to monitor, detect and respond to security incidents swiftly and efficiently. Telstra is also investing heavily in machine learning and data analysis to better understand the tactics, patterns, and behaviours of cyber criminals and intercept them before they act. The company is working towards increasing collaboration between government, businesses, and community because it believes that cyber security cannot be handled by one of these alone.

Reimagining the future of cyber security

Telstra is approaching cyber crime detection from a different angle. Key features of its Security Operations Centre include:

  • Development of increased security capabilities for its government and enterprise customers.
  • Cyber risk management that combines machine intelligence with human expertise.
  • Strategies to improve security between device-to-device connections that are becoming increasingly common in the Internet Of Things.
  • Use of open source software (Microsoft Azure) that offers the telco giant the adaptability needed to meet customer needs while solving challenges of an evolving market.
  • Creation of dynamic new offerings in its managed network services.
  • Ability to meet data sovereignty requirements in a number of regions around the world,
  • Plans of expanding to more countries over the next couple of years.

“Secure Internet” – an innovative product

It is interesting to note that Telstra is trying to move out of the traditional network security services to a full-fledged security product that can be used by everyone – from individual customers and small businesses to large enterprises and government departments. Telstra’s CEO, Andrew Penn’s speech indicated that the Security Operations Centre could serve as an incubator for a product that could auto detect and filter out malicious network traffic, without the need for human interference. The product would focus on the establishment of secure connections and network-level controls that will enhance existing network security, making it stronger while remaining flexible and customisable.

Mr Penn also suggested that education would be a top priority of the Security Centre.  Telstra will work towards establishing learning and development programs to build cyber security knowledge among company employees, especially non-technical workers. More than profit, collaboration is the key driver behind this project. Cyber security needs to be treated as a “team sport”, and awareness campaigns among consumers and business community are both needed. Telstra will use education to make local businesses understand the need for cyber security and innovation to create marketable products to sell to them when they are ready. This two-pronged approach will not only strengthen Telstra’s cyber security customer base but also help them stay ahead of competitors (like Optus) who are also investing heavily in the field.

Hope for the best but plan for the worst

Consider the latest global malware attack that hit nearly a 100 countries in May this year. Computer systems of companies and hospitals were attacked in a global extortion plot that damaged Britain’s health system and shipping giant FedEx among many others. Cyber extortionists tricked victims into opening spam emails disguised as legitimate job offers, invoices, and security warnings; causing them to download malicious malware that corrupted their computers. The malware encrypted data using sophisticated algorithms and victims were asked to pay $US300 to $US600 if they wanted access back into their computers. An estimated 57000 computers were infected including those of schools, universities, clinics and the European telecommunication company Telefonica.

While Australia escaped this attack, the threat is looming closer. We could be hit at any time. Cyber crime is only getting worse, and good planning is half the battle won. Telstra and Optus seem to be heading in the right direction (finally) and we will be ready for any eventuality should cyber crime rear it’s ugly head in Australia!

Sources :

Neil Aitken

Having worked in 3 countries for 4 telcos on both voice and data products, Neil is in a position to give you the inside track. Get beyond the marketing messages to the best plan for you.