Expert weighs in on cyber security following massive AT&T network outage

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MILWAUKEE (CBS 58) — AT&T is paying out hundreds of thousands of dollars to make up for a network glitch last week that left thousands of AT&T customers without their cellphones for hours. We spoke with a cyber security expert about lessons learned.

And it’s important to note up front, the company says last Thursday’s outage wasn’t a cyber attack, but security experts say we certainly can learn from it. The steps you take today can help you in the future if a cyber attack does take down a major carrier.

“When I woke up in the morning, it wasn’t working,” said James Singleton, AT&T user in Milwaukee.

This Milwaukee resident went through the stress of wondering why he couldn’t make a call.

“I thought something was wrong with the phone, and yeah, I didn’t really know what was going on. It was really frustrating. And you know, you do everything with your phone, kind of like your bank cards or credit cards or anything,” said Singleton.

Cyber security expert Brian Ledbetter says in this case, users still had access to Wi-Fi calling and messenger apps, but a cyber attack could have crippling consequences on those, too. One thing you can do is get a backup carrier.

“You can have multiple carriers on one mobile device, and folks who are interested in that, they just need to reach out to the other carriers and they will walk them through the steps to make that happen. If you’re with AT&T and you’re like oh, what if they go down again? Add another SIM to your device, which a SIM literally just allows the device to talk to a carrier. And so have a backup SIM and you’ll be fine,” said Ledbetter, cyber security expert with Guidepoint Security.

Ledbetter says companies like AT&T have an IT security team constantly watching for threats, but you should be prepared anyway. Talk to loved ones. Have a plan in place should communication lines go down.

“Let’s say all communication was taken off. You didn’t even have a landline to talk to anybody. That just goes back to the scenario planning, you know, a common meeting place. Do you go to a friend’s house? Do you go from one city to another city? Those are types of plans that should exist for every home,” said Ledbetter.

AT&T sent a message to some customers apologizing for the outage. And now, the company says those impacted will receive a $5 credit. Some say that’s fine. Others say no way.

“It isn’t like it’s something that’s been happening frequently, so, and I’m sure that they got the capability to straighten it out, learn from this experience and move forward,” said Brian Smith, AT&T user in Milwaukee.

We asked, “What do you think about AT&T’s apology to customers?”

“I think it could’ve been better than a $5 credit. They could give a better credit, at least a $100 credit,” said Singleton.

We didn’t know for several hours what was causing the outage last week, but what we did see has given some reassurance. Federal authorities really jumped to action fast. The FBI, Homeland Security and the Federal Communications Commission all worked together to make sure there was not a bigger threat.

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