Signed, sealed, defrauded

13 September 2021 | Melanie Mingas

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SMS fraud is on the rise and it’s undermining one of the most impactful channels for B2C communication. Nicky Peshwani, VP, carrier and messaging business, Bankai Group, tells Melanie Mingas how AI is tackling the scourge

The humble SMS is trusted by hundreds of millions around the world – and when it comes to its use in marketing it is a more effective tool than even email. However, today it is facing a new challenge in the security stakes.

Whether its SMShing or malware spread via seemingly legitimate URLs, the threat landscape has changed significantly since 2019. In fact, for Nicky Peshwani, VP of the carrier and messaging business at Bankai Group, fraudulent links in marketing messages are “the biggest menace today to the international and domestic messaging industry”.

“The quick-start SaaS model, combined with dubious URLs, is making it easy for criminals to infiltrate mobile marketing platforms and launch malicious campaigns,” he says.

In response, Bankai Group has pioneered a real-time URL analysis solution through AI.

Peshwani explains: “The Bankai AI team has produced an online algorithm to work on this and eliminate as many objectionable and malicious URLs as possible – across base-level domains, as well as the page, post or article levels.”
Although “no solution can eradicate fraud 100%” Peshwani explains that it can save those who subscribe to marketing communications from exposure to fraud “up to 90% for sure”.

“It is a very robust solution with a simple methodology,” Peshwani says.

“Carriers do not necessarily filter traffic, but we at Bankai have taken the initiative to get the messages through first-level filtration to protect the brand and end consumers of our partners. This in turn helps us become a credible carrier to terminate the messages worldwide,” he continues.

Calling for carriers to be vigilant against the threats, Peshwani says there are many trends within fraud and spam messaging, and points out that the prevalence of attempted hacks varies by region and country.

“Many things play a vital role in this, but mainly it’s how effectively the operator’s firewall is working. It has to be robust for all operators in the country and not just one or two,” Peshwani explains.

“We have a list of the top 20 such high-risk destinations and our RA team is very alert in such destinations, which keeps us protected and secured,” he says.

The list features locations such as Africa, South America and “a few countries in Asia”. According to Bankai’s own data, Ethiopia and South Africa sit at the top level for spam and fraud messages, followed by Brazil and Colombia in South America, and then Nigeria.

It doesn’t mean to say that there are no frauds in the US, the UK or Australia, but Peshwani says the group is “particularly careful when handling any campaigns” in high-activity markets by going through first-level filtration.

Secure messaging in the 5G era

While some of the markets with the highest levels of fraudulent messaging are a long way from adopting 5G, the introduction of next-generation mobile networks in more developed markets will influence local threat landscapes, particularly when it comes to using those networks for IoT.

“The power of 5G is yet not fully known but it will be huge. One of the examples of 5G power is its ability to support up to a million devices per square kilometre, compared with 4G’s 100,000 devices per square kilometre,” Peshwani says.
“The surge in the number of connected devices on IoT is unimaginable. The top research companies are still trying to estimate this growth and updating their numbers quite regularly,” he adds.

Naturally, the larger network reach creates a larger attack surface for fraudsters, who can then hijack IoT devices and run DDoS/SMS attacks, which are staggered to make fraud purchases and use the subscriber’s personal data to steel their identity.

“Nevertheless, it is important that we are ready against such attacks and securing our customers,” Peshwani says.
In response, Bankai is using 256-bit elliptic-curve cryptography on its digital financial platform to make it “super secured”, with research on how to combine this with AI to tackle messaging threats, today and in the future.

Peshwani says: “We will be soon coming up with a very viable solution for this.”

In addition to Peshwani’s panel, Bankai Group is also exhibiting during ITW, showcasing its international SMS Hubbing platform, SMS Firewall, automated carrier platform – BridgeVoice Pluto, DID and inbound service, revenue management solutions, network switching solutions, monitoring solutions, and others. For those telcos looking for a foothold in fintech, Bankai Group will have specialist solutions on show, too.