Telcos at Risk of Web Bugs

Service providers face security learning curve as they roll out next-generation Web services

Network service providers may be overlooking key points of security in their rush to roll out new, Web-based services, experts say. (See Odds Are, You're at Risk.)

Many service providers are currently focused more on pushing out services like VOIP, Web-based management interfaces for PBXs, and online service-ordering, than on securing them -- leaving emerging services and Web-enabled network devices vulnerable to attack, security experts say.

"The market is pushing for NGN [next-generation network] things," says Nicholas Fischbach, senior manager for network engineering and security at European service provider COLT Telecom. "The risk we see is that the focus on NGN solutions is in making them work. [Service providers] spend more time making it walk before looking into security."

Service providers' Web-based products are open to the same kinds of bugs and attacks that any Website would be -- including cross-site scripting, SQL injection, content spoofing, or stealing user passwords, experts warn. "A vulnerability is a vulnerability no matter what market you're in," says Caleb Sima, CTO of SPI Dynamics.

NGN capabilities give customers control over their services via Web-based interfaces, such as those that let enterprises customize their VOIP implementations. "You're seeing a lot of applications being used today [in these services] that were not [written] for the Internet, but to sit behind the firewall at the enterprise, with no external threats," says Fischbach, who gave a briefing on NGN security at the recent CanSecWest conference.

And it's not just the service providers' Web-based applications that are at risk. Network devices, as well as the equipment providers place at their customers' sites, are vulnerable, too. "Network gear is a good target. Once you control the network, there isn't much you can't do," says Jeremiah Grossman, CTO of WhiteHat Security. Attackers could target everything from routers, switches, and firewalls to load-balancers, DSL routers, and even UPS systems, he says.

If an attacker wanted to gain administrative privileges on a router, for instance, he could execute a cross-site scripting (XSS) attack on the Web interface or an SQL injection or cross-site request forgery (CSRF), he says.

It's both a technological and cultural problem. "Some of the [telco] network solutions deployed today are secure because they are not reachable, such as traditional voice switching. But when you move to SIP [Session Initiation Protocol for VOIP], it starts to open up networks that used to be private," Fischbach says. "That's something most people forget when they do NGN."

Virtualization in firewalls or PBX services could also introduce risk, Fischbach notes. "You want to make sure a person from company A on your firewall or PBX doesn't leak to another customer, or fiddle with the security interface in the domain.

"Web app security is not easy... But we're getting there," Fischbach says of the telco community.

— Kelly Jackson Higgins, Senior Editor, Dark Reading

  • COLT Telecom Group plc (Nasdaq: COLT; London: CTM.L)
  • SPI Dynamics
  • WhiteHat Security

  • Editors' Choice
    Jeffrey Schwartz, Contributing Writer, Dark Reading
    Jai Vijayan, Contributing Writer, Dark Reading