Opinion Piece: Insights from the AT&T Outage

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On Thursday morning, AT&T announced a service outage that could affect hundreds of thousands of customers, underscoring the urgent need for utilities. Although AT&T’s initial statements indicated no foul play, the Federal Communications Commission is investigating the incident. The White House also confirmed that federal agencies are cooperating with AT&T, but specific reasons have not yet been confirmed.

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Controversy or not, this attack has a huge impact. AT&T said service was restored to all affected customers approximately 11 hours after the initial notification was received. Telecommunications such as those provided by AT&T are considered a “lifeline” by the U.S. government and are essential to national security, economic competitiveness, and the clean prosperity of society. Without these, the underlying process slows down and local conditions can turn into problematic processes.

Events like Thursday’s outage raise concerns about the potential for devastating impacts and whether we are prepared to deal with them. Threats to the telecommunications industry range from operational failures to deliberate cyberattacks by sophisticated actors such as the People’s Republic of China. Physical events such as cable outages or natural disasters also pose a significant risk.

Therefore, patience becomes important. Resilience must not only withstand and recover from shocks, but also reduce the occurrence of disruptions. While AT&T quickly restored service, even a worst-case scenario could disrupt communications-based systems and must be managed appropriately to minimize further disruption.

First responders and public safety communications should be a priority, but delivery is also critical to maintaining critical services such as medical and financial. Telecommunications that support data centers and cloud services are an important contribution to national infrastructure and, as a recent study by the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace highlights, the possibility of risk.

In the face of evolving threats and increasing dependence on interconnected systems, ensuring the resilience of critical infrastructures such as communications is of critical importance for national security, security and health.