Mobile operators help customers to help themselves in battle against spam

With a recent report from the University of Minnesota and AT&T Labs revealing that more than two-thirds of mobile phone users received short message service (SMS) spam last year, there is no denying that these kinds of attacks are creating a headache for mobile phone users. However, mobile users are not the only victims, as mobile fraudsters, spammers and scammers are becoming increasingly problematic for mobile operators.

In 2012, 4.5 billion mobile spam messages were received, with 350,000 variants of SMS spam reported. For operators, this illegitimate traffic has a range of undesirable outcomes. At the top of the list is revenue loss or leakage, which happens as a result of unexpected costs and imbalances in their interconnect agreements. The additional traffic created by unwanted text messages also squanders network resources and increases staffing and support costs.

For subscribers who are targets of these attacks, unsolicited messages don’t exactly promote customer satisfaction, leading to customer care complaints and increases in churn. In the worst cases, excessive fraudulent activity has even resulted in regulatory intervention from government organisations

Cyber security professionals have claimed that hackers and fraudsters are finding it increasingly easy to access a mobile user's chat logs and phone data, including location, contacts, mail and much more. This was echoed in a recent article from the Next Web, reporting that messages sent over popular Asian Messaging App, Line, are vulnerable to third party interception. Sounding this warning, at a recent Hackers conference in India, a team of young hackers demonstrated how easy it is to decrypt text messages sent through a Chinese messaging app.

With an open rate of 95%, compared with email’s 20%, it is no surprise that we have seen an explosion of SMS marketing from both a consumer and enterprise application perspective. Legitimate businesses are bursting onto the mobile marketing scene attempting to carve out a unique position, niche or vertical, but unfortunately spammers, scammers and fraudsters are doing the same, giving rise to a constant flood of unsolicited traffic. To put this further into perspective, Acision’s findings show that, on average, 5% of all messages are spam or fraud related, while the GSMA reports that this number may be as high as 20%.

The boom in SMS-related marketing has led to increased scrutiny of what customers see as acceptable and unacceptable spam, with some marketing deemed to ‘cross the line’ of legitimacy. This is especially true in regards to low-cost, bulk SMS delivery. Such delivery providers’ primary business model is to send message traffic at lower costs than mobile network operators (MNOs). As such, the quality of service is not always guaranteed, as these companies offer different levels of price and performance, depending on connection agreements, if these are even in place.

Illegitimate messaging traffic can originate from a range of sources, including peer-to-peer traffic, application traffic and traffic from black market SIM boxes (or SIM farms) and other (foreign) networks. Some traffic or message content also contravenes operator agreements or violates content provider regulations and local laws. Gaining control of these threats requires a solution with multiple levels of control.

In light of the recent heavy investments made to facilitate the rollout of LTE and an increasingly competitive operator landscape, there has arguably never been a more important time for operators to efficiently ensure revenue streams are protected. Finding a solution that ensures leaks from unsolicited services are plugged as effectively as possible is more important than ever. Such an approach not only guarantees correct charging for services but also prevents the abuse of inter-operator agreements.

To combat the problem operators are challenged with protecting their network, service and revenues while ensuring their customers remain happy. One tactic operators can use is to close fraudulent access. This allows operators to minimise direct revenue leakage and encourages legitimate connection channels, improving revenue potential and ensuring that market pricing is enforced and maintained.

It is well known that mobile operators have access to large amounts of data. Intelligent analytical tools based on traffic patterns can be used to help operators detect issues and minimise their revenue leakage, allowing them to quickly respond to the continuous exploitation of weakness in the mobile network and mobile devices, and actively put protection methods in place.

Such a solution also needs to protect the network and subscribers alike in order to reduce customer dissatisfaction and comply with industry regulations. It should also operate across an array of technology, core networks, messaging platforms and handset variations. Such multi-layered solutions can be delivered at a network level effectively filtering a range of potential threats, from SIM box fraud to phishing attacks and everything else in between.

As mobile users continue to rely on the ubiquity and reach of SMS, the threat of mobile fraudsters, spammers and scammers is likely to remain. To protect its customer’s and ensure revenues stay high and churn levels low, mobile operators require a holistic solution that detects and prevents all fraud and spamming techniques.

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