Vodafone outage flags security risk

Soaring cable thefts and a break-in at a Vodafone network center in the UK serve as a reminder that network security goes beyond the virtual world.
Vodafone’s UK network suffered severe disruption yesterday after equipment was damaged and stolen from a network center in the south of the country. Several hundred thousand customers were left without voice, SMS and mobile internet access for much of the day as Vodafone scrambled its engineers to restore services.
The Vodafone break-in came the same weekend that UK police revealed copper thefts have now reached record-breaking levels that make the problem second only to terrorism in terms of the threat to national security.
Thefts are on the up as criminals seek to cash in on a lucrative scrap metal market. A total of 2,770 cables were stolen in 2010, up 65% on 2009, and 325 cables of up to 250 meters have been stolen so far in 2011, The Independent reported. The British Transport Police has called for new laws to stop the trade, it said.
Punch ‘security’ into the search engine on the TelecomsEurope.net homepage, and you’ll be rewarded with a wealth of articles covering the security of financial transactions, personal and corporate data, even the need for lawful interception of communications by governments.
However, these two stories make you wonder if the industry is overlooking the physical side of security. Vodafone itself was quick to state that the break-in had “no impact on the privacy of customer’s data ,” though that may have as much to do with a recent slating in Australia by consumers infuriated by persistent outages.
On the other hand, the carrier also pledged to revamp its security procedures, and had restored service to most of the affected subscribers by early evening.
Before thinking the thefts and equipment damage are more of a comment on the UK’s national psyche, let’s not forget that kit has been stolen as far afield as South Africa, in the form of SIM cards fitted to traffic lights, which John Tanner notes will be a whole new security headache.
There are twp interesting sidebars to the Vodafone break-in. First, that the carrier strove to first restore voice services, which flies in the face of all talk of mobile data reigning supreme. It would be interesting to know which service customers missed the most.
Second is that Vodafone is reportedly not going to refund the customers affected. If it were an airline, chances are it would be forced to pay back customers in some way, so is it time for a similar pledge from carriers even if the problems are due to physical interference?
Answers on a postcard.