March 11, 2024

How telecom companies can adopt new software and reduce risk

How telecom companies can adopt new software and reduce risk

Telecommunication companies face an escalating threat surface due to the massive amounts of sensitive information they manage. The recent breach at AT&T underscores this vulnerability, as millions of its customers’ records were compromised through a breach in a third-party data handler. Unfortunately, this incident is not isolated and merely echoes a disturbing trend of data breaches.

In light of these escalating threats, implementing modern software with robust data protection measures is imperative. However, many jurisdictions require data localization for the telecom industry. This strategy involves storing data within specific geographic boundaries, enhancing control, and minimizing exposure to external threats. In the following sections, we will share a comprehensive guide to help telecom companies fortify their data protection strategies.

Context of data protection for the telecom industry

With the proliferation of mobile devices, IoT (Internet of Things) devices, and the burgeoning demand for high-speed internet, the telecom industry is witnessing an unprecedented surge in data generation and transmission. The industry now finds itself at the nexus of innovation and responsibility, tasked with not only facilitating seamless communication but also safeguarding the sensitive information that flows through its channels.

However, this digital transformation comes hand in hand with heightened risks of data breaches, cyber-attacks, and privacy infringements.

In this context, the topic of data protection holds paramount importance for the telecom sector. As custodians of vast volumes of sensitive personal, financial, and operational data, telecom companies face mounting pressure to fortify their defenses against evolving threats while simultaneously navigating various regulatory frameworks and compliance standards. From safeguarding customer information to securing critical infrastructure, the imperative for robust data protection strategies has never been more urgent.

We will explore the diverse array of data types prevalent in this sector for better context.

  • Call records

We all would love our call records to remain private and away from the public domain, even when we have nothing to hide. It is simply private and should remain so! Data privacy in the telecom industry focuses on keeping the records private.

  • Text messages and multimedia messages

Just as our call records, most persons prefer the content and metadata of their text and multimedia messages to remain private. Data security within the telecom industry seeks to ensure this.

  • Location data

Just over 20 years ago, identifying your location from your phone would have required some special tracking devices. Today, our Smartphones maintain a record of our current location and the places we have visited in the past few weeks or months. These are sensitive data that must remain private except at the owner’s insistence.

  • Internet usage data

Our browsing history, internet cookies, and other internet usage data that could be used to identify our internet usage preferences are private. The data protection drive in the telecom industry seeks to protect such data.

  • Subscriber information

These include details such as residential addresses, contact numbers, account information, etc. These are sensitive information that should remain private. Data protection in this space seeks to achieve this.

Other types of data that data protection in this industry seeks to keep private are customer billing information and network infrastructure data. In the next section, we will review why data protection is critical in the telecom industry.

Why is telecom data protection important?

Here are a few reasons why data protection is critical for your telecom company as a business leader:

Compliance with policies and best practices

Most countries have existing data privacy requirements with severe penalties attached to defaulters. Furthermore, an increasing number of developing countries are adopting data privacy laws to govern data management within their countries. This is a critical reason why business leaders should prioritize data protection in their telecom companies.

Building customer trust

The success of a telecom company depends a lot on how satisfied their subscribers are with their services. Ensuring maximum data security for all client’s data is a great strategy to retain customers’ trust, which will contribute to higher customer retention.

Preventing cyber attacks

As highlighted in our introduction, telecom companies are prime targets for hackers. This is why data security is critical within this industry! Ensuring that all client’s data is very secure is the way to go for all telecom companies.

Competitive business advantage

Having a reputation for data security gives your telecommunication company a competitive advantage over others. In this day and time, customers prioritize the security of their data and will reward any company that gives them this security.

International data transfers

In the globalized telecom industry, adhering to international data protection standards is crucial for secure cross-border data transfers and maintaining competitiveness. Compliance enhances customer trust, privacy, and the company’s global reputation, reflecting a commitment to security and reliability in an ever-evolving digital landscape.

Telecom data protection laws

Several telecom data privacy laws around the world shape data protection initiatives in this sector. We will review a few of these data privacy laws, as well as Data Residency requirements by Country, in this section.

  • General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR)
  • The California Consumer Privacy Act (CCPA).
  • Telecommunications (Interception and Access) Act of Australia.
  • The Canadian Telecommunications Act.

General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR)

The General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR), established by the European Union (EU) in 2018, represents a key milestone in data protection and privacy regulations. It establishes stringent standards applicable to any entity handling the personal data of EU residents, irrespective of its geographical location. Among other things, it gives more rights to individuals regarding how their data is obtained, processed, and stored. Here are a few things to note regarding the GDPR:

  • Collecting and processing personal data

Personal data should only be gathered for clear, specified, and lawful reasons, and it should not be used in ways that are inconsistent with those original purposes. The processing of personal data must adhere to legal standards, ensuring fairness, transparency, and honesty in how the data is handled.

  • Data minimization

It mandates organizations to limit the collection and processing of personal data to what is strictly required for the intended purposes. This principle of data minimization emphasizes the importance of only gathering the necessary information and avoiding unnecessary or excessive data collection and processing practices.

  • Data storage

It stipulates that personal data should only be stored in a format that allows for easy identification of individuals for as long as it’s necessary. This principle emphasizes the importance of not retaining all types, including telecom personal data, beyond the necessary duration required to fulfill those purposes. It promotes responsible and efficient data management practices.

  • Confidentiality in data management

The GDPR also mandates organizations to process Personal data with stringent procedures that guarantee adequate security against unauthorized or unlawful handling, as well as accidental loss, destruction, or damage. This makes it critical for a telecom company to implement robust security protocols to protect sensitive information throughout its lifecycle. Thus ensuring confidentiality, integrity, and availability are maintained.

  • Individual rights

The GDPR grants individuals various rights concerning their data. These rights include the ability to access, correct, delete, limit processing, request data portability, and object to the processing of their personal information.

  • Penalties for non-compliance

Failure to comply with the GDPR can lead to substantial fines, reaching up to €20 million or 4% of the company’s global annual turnover, whichever is greater.

The California Consumer Privacy Act (CCPA)

In 2020, California took a giant leap forward in enacting a telecom data privacy law with the introduction of the California Consumer Privacy Act (CCPA). This law empowers residents with greater control over their personal information, requiring businesses to be transparent about what data they collect, how it’s used, and with whom it’s shared.

Californians now have the right to know what data is being collected about them, access their existing information held by businesses, and even request its deletion. They can also opt out of having their information sold to third parties and cannot be discriminated against for exercising these privacy rights.

Businesses operating in the state, or those exceeding a certain revenue threshold while handling a significant amount of California resident data, are subject to the CCPA. They must provide clear notices outlining their data collection practices, establish procedures to address consumer requests related to their information, and update their privacy policies to reflect the law’s specific requirements. Failure to comply can result in fines from the California Attorney General’s office, although a grace period allows businesses to rectify any violations before penalties are imposed.

The CCPA’s reach extends beyond California’s borders, impacting businesses located outside the state that collect data from its residents and meet the specified criteria. This “extraterritorial reach” signifies a broader trend towards stricter data privacy regulations, with the CCPA acting as a significant step forward for individual data control and business responsibility in the United States.

Telecommunications (Interception and Access) Act of Australia (TIA Act)

This telecom data protection law of 1979 (TIA Act) is a significant Australian law that regulates the lawful interception and access of telecommunications within the country. Its main objectives are twofold:

  1. Firstly, to safeguard individuals’ privacy by prohibiting unauthorized interception of their telecommunications, spanning phone calls, emails, and text messages.
  2. Secondly, it establishes a structured legal framework enabling authorized interception and access by law enforcement and national security agencies. These measures serve specific purposes, including investigating criminal activities and protecting national security interests.

Below are some of the key provisions of the TIA Act:

  • General prohibitions

The Act contains a broad prohibition, stating that no individual may intercept a telecommunication without the knowledge and consent of all parties participating in the communication.

  • Obtaining warrants

The Act delineates the procedures for acquiring warrants to lawfully intercept and access telecommunications. Such warrants are exclusively granted by authorized officials in particular situations, such as when there is suspicion of serious criminal activity or national security risks.

  • Data protection

The Act places responsibilities on telecommunications service providers to safeguard the privacy of customer data and collaborate with lawful interception warrants.

  • Exemptions

Under the Act, there are exemptions granted for particular circumstances, like the authorized recording of emergency calls or monitoring employee communications for valid business reasons, provided adequate safeguards are implemented.

  • Individual privacy

The Act ensures that individuals’ privacy is upheld by preventing intrusive and unauthorized surveillance of private communications.

The TIA Act undergoes continuous review and potential revisions to accommodate evolving technologies, legal interpretations, and societal considerations. This practice ensures the Act stays pertinent and efficient in balancing individual privacy with legitimate security interests amidst the dynamic telecommunications environment.

The Personal Information Protection and Electronic Documents Act (PIPEDA)

The PIPEDA is a pivotal Canadian law that dictates the procedures by which private sector entities collect, utilize, and divulge personal data during business operations. Here are some key provisions of the PIPEDA:

  • Emphasis on individual privacy protection

PIPEDA safeguards the privacy of individuals by granting them control over their personal information held by private sector organizations. This includes the right the following:

  1. Know what information is being collected, used, and disclosed.
  2. Access their personal information.
  3. Consent to the collection, use, and disclosure of their information.
  4. Withdraw consent.
  5. Challenge the accuracy of their information.
  • Promote responsible data handling

It establishes a set of principles that organizations must follow when handling personal information. These principles include:

  • Accountability: Organizations are accountable for the protection of personal information under their control.
  • Identifying purposes: Organizations must identify the specific purposes for which they collect personal information and obtain consent before using it for those purposes.
  • Limiting collection, use, disclosure, and retention: Organizations should only collect, use, disclose, and retain personal information as necessary for the identified purposes.
  • Security safeguards: Organizations must implement appropriate security safeguards to protect personal information from unauthorized access, use, disclosure, modification, or destruction.
  • Openness: Organizations must be transparent about their personal information handling practices.

PIPEDA extends its jurisdiction to the majority of private sector entities operating in Canada, though certain exceptions exist, such as government institutions, hospitals, and schools, which are governed by distinct privacy regulations. The scope of PIPEDA encompasses personal information handling within “commercial activity,” encompassing any endeavor aimed at generating profit or advancing the organization’s business objectives.

Main challenges regarding data protection in the telecom industry

Data protection in the telecom industry faces several challenges, primarily due to the nature of the data handled and the complexity of the telecom infrastructure. We’ll highlight some of these challenges below:

Large volume of complex data

Telecom firms gather extensive data like location, browsing habits, call logs, and app usage. Managing and securing such large volumes of data is challenging, as it’s crucial to comply with different regulations. Additionally, the variety of data collected requires varying levels of protection, raising concerns about the potential misuse of anonymized or grouped data.

Varying cross-border data transfer requirements

Owing to global operations and interconnected networks, data can move freely across borders, posing challenges in adhering to data protection regulations. Varying laws in different countries make it difficult for telecom firms to maintain consistent data protection standards across jurisdictions.

Activities of hackers

It will be difficult to talk about this without mentioning the existential threats created by hackers. Telecom companies face a high risk of cyberattacks because of the valuable data they hold. These breaches can result in significant financial losses, harm to reputation, and privacy violations for users if they are successful. To combat the growing threat of cyberattacks, continuous investment in cybersecurity measures and data protection solutions is essential.

Balancing privacy and security with business needs

Finding the right balance between strong data protection and meeting legitimate business requirements such as personalized services, targeted advertising, and service enhancement is tricky. Regulations and consumer demands are placing more emphasis on privacy, pushing telecom firms to innovate ways to provide personalized services while still following data protection laws.

Challenges with enforcement and accountability

Enforcing data protection regulations across different countries and holding companies responsible for data breaches can be challenging and expensive. It’s important to simplify enforcement processes and respond promptly and effectively to data protection breaches to protect user privacy.

How InCountry helps telecom companies stay compliant with data protection laws

The telecom industry is fast-paced and has seen several wholesale changes in the past few years. Major technological changes such as 5G, Cloud Computing, Artificial Intelligence (AI) and Machine Learning (ML), Satellite Internet, etc. are some of the major changes that occurred. At InCountry, we understand the pace of change in this industry, and we have developed solutions to help companies stay compliant with data residency and localization laws while focusing on their core business objectives.

With our Data Residency-as-a-Service, telecommunication companies can save the private data of their subscribers in the location where it was collected while having access to the same data from anywhere around the world. This service eliminates the need for companies to navigate the complexities of data residency and localization laws in different countries.

For telecom companies that use Salesforce to organize their customer workflows, InCountry’s Data Residency for Salesforce takes it a notch higher. With this solution, they can run a single global Salesforce organization and fully isolate data in countries requiring data residency for telecom. With InCountry’s deep Salesforce integration, companies can isolate, manage, process, and deliver fully compliant data to their users in regulated countries.

In addition, telecom SaaS providers have integrated with InCountry to provide a comprehensive modern solution with full data residency.

Contact us today; let’s discuss your needs and show you how much value we can add to your telecom company.