We’ve all probably had a scam SMS message on our phones – that weird, unexpected, garbled, and invasive message with an invitation to click on the link to what is potentially a malicious website. But as SMS scams become more common, we’ve been working on a solution.
The number of SMS scams on Australians’ phones continues to rise. This year, Telstra received 11,100 SMS scam reports from customers, up from just 50 in 2020. Much of this explosion was due to the cybercrime campaign known as FluBot, a clear example of the evolution of technology and the intelligence of criminals.
To stay ahead of the challenge, our technology solutions are also evolving and we are developing a new cybersecurity capability to help turn the tide against crooks targeting Australians. The tool is designed to automatically detect and block fraudulent SMS messages as they travel through our network, stopping them before they reach your mobile phone.
This new technology is complex, but in simple terms it applies the knowledge of what a fraudulent SMS looks like as it travels through our network and if it looks suspicious it will block it. It does this by automatically scanning message content for suspicious patterns and characteristics, as well as other data including time, sender, number of messages sent, and recipient.
We are currently piloting this capability within Telstra, so any fraudulent SMS message sent to our staff helps ‘train’ systems to differentiate between a legitimate SMS and a malicious SMS. The more scams he sees, the smarter he will become.
During the pilot, which we will extend to volunteer family and friends of our employees over the coming month, there will be times when the technology requires manual intervention. A small technical team will access the platform to examine suspected fraudulent messages where sender and recipient data is deleted and unidentifiable to protect privacy. The platform is also configured so that it cannot be used for other purposes. It is secure to the same high standard as the rest of our network, with restricted and registered access. Once the system has reached the point where it can accurately and effectively block the majority of fraudulent SMS messages, we plan to activate it on our mobile network, possibly early next year.
The latter capability is part of our Cleaner Pipes initiative to use our networking expertise to proactively protect our retail customers, businesses and the country in general from cybercrimes and scams. We are now blocking an average of 13 million fraudulent voice calls per month on our network and now we are focusing more on fraudulent SMS messages with this new technology.
Even with all of this work, it’s important to understand that this won’t be a foolproof solution to scams; no technology is perfect, malicious actors will continue to find new ways to try to scam Australians, and texting will likely continue to be one of them. We all need to be aware of the possibility that when we receive an unexpected message, it may not be genuine.
As we expand our proactive ability to detect and block scams in all their forms across our network, phone, SMS and email, we will be able to keep Australians safe and reduce the amount of money irretrievably lost to crooks. We are proud to address this complex issue with the assistance of the federal government, which provides the guidance and regulatory changes necessary to support the development and use of this technical capability.
I have already said that Australia and its people are now constantly victims of cyber attacks. Text message crooks and other cybercriminals aren’t going to stop – and neither will we when it comes to protecting our customers and our networks.