GSMA to recommend SMS spam reporting system

The system will analyze global SMS spam in an effort to block it

The GSMA will recommend that operators join a program that allows mobile subscribers to report SMS spam using short codes in an effort to gather more data on a growing annoyance.

The GSMA along with its partner Cloudmark, which makes messaging security software for operators, concluded a trial in December of an SMS spam reporting system that analyzed SMSes and aggregated reports of abuse. AT&T, Bell Mobility, KT (Korea Telecom), SFR, Sprint, Vodafone and the Korean Internet & Security Agency participated in the pilot.

Users could forward suspect spam using the short code "7726," which spells spam numerically, said Alan Ranger, vice president for Cloudmark's mobile marketing.

"A lot of people felt they didn't really have a spam problem, but when we got into the details, we found it was quite severe," Ranger said.

The volume of spam was relatively low, but the attacks showed a fairly high level of sophistication. Most of the attacks were financially motivated, with others directing users to malicious websites, adult content or were simply for legitimate businesses, Ranger said.

For example, one scam was a raft of SMS messages that informed a user someone had a crush of them. If a person responded, it would sign them up for a supposed dating service billed at US$60 a month through the person's carrier.

SMS spammers will often buy lots of prepaid SIM cards and send messages until the balance runs out. The problem got so bad in China that most SIM cards are only allowed to send 1,000 SMSes, Ranger said.

Some of the worst locales for SMS spam are South Korea and China. A Chinese mobile phone user may get upwards of 30 spam SMSes a day, while those in South Korea report thousands of spam SMSes a day.

With the reporting service, the spam is forwarded to the operator, which then passes the message to Cloudmark's cloud-based system that identifies and blocks suspicious messages. Cloudmark will manage and sell the spam reporting service, Ranger said.

"We're hoping to get as many of the networks in the world signed up to it," Ranger said. "At the moment when they [users] see spam, they don't know what to do with it. In some countries they phone up the operator, which is the last thing an operator wants."

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Jeremy Kirk

IDG News Service
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