AT&T, Verizon battle constant network security threats

ASPEN, Colo.--With recent headlines about widespread cell phone hacking in the United Kingdom, wireless network security is a hot-button topic that has both consumers and enterprises worried about the safety of their communications.

From left: Major General Suzanne Vautrinot, commander of Air Force Network Operations; John Stankey, president and CEO of AT&T Business Solutions Group; and Dawn Song, associate professor of computer science at UC Berkeley.

During Fortune's Brainstorm Tech conference here this week, executives from both AT&T (NYSE:T) and Verizon (NYSE:VZ) said that their networks are under constant attack from hackers. "Literally billions" of attempts are made each month to break Verizon's firewalls, said Verizon Communications COO Lowell McAdam. 

Meanwhile, John Stankey, president and CEO of AT&T's Business Solutions Group, said that his company looks at 75 billion packets of data an hour on its network in an attempt to stay on top of any potential threats. "We have a full staff in AT&T Labs that pays attention to traffic, ID signatures and works inside the network to understand these things," Stankey said. "It's a never-ending process."

Stankey and other participants on the "Internet Security in the Age of Hacktivism" panel at the Fortune event described the need for companies to look "outside the perimeter" for potential threats to the network. Maj. Gen. Suzanne Vautrinot, commander of Air Force Network Operations, said that multiple layers of defense are necessary and that the Air Force has worked to make sure its networks are secure by limiting the number of "touchpoints" to the network.

Stankey added that at any one time AT&T could be watching 200 active botnets to see what the malicious software is doing. "We will watch those and their services and track their malicious IP addresses and set traps," Stankey said. "That's a form of offense--to learn more about the bad guys."

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