Burglars Bring Down Vodafone Network

Vodafone UK suffered a major network outage on Monday following a break-in on Sunday night at one of the operator's technical facilities, leaving many customers without voice, SMS and Internet services.

The operator estimates that several hundred thousand customers may have been affected, and services were not fully restored by lunchtime on Monday.

The break-in occurred at an exchange located in Basingstoke, U.K. An operator spokeswoman told Light Reading Mobile that "specialist networking equipment" and "IT hardware" were stolen and that police are investigating the incident. The spokeswoman was unable to provide details regarding exactly what kind of equipment and hardware was stolen.

The spokeswoman also said that the services outage is confined to "part of the M4 corridor," which is an area in the southeast of the country that is home to the U.K. headquarters of many telecom operators and equipment suppliers.

Vodafone issued the following statement on Monday morning: "We had a break in last night at one of our technical facilities which resulted in damage done to some of our equipment. This means that some customers may be experiencing temporary loss of voice, sms and internet services. We are working quickly to restore these and will be back to normal as soon as we can. There has been no impact on the privacy of customers' data."

Why this matters
This is a significant security breach for a mobile operator and one that caused a large-scale service outage.

Heavy Reading Senior Analyst Patrick Donegan says several aspects of this incident have implications for mobile operators everywhere.

“Vodafone UK is one of the world’s leading operators. If this can happen to them, you have to figure it can happen to anyone else," he said. "Second, the site targeted appears to have been a fairly large, centralized, site hosting a lot of valuable networking equipment. If a key site like this can be so vulnerable to physical intrusion, what does that say for the security of more distributed, more remote cell sites, which typically have less physical security?"

"And third, the actual attack seems to have been driven by the age-old motivation of simple theft of high-value goods at the target location. But what damage might have ensued if the attackers had been in the business of carrying out any one of the new cyber security attacks on the network that hackers with all kinds of motivation are constantly refining?”

For more
We'll bring the latest updates as this story develops.

— Michelle Donegan, European Editor, Light Reading Mobile

pdonegan67 12/5/2012 | 5:11:52 PM
re: Burglars Bring Down Vodafone Network

One of the questions that often comes up with clients is "Exactly how vulnerable are a mobile operator's sites to physical intrusion, anyway? I mean like, really, Bruce Willis and Matt Damon movies aside?"


I guess this report is for anyone that still needs convincing. If intruders can penetrate a key network facility in the home market of one of the world’s leading mobile operators, causing such a large scale service outage, what does that say about the quality of physical security at the more than 2.5 million sites that mobile operators have around the world, especially those more remote sites that aren’t in key central locations and where physical security is typically less robust?


How many heads of mobile network security are going to be getting calls from their CEO, CTO or Head of Business Continuity this week requesting an “update” on physical security at the company's sites?

Michelle Donegan 12/5/2012 | 5:11:51 PM
re: Burglars Bring Down Vodafone Network

Here's the latest update on the situtation from Vodafone:


Voice services "largely" back up and expectation is to be back to normal this afternoon. 

Vodafone's response to the question, Have you experienced anything like this in the past? "Nothing of this nature"

And as for what security measures Vodafone has in place at similar sites, the operator says:

"All our sites are protected by high level security systems - we're reviewing these with thepolice in the light of last night's break in."


Michelle Donegan 12/5/2012 | 5:11:48 PM
re: Burglars Bring Down Vodafone Network

Vodafone says voice and text services are now working again in the affected area. The rest of services are now expected to be working by end of the day.

So the service outage lasted about 13 hours. Yikes.

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