Why we need to go beyond firewalls to optimize mobile networks

Written by
GMS

The telecoms world has become more aware of fraudulent practices in recent years. As part of their network protection and revenue assurance initiatives, an increasing number of MNOs are deploying firewalls to protect their SMS and SS7 connections.

It is partly this increase in deployments that will drive the future fall in grey route (and increase in white route) traffic predicted by Mobilesquared’s analysts. However, firewall providers typically focus only on the network and their firewall solution and are largely disinterested in the broader strategic context.

GMS understands this well: we have been “in the trenches” with MNOs for years now, securing and monetizing P2P, A2P, and P2A traffic through a comprehensive suite of managed services.

A good firewall

To be sure, deploying a firewall is essential to securing a network, but it is equally important to consider how that firewall is operated and maintained. Rules need to be updated as threats emerge and must be based on a keen understanding of the manipulations and tricks used by dishonest agents within the market.

Steps like this help take a firewall beyond a filter for messaging, to become a tool in other revenue assurance initiatives like defending against SIM boxes/farms. Furthermore, the efficacy of firewalling efforts needs to be monitored through accurate reporting.

In GMS’ view, this includes a service level breakdown, so we can see which services are being manipulated (see below). To add to this, we conduct network-wide testing – rigorously testing services and monitoring the messages as they pass from the sender to the end device. Firewall vendors typically do not do this, or else lack the hubbing experience to do so effectively and rigorously.

Operators are already keenly aware of these necessities. For example, in ROCCO Research’s signaling firewall vendors report the proportion of MNO respondents listing “real-time notification capabilities” among their top requirements of their SS7 firewall rose from 9% in 2017 to 15% in 2018. This put it just behind the ability to categorize and detect SS7 attack types, as the second most sought-after requirement (out of a possible 14 options).

The same survey indicated that over the same time period, those listing “deep knowledge of signaling fraud market and trends” rose from 7% to 10%, and “technical support from signaling experts” rose from 4% to 9%. Meanwhile, interest in “managed service offerings and capabilities” rose from just 1% to 5%, even as more conventional protection requirements are losing their (perceived) importance.

Overall, this indicates that operators are starting to see a curated, responsive service as a critical complement to their firewall coverage.

Expertise

Clearly, the consensus is shifting towards a view that technology alone is not the sole factor in nurturing an operator’s business; that expertise and strategic vision matter just as much. With over a decade of experience in monetizing mobile networks, GMS understands precisely why this is important.

What sets our Managed Services apart from a simple firewall deployment is our experience in tracking traffic and our knowledge of messaging routes. Among other things, this lets us find and reroute traffic over legal messaging routes, as opposed to just blocking it, ensuring timely and more efficient (billable) traffic retention.

GMS goes further by working with operators to anticipate threats and devise “traps” to capture and identify rogue traffic. This is particularly useful in the detection of SIM boxes, which are typically tricky to identify and block.

Meanwhile, our database of international services – and understanding of the routes typically used – helps us identify the source of any manipulation, which aids in the identification of the culprits.

This works hand-in-hand with an approach that covers the legal and commercial concerns affecting the MNO, on top of technical ones. Again, this means that traffic can be rerouted and contracts amended proactively; recouping, securing, and monetizing traffic rather than merely stopping it dead by blocking it.

The average technology vendor can’t help with projects like these, and those that can are still playing catch up as they learn about how the telecoms landscape shapes how SMS grey routes and other threats emerge.

Monetizing

The same principle applies to building and maintaining the MNO’s messaging business. A real managed service will aim to increase traffic by bringing operators and enterprises together. Even better, when pursued by the same team assisting the MNO with their revenue assurance and network protection.

As previous GMS clients have discovered, an understanding of all facets of the market is integral to attracting new traffic and revising contracts that clarify appropriate routing. Together these measures simultaneously grow the messaging business while ensuring it is billed correctly from the start. (And all before traffic even crosses the firewall.)

Bespoke projects work to increase legitimate traffic by attracting enterprise business. For example, GMS can develop billable P2A traffic, introducing new use cases – such as OS authorization – to grow this underappreciated channel. We also advise on the best ways to increase pricing, carefully gauging projected traffic volumes and the impact of price rises to create a schedule of incremental increases the market will bear.

Conclusion

All told, a simple firewall deployment is simply not enough to properly monetize a network. The technical solution needs to be backed up by expert maintenance and monitoring. At the same time, MNOs should be considering how to grow their traffic by encouraging new use cases and taking advantage of their newly optimized network.

Speak with our experts to begin discussing the best solution for your mobile network.

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