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Telco Outages: Third-Party Failures Have Tripled

In total, 50 percent of the incidents were caused by human error, accounting for 208 million user hours lost, 21 percent of the total.

By claudia glover

Third-party failures that knock telecommunications networks offline have tripled over the past 24 months, according to a new telco outages report by European Union Agency for Cybersecurity (ENISA). Human errors meanwhile have increased by 50 percent in the past year. System failures as a whole caused a shocking 479 million user hours lost.

A chunky 14% of fixed internet outages were caused by malicious actions, the report notes. Software and hardware failures were more common, however: some of these errors across the EU were dire: one fixed network that connected emergency services got taken down for three hours by a “software bug that caused an interconnection platform to fail due to a combination of circumstances”.

ENISA did not name the country in which the incident occurred, but said it affected emergency calls from all the other networks for millions of users.

Hardware failures also remain rife, the report notes.

Road Crews Also to Blame

In another incident, three high-capacity optical fibres were simultaneously cut, which caused “mobile internet and telephony and also fixed internet and telephony outage in a national level for three hours”. In two similar cases, the cables were cut as a result of road modernisation, ENISA said. The third incident was due to a landslide.

Telco Outages Report

However, the largest factor when it comes to mobile and telephone signal, and fixed internet, is human error. According to the report: “In 2019, the number of incidents caused by human errors has risen up to 50% compared to the previous year. More than one fourth of the security incidents were caused by human errors and these incidents account for one fifth of the total user hours lost (21%, 208 million user hours).”


The report continues: “As far as human errors are concerned, fixed telephony and internet are the most effected services, which doesn’t follow the general conclusion that mobile internet and telephony are mostly affected by security incidents during the last years”.

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What is Being Done to Mitigate Human Error?

As the telecommunications industries progress onto the use of things like 5G and cognitive technologies, these sorts of small mistakes with massive consequences will start to lessen. According to a study carried out by Sony Ericsson, the automation of things like daily network reports, anomalies detection and routine tasks, amongst others, will lead to a reduction in human error.

AI is also more accurate than a “static dashboard” and can cover plenty of the metrics which will not normally be seen in reactive operations.

The mobile sector in particular appears to remain broadly robust in the face of cyber attacks. Malicious actions are responsible for 10% and 14% of incidents in fixed telephony and internet respectively, however in mobile telephony and internet this percentage is much lower: 3% for mobile telephony and the same for mobile internet.


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