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TelePacific Network Outage: Cyber-Terrorism?

Federal authorities might be investigating an act of “cyber-terrorism” on TelePacific Communications’ network after the company suffered a major disruption last week that left many of its “SmartVoice” customers without the ability to make and receive calls.

The unprecedented attack” on the network occurred March 24 and March 25, TelePacific President and CEO Dick Jalkut wrote in a letter dated Monday to his SmartVoice customers.

Los Angeles-based TelePacific has engaged the FBI’s cyber attack division to attempt to identify the source of the attack, Jalkut said.

This event, which has been determined to be a cyber-criminal act, was from an external source that circumvented the normal protocol and prevention methods recommended by our vendors Broadsoft and Acme Packet and followed by those in our industry, including TelePacific,” Jalkut said.

Laura Eimiller, a spokesperson with the FBI in Los Angeles, said the agency cannot comment about specific cases.

But she said “the FBI reviews allegations and evidence of cyber crime when brought to its attention and initiates investigations where warranted.”

The attack affected TelePacifics SmartVoice” service, an SIP (session initial protocol)-based offering that allocates bandwidth to voice traffic. 

Jalkut said the cyber attack choked our servers and resulted in a significant loss of service to customers  in most cases an inability to make and receive calls.”  But the attack did not impact customers’ Internet or data services. 

Jalkut said the company confirmed the attack was originating from an external source when the network suffered another attack on Friday, March 25. He said the company restored service that afternoon by implementing additional security configurations on its session border controllers” that police traffic on the network.

In conjunction with our security vendors, based on this unprecedented attack, we have implemented additional monitoring devices aimed specifically at identifying and patterning any external traffic and other specific measures to reinforce our network to prevent a similar or greater attack in the future,” Jalkut wrote.  We take this attack on our network very seriously, and although by its nature cyber-terrorism is unpredictable and difficult to control, we have taken and will continue to take every step possible to shore up our defenses and ensure the integrity of our systems.”

Whether the attack on TelePacific’s network actually constituted an act of cyber terrorism remains to be seen.

“In the absence of formal charges, it would generally be premature to characterize a computer intrusion as terroristic or criminal in nature,” the FBI’s Eimiller said.

Jalkut noted TelePacific plans to share information related to the events during upcoming industry forums.

TelePacific did not provide further comments on the investigation when asked by Channel Partners for additional information.  

Federal authorities take cyber crimes very seriously. In a speech last year in San Francisco, FBI Director Robert Mueller said a cyber attack could have the same impact as a well-placed bomb.”

Osama bin Laden long ago identified cyberspace as a means to damage both our economy and our psyche and countless extremists have taken this to heart,” Mueller said at the RSA Cyber Security Conference on March 4, 2010.  

Ben Stiegler, CEO of SynerTel, a San Francisco-based telecom and managed IT solutions provider that partners with TelePacific to offer connectivity services to many of its business customers, said he received word of a global outage on the TelePacific SmartVoice network at about 10 a.m. on Thursday, March 24.

SynerTel itself has no POTs, or plain old telephone service, at the office and relies on TelePacific’s SmartVoice service, installed redundantly over multiple T1s.

Customers thought SynerTel wasn’t answering the phone. To make matters worse, SynerTel’s business customers that use SmartVoice  including a local corporation running five different businesses across several city blocks  couldn’t make or receive calls.

“Anything that had to do with SIP voice globally across TelePacific was dead,” Stiegler said.

Service was restored in the afternoon, he said, but the following morning at about 10 a.m., “it started all over again.”

Stiegler said that he made a call after receiving word from a business partner in Southern California that other carriers were experiencing serious problems with service delivery. He contacted InfraGard, a partnership between the private sector and the FBI dedicated to sharing information in order to prevent hostile attacks against the United States, including cyber threats to critical infrastructure.

As a member of InfraGard, Stiegler said he called the FBI and spent nearly an hour on the phone with a regional cybercrime agent to help him understand SIP telephony and how someone could mount an attack.

Stiegler said the network disruption over the course of two days resulted in “a lot of angry customers,” including those who threatened to cancel service.


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