Telstra joins pilot to tackle SMS scams

16 September 2020 | Melanie Mingas


Telstra is to participate in a pilot scheme to block malicious texts on its network that claim to be from crucial government services.

The Australian telecoms giant is working with the Australian Cyber Security Centre (ACSC) and Services Australia for the scheme, which was officially announced on 15 September.

According to Telstra CEO Andy Penn (pictured), the initiative is aligned with Australia’s 2020 Cyber Security Strategy and recommendations set out by the Industry Advisory Panel.

He said: “With so many Australians now working from home as well as relying on Government assistance through Services Australia, it’s vital that we constantly evolve our approach in defending against malicious activity on our networks.

“Cybercriminals continue to target Australians through SMS phishing campaigns by sending them text messages that attempt to redirect them to malicious websites. Being able to stop these scammers in their tracks will go a long way to protecting our customers,” he added.

In March, Australian media reported that Telstra was among a number of companies that had seen its communications impersonated to extract personal details from customers. In May, the firm announced the Cleaner Pipes initiative which significantly upscaled its Domain Name System (DNS) filtering.

Scale of a scam

With scam SMSs a growing issue around the world, it is hoped this latest pilot will lead to industry-wide solutions.

Stuart Robert, the minister for government services, said that in the 2019-20 Australian financial year almost 920 Services Australia customers reported scam losses totalling more than $6.4 million. It represented an increase of $500,000 on the previous year, with SMS in the top five methods that scammers used.

This new pilot program will identify and reject illegitimate phishing text messages that are impersonating digitalised Australian government services, such as myGov and Centrelink, before they reach Telstra customers.

Minister for Defence, Senator the Hon Linda Reynolds CSC, said the ACSC’s “unique insights into the tradecraft and motivations of cybercriminals” had been a key contribution to the pilot.

She said: “Cyber security is a whole of community effort. This pilot program, which will eventually lead to industry-wide solutions, demonstrates how government and industry can work together to better protect Australians from cyber threats.”