Aussie telcos granted more power to block SMS scams

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Australia’s mobile network operators are ramping up efforts to block SMS scams, with the Federal government granting Telstra, Optus and TPG/Vodafone new powers to identify and block scam messages at the source.

Mobile-based scams have skyrocketed during COVID. Telstra received 11,100 SMS scam reports from customers this year, compared to just 50 in 2020. As a result, Australians have lost more than $87 million to scam calls and text messages this year alone, according to watchdog website Scamwatch.

To step up the fight to block SMS scams, legislation will grant Australia’s telcos access to a richer set of data. This will let them use algorithms and artificial intelligence to better identify and block malicious voice and text messages.

The changes are designed to weed out scam messages, but do not apply to unsolicited messages sent by political parties.

How does it block SMS scams?

Telstra is currently running an internal pilot to block SMS scams. Its staff are helping to train the system to spot the difference between a legitimate and a malicious SMS, says Telstra CEO Andy Penn.

The new technology applies knowledge of what a scam SMS looks like as it travels across the network. This is done by automatically scanning the content of messages in search of suspicious patterns and characteristics, as well as considering other data such as time, sender, number of messages sent and recipient.

“We are developing a new cyber safety capability to help turn the tables on the scammers targeting Australians,” Penn says. “This latest capability is part of our Cleaner Pipes initiative to use our network expertise to proactively protect our retail customers, businesses and the nation more broadly against cybercrimes and scams.”

“We are now blocking 13 million scam voice calls on average per month on our network and now we are ramping up our focus on scam SMS messages with this new technology.”