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Hello and welcome to Armenian News Network, Groong. I’m Hovik Manucharyan.
In this Conversation on Groong episode, we’ll be talking about security in telecommunications in Armenia. Our guest is an expert in security and has spent over 8 years as chief corporate counsel for one of the biggest telecommunication companies in Armenia.
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Our guest today is David Sandukhchyan, who is a lawyer with 20 years of experience in telecommunications, cyber law, media and personal data protection. He was Chief Counsel for over 8 years at Beeline, one of the leading Armenian telecom operators, which operates Armentel. David is a certified ISO information security auditor, and works as an independent consultant out of Toronto, Canada.
Welcome and thanks for joining us again David.
Major milestones in development of Armenia’s telecommunications market:
Let’s spend 5 minutes informing our listeners how we got to today.
The telecommunications market in Armenia started with the monopoly of the incumbent operator ArmenTel owned jointly by the Greek state-owned company OTE (90%) and Armenian government (10%). The sale-purchase agreement granted ArmenTel (recently rebranded to VEON) exclusive rights to provide basic telco services including international Internet connectivity, mobile and fixed telephony. ArmenTel’s monopoly remained until 2005 when after a series of negotiations, the monopoly on mobile communication was abolished and the second operator entered the market. In 2007 OTE sold its shares to Vimpelcom, a Russian private company operated under the Beeline trademark. Shortly after that Armenian government agreed to sell Vimpelcom the remaining 10% of state-owned shares in exchange for liberalisation of all telecommunication markets. 2008 can be seen as the beginning of Armenia’s liberal telecommunications market. Today, Amenia has three major mobile service providers: two (VEON-Armenia and MTS-Armenia) owned by Russian businesses and one (Ucom) owned by a mixed capital of Armeian and Russian rich families. There are also three leading wireline operators: also, two Russian (VEON-Armenia and GNC Alpha also known as Rostelecom) and Ucom. One of the most recent development in Armenia’s telecom market has been Ucom’s intention to purchase VEON that failed due to criminal charges that were brought against one of its owners, Gurgen Khachatryan, the son of former head of state revenue service authority Gagik Khchatryan, who has been arrested and charged with misuse of the state budget and money laundering. The story did not stop there, but it’s outside of our scope here today.
Over the past few months we’ve seen a public tussle between Georgia’s regulatory commission and an Azeri company called NEQSOL which acquired 49% of Caucasus Online, a Georgian telecommunications company. How does this deal affect Armenia’s national security given that a significant portion of its internet traffic goes through Georgia (including Caucasus Online)?
External nation-state threats:
● Traffic analysis
● Denial of service
In general, purchasing or controlling shares (for example by an Azerbaijani company) does not immediately result in substantial threats for Armenia in terms of information security. The company would remain Georgian and in the control of the Georgian government and unless major shareholders would want a corporate risk of illegal spying on Armenian data traffic it would not affect the security of international communication of Armenian citizens and government. A slide from corporate integrity to pervasive international cyberhacking that affects the Armenian citizens and government would not go unnoticed and there would be opportunities for Armenia to react. However, this doesn’t mean that the situation will remain comfortable for Armenia: risk of interception of both voice and data traffic will constantly need to be monitored, assessed and managed on an ongoing basis. But the news is a good trigger to think how Armenia should secure its connectivity with the world and what should be done to improve resilience of the country’s communications system.
One of the solutions might be Armenian companies investing in trans-Georgian fiber-optic cable. Georgia has relatively (compared with other countries of the region) liberal telecommunications legislation including enforceable infrastructure sharing regulation. The first step the Armenian government must take is to encourage investments in building such a cable system that both Armenian operators and Georgian businesses may benefit from.
That concludes this week’s Conversation On Groong on telecommunications security in Armenia.
We look forward to your feedback, including your suggestions for Conversation topics in the future. Contact us on our website, at groong.org, or on our Facebook Page “ANN - Groong”, or in our Facebook Group “Groong - Armenian News Network”.
Special thanks to Laura Osborn for providing the music for our podcast. I’m Hovik Manucharyan, and on behalf of everyone in this episode, I wish you a good week. Thank you for listening and talk to you soon.
Additional: David Sandukhchyan, Armenia, Georgia, Azerbaijan, Artsakh, Karabakh, Russia, Turkey, Greece, Telecommunications, Caucasus, Armentel, Beeline, UCOM, Vimpelcom, VEON, Greece, OTE, Monopoly, FDI, Infrastructure, Investment, Cellular, Internet, Data, Fibre, Optic, Channel, Black Sea, Caspian, Cable, NEQSOL, fiber optic, Caucasus Online