Communications Service Providers

Stopping Scams is not a Technology Challenge

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Don’t give money to strangers!

Australians are being scammed and are losing money.  Somehow when a stranger calls and says, “We’re the Tax Office, you owe us money.  Pay up. With iTunes cards,” people who ordinarily perform and function well in everyday life hand over money to strangers.


What’s the trick?

Part of the conman’s trick here is to use technology to make the call more credible.  The scammer tampers with the Calling Line ID so the call looks like it has come from the Australian Tax Office.

Scams have increased as more people and organisations use the internet.  Scammers launch cybersecurity attacks over the  internet.  They digitally break into organisations such as banks and collect personal customer information that is used in subsequent scams.

With scams, the scammer contacts the intended victim directly, over the internet and over the traditional telecommunications network.  The intended victim’s own personal information stolen in the earlier break-in is used to make the fake demand for money more credible.  This tricks the victim into thinking the unsolicited contact is legitimate – the victim is deceived or coerced into releasing money.


Who’s responsible?  (Don’t blame technology).

Yes, someone should do something about scams, but the sad reality is we all contribute to helping scammers.  This is because the technology to reduce risk of scams exists today.  Stopping scams is not a technology challenge.

The bank which has its customers’ data stolen in cybersecurity attacks needs to improve its security.  The telco which doesn’t block known scams within its network needs to implement basic, decades old Intelligent Network technology.  The Intelligent Network call routing function can identify and stop suspicious calls before they arrive at the handset.

The government also contributes to making scams easier because it does not compel the telcos to implement scam call blocking, .  The Australian Government needs to remove obstacles to telcos blocking known scams, much in the same way the US Federal Communications Commission is doing. The government can also educate the community on the risk of scams and what to look for. The Australian Communications Media Authority recently released a discussion paper on combating scams and it is expected this will lead to a better policy and improved regulations.

The individual being scammed is of course partly at fault here. As a minimum, we all should install a scam-detection app.  I have the hiya app on my phone and it warns me, when the mobile phone is ringing, that the inbound call could be a scam.

All of these steps will incrementally reduce risk of scams but I’m not so naïve as to think these steps by themselves will make scams disappear altogether.  Conmen were around before the start of this digital age, they will persist and their scams will evolve.  Our response also needs to evolve.

Which brings me to the key entity which makes things easier for conmen and scammers – the internet itself.


The internet is also to blame.

While the internet is increasingly useful and ubiquitous, its original design as a network service lacked intrinsic features such as identification and privacy necessary to protect users from scammers.

This risk increases as more Internet of Thing end points come online.  As The Economist points out, “All those devices need to be able to verify who is using them. Nobody wants a hacker opening their garage door or adjusting the heating.”

In the medium term, digital identification and privacy standards such as Self Sovereign Identity (or Sovrin, based on Blockchain) will become part of the fabric of the internet. Traditional telecommunications networks are evolving from Intelligent Network appliances to Network Cloud running on internet technologies including Digital Identity.  Digital Identity will be embedded into the fabric of both the internet and telecommunications networks, giving rise to a “Trusted Internet”.

Users will have  confidence they are communicating with legitimate entities.


Australia can lead.

IBM develops its Digital Identity products for the global market at the IBM Security Lab in the Gold Coast. This means that today in Australia we are well positioned to take the lead and put Digital Identify to work, to not only reduce scams but be a leader in creating the “Trusted Internet”.  We can start making the internet more secure, more trusted and more private.


Client Technical Advisor to Telecom & Media

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