Big Interview

We are only as strong as our weakest link

Katia Gonzalez 3 2022.png

Katia Gonzalez speaks to Natalie Bannerman about her latest D&I project and the changing fraud and security landscape

Katia Gonzalez is ever the diversity and inclusion (D&I) champion, so news of her new Inclusion Hub came as no surprise.

Although still in the early stages of development, the Inclusion Hub – a joint project between founding companies, 26Five, ANNECTO, BICS, Cellusys, Gold Data, Hot Telecom, iBasis, NJFX, PacketFabric, SubOptic, Seaborn and Total Telecom – is a resource for connecting people of all ages, backgrounds and levels of seniority.

“The goal is to create a hub where young people can connect and learn from senior people in our industry. It’s also a place where companies can seek younger talent. And where women in the space can share their experiences,” she explains.

Described as a space for the underrepresented, as well as those that want to learn, the Inclusion Hub is still in the ‘field’ stages, with the group to have yet secured much-needed funding for the initiative. But it has already started gaining traction, having hosted a few events.

“There is a real need across the industry to do something – and now feels like the right time to do it. We are all undergoing big transformations, and this provides the perfect conditions to welcome newcomers – because we need to change and now is the right moment,” she says.

As a member of the Capacity editorial board, Gonzalez has made a big contribution to the discussion over the “softwarisation” of the industry, which requires an influx of software skills and talent into the communications space.

“For this we need new people. We need young people that know how to build APIs and how to cloudify, because it’s not native to us [telcos]. We have a very good opportunity to change a little bit of our DNA,” Gonzalez explains.

With many D&I groups popping up across the sector, one would assume that all bases have already been covered – but for Gonzalez businesses “still don’t know how to do it”.

“Everybody realises we are not very diverse in our industry. The higher up you go, the less diversity there is, but nobody knows how to get around that,” she explains. “When we talk to hiring managers, they just don’t know how to do it.”

That’s where the Inclusion Hub will come in.

Passion projects aside, Gonzalez’s role as head of fraud prevention at BICS means that security is something top of mind for her. In her view, our networks are only as strong as our weakest link. Given the highly interconnected nature of our platforms, this poses a very real threat.

“We are far off where we need to be as an industry. First, knowledge of network security is scarce and most operators are not able to invest in it, unless they are obliged to by local regulators,” she explains.

The other part of the problem is on the fraud front. “We are still working at different levels. We do not see the interest in looking at fraud holistically,” she says.

For many years, she says, the industry has been talking about fraud as being very focused on voice – but during the pandemic, there was a surge in SMS fraud.

“We really need to forget about focusing on just voice or roaming. We need to see fraud as a whole, and security is going to be a bigger focus area as we move to 5G and IoT,” she adds.

Encryption remains the best protection against fraud, and the promise of standalone 5G will add even more protection – for as long as it is 5G end to end.

“The speed of evolution is not the same across the world. Some countries are still operating on 3G networks,” she says.

“We can encrypt as much as we want but it’s an ecosystem. And when you have a weak link in an ecosystem, the whole thing is affected.”

As chair of i3Forum, fraud workstream Gonzalez works with its 30-plus tier one telcos to develop further standards and guidelines for the industry and its fight against fraud.

“The frameworks that we have published there are sufficiently well thought of to be adopted by most of the telcos. Our payment withhold guidelines, for example, has become a real standard in the industry,” she says.

Her priorities for the next 12 months include dedicating an ample amount of time to the Inclusion Hub project, focusing on the development of security “because we are going to need it more and more” and, lastly, as telcos continue to serve more of the enterprise market that aren’t experts in this area “it’s another entry point that we want to make sure we are properly covering”.

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