In 2021 alone, U.S. mobile users sent around 2 trillion SMS and MMS messages. That’s already an astronomical figure, but when you consider how much that total would go up if you did the math on a global scale, it’s almost impossible to comprehend how in touch we all are every day. Despite the text message becoming the preferred method of communication for many, phone calls are still prolific. All this to say: Whether it’s user-to-user engagement, business-to-user conversations, or even business-to-business messages, we’re saying more than ever before with the help of the global communications ecosystem.

That global communications ecosystem, composed of mobile network operators, communications service providers, and more, is continually getting more complex. More users are looking to contact more endpoints in even more disparate geographic destinations, and the communications we’re all having on our mobile devices are getting even more sensitive. The well-being of this ecosystem is probably something a lot of us take for granted, but let’s for a moment consider just how vital it is for these communications (which often feel like day-to-day minutiae to users) to stay protected. Among the many daily discussions we have on our cell phones are communications such as one-time passwords for two-factor authentication, financial mobile banking updates and more. Our entire lives are literally “on the line” these days – which means it’s up to the players in the communications landscape to keep that information as protected as possible.

It’s an unavoidable truth, despite the advanced nature of today’s mobile, global communications, there are threats that persist and evolve just as our management and operations do. A lot of people have seen the scary statistics, but not many may know what’s going on behind the scenes to combat those challenges – and many providers may not know the tools available to them. As we collectively move forward, it will be paramount all providers in this ecosystem have the right knowledge and data on hand to protect customers while creating more control and accuracy for communications routing processes.

The Raw Reality of Mobile Communications Threats

In 2021, U.S. mobile phone owners received 50 billion robocalls. During that same year, nearly 1 in 3 Americans reported they were a victim of a phone-based fraud scheme, losing $29.8 billion dollars in the process. It’s important to note that, while the communications ecosystem has been continually making strides to protect users and block unwanted communications, the evolution of mobile messaging and calls creates loopholes that can be exploited.

So, how is this level of malicious activity taking place in such an advanced ecosystem? In short, robocallers and other bad actors are getting smarter in how they navigate the system.

Robocallers or spam callers are using a host of tactics, including Caller ID spoofing, to bypass verification and vetting protocols that are in place and convince the call recipient to pick up the phone, increasing the chances of victimization. Many mobile phone users see this in action all the time – they get a call that seems to be from their local area code, but when they pick it up, it’s spam. This is spoofing or impersonating a more familiar number to trick the recipient.

Caller ID blacklist processes are also being circumvented by simply switching to a new Caller ID. Not only do actions like these affect the person on the receiving end of the call, but they also impact the legitimate owner of the Caller ID that was spoofed. Ultimately, when we see an unknown number on our screens (or, if we’re benefitting from robust phone number intelligence data, a “scam likely” call – more on that later) it may seem to be just a nuisance. At best, these kinds of intrusions are just an annoyance, but at worst, they’re a real danger to individuals.

Another common fraud method occurs when bad actors create online accounts using inactive phone numbers. If the registration process doesn’t confirm whether the phone number is valid or not, these fraudsters can automate account creation, using those accounts as launch pads for spam or other illegal processes. Still, the use cases for fraud become even more sinister when you consider how phone number porting (taking an existing number and moving it to a new provider) creates vulnerabilities for fraudsters to access personal information or accounts. Phone number porting is rising in popularity because users are attached to their phone numbers – it’s become as much a part of the identity as our names or addresses. So, nobody wants to leave their number behind in the event they want to procure a different carrier service. Unfortunately, this rise in porting is masking a parallel rise in malicious porting, when a bad actor ports a phone number in order to receive the SMS one-time passwords required for two-factor authentication. Before the user knows it, a trusted mobile messaging tactic can become the gateway to stolen personal information or worse.

Fortunately, the forecast for communications security isn’t all doom and gloom. All this shows us we’re not stuck in a cycle of abuse – it just shows us that, now more than ever, sophisticated tactics require sophisticated solutions. For providers in the communications ecosystem, instances of attempted (or successful) fraud are a liability to be corrected so users and organizations can have even more trust in the services being provided to them. This is where phone number intelligence becomes the global communications ecosystem’s greatest ally.

How Intelligent Data is Powering Protected Communications

In order to keep the communications ecosystem and its users protected, what’s needed is more control and accuracy when routing and managing calls or messages. To achieve this, granular, accurate and normalized data is required – phone number intelligence data, that is.

The term “phone number intelligence data” encapsulates a host of information points pertaining to every individual phone number. This means data points on what service providers they’re from, how recently they’ve been ported and more. In essence, phone number intelligence data is everything a CSP or MNO needs to know in order to properly manage and route messaging and voice calls.

When utilized correctly, phone number intelligence data can help providers overcome complicated challenges in the global ecosystem like the porting dilemma. Many banks and credit card companies have already identified recent porting activity as a significant indicator for potentially fraudulent transactions, so knowing when a phone number was last transferred is a key insight for preventing negative outcomes. With phone number intelligence data, this kind of activity is monitored and can be easily flagged to prevent completing potentially dangerous two-factor authentication processes. In this way, any web or mobile service can enhance its account verification and two-factor authentication processes by flagging new user account requests and password recovery attempts as potentially fraudulent when a freshly ported phone number is being used.

When it comes to spoofing and robocalling, phone number intelligence data is also crucial for closing any gaps in security. With the right data, CSPs are finding they can enhance the user experience with advanced algorithms which determine the fraud potential of each and every call being placed. This is exactly how the “scam likely” result mentioned earlier is generated. With this in place, users are empowered to effectively screen their calls, reducing the likelihood they’ll pick up a potentially malicious call. Robust, up-to-date phone number intelligence data can even prevent the auto-account creation which fraudulent individuals attempt to use as foundations for their illegal activity by determining if a phone number is assigned to a mobile subscriber. This information enhances platforms’ user verification screening, mitigating – and in some cases eliminates – the damage which can be caused by those attempting to create fake accounts using invalid numbers. In summation, access to the right, real-time information increases the security of global communications, arming both the providers and the end users with greater visibility into the ecosystem’s activity. With this data, CSPs and MNOs have greater control over how they route their messaging and calls and offer greater reassurance and value to their own customers and end users. It’s true we may never be able to create a perfect communications landscape that is unplagued by fraud and spam challenges, but the tools to improve the state of calling and messaging trust are out there. Now, providers only need to know what to look for – and it’s called phone number intelligence data.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Catalin Badea

As director of product management for netnumber Global Data Services, Catalin Badea is instrumental in defining and communicating the company’s product strategy, as well as managing resources and teams to ensure the proper development of netnumber services. Leveraging a rich history in the technology and telecommunications industry, Catalin’s data-driven decision-making is key for the optimized execution of company initiatives. Badea joined the netnumber team in January 2020. Prior to this, he held a range of leadership roles at tyntec, a global application-to-person messaging provider and cloud communications platform, and Vodafone Romania. Across this career, he has played a key role in the transformation from “walled garden” mobile portals owned by mobile operators towards an open mobile internet, built successful number portability data services with broad market adoption, and helped fellow colleagues develop their own insights to build successful careers. Badea is a Product Focus certified product manager and holds a master’s degree in management and business communication from the National School of Political and Administrative Science in Bucharest, Romania, as well as a bachelor’s degree in computer engineering from Politehnica University in Bucharest, Romania.

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