How governments communicate during the pandemic is a tricky business. Other than regular TV bulletins, it’s hard to pinpoint a channel that is more ubiquitous than SMS. Nearly everyone has a mobile phone with SMS as a native function.
Yet, it seems even in these difficult times, fraudsters and spammers have spotted opportunities. Seujan Bertram, VP Global Operations at OpenMarket explains how the industry has come together to combat them.
SMS has become an essential channel for brands and public bodies that need to stay in touch with people, and this has only become more apparent during the current Covid-19 pandemic. Mobile operators are working hard alongside messaging solutions providers to ensure COVID-19 messages are being delivered and read.
In March, OpenMarket worked with a number of carriers to help the UK government send a text to the entire nation asking them to stay inside and follow lockdown rules until further notice. A number of city and county authorities such as San Francisco and San Diego, also launched Covid-19 public information text message alert systems.
Clear communication is vital during times like these but the sheer volume of noise makes it difficult for people to separate fact from fiction. Therefore, it’s essential that COVID-related spam and smishing attacks stay off the network. Yet, it’s a big challenge: spammers and online criminals the world over are currently preying on people’s COVID-19 anxieties for financial gain and are unlikely to let up anytime soon.
Clear communication is vital during times like these but the sheer volume of noise makes it difficult for people to separate fact from fiction.
Spammers use alerts in order to collect contact details of people who show themselves to be susceptible to these types of messages. For example, mobile users may receive something like: “COVID-19 cases are mounting in your region. Text “YES” for updates about your specific area.” If you reply to one of these messages, it’s likely you will find yourself inundated with similar types of spam messages. Inevitably, spammers are also trying to lure people with the promise of virus treatments and testing kits.
What do Covid-19 SMS smishing attacks look like?
Smishing is when criminals use mobile messages to impersonate other organisations. COVID-19 scam texts might claim to be from government departments or other trusted organisations and tend to include a link to a fake website designed to trick people into giving away their financial and personal information such as bank details, passwords and credit card numbers.
What the industry is doing to help
OpenMarket is one of many who have joined an initiative set up by the Mobile Ecosystem Forum (MEF), Mobile UK and UK Finance supported by the National Cyber Security Centre (NCSC) to help identify and block fraudulent messages, and so protect businesses and organisations from this type of crime.
We’re also actively focusing on blocking Sender IDs and suspect URLs within messages in order to prevent COVID-19 spam, misinformation and smishing attempts reaching end users.
Our security experts look for phone numbers used in more than one campaign – for example, the same number being used in communications for multiple banks. Plus, we react to traffic that has been reported as suspect. In general, teams are looking for suspect sender/content patterns across the globe and adding and adjusting existing policy rules as needed to block fraudulent traffic.
During times of crisis, mobile messaging becomes an even more crucial channel of communication for everyone.
During times of crisis, mobile messaging becomes an even more crucial channel of communication for everyone. The combined coverage of 2G, 3G and 4G networks means SMS can reach the vast majority of people across the world. For those in society that aren’t digitally savvy and therefore most at risk during this period of isolation, SMS offers a simple way to access information and keep in touch with loved ones.
Fortunately, SMS is still largely a spam and fraud-free channel. But with so much uncertainty during this time, it is vital clear communication and trust in the information we receive remains a priority. For that reason, we all have to double down on efforts to protect to protect the channel, and our customers, during this crisis.
Seujan Bertram, VP Global Operations, OpenMarket