Silent menace

Saudi Arabia's telecoms regulator CITC recently issued a warning regarding unsolicited spam messaging. Graeme Baker, VP & GM of Dublin-based mobile security provider AdaptiveMobile's Middle East operations, explains some of the risks spam presents for network operators.

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By  Administrator Published  November 13, 2007

Saudi Arabia's telecoms regulator CITC recently issued a warning regarding unsolicited spam messaging. Graeme Baker, VP & GM of Dublin-based mobile security provider AdaptiveMobile's Middle East operations, explains some of the risks spam presents for network operators.

The CITC is obviously taking the phenomena of mobile spamming very seriously, having threatened sanctions such as fines of up to US$1.3 million and possibly revoking the business licences of offending companies. Just how serious a threat is this to the market in your opinion?

Spamming can cause problems for any network and we have seen instances where network operator resources have been overrun with spam at peak times of the day.

This can catch operators quite flat-footed sometimes and leave them wondering where all their network resources are going, resulting in a great strain on a network operator's budget.

Also, if there is no revenue sharing agreement in place then all of this traffic amounts to is a higher volume of SMS and MMS traffic for operators to deal with, especially if it is generated internationally.

How much of a problem are viruses for Middle East network operators?

In this region alone we are cleansing as much as 85, 000 viruses a day from one of the networks and in the majority of cases viruses are generated through Bluetooth-enabled handsets.

An application, or virus, is often exchanged and can do one of two things: activate itself within the handset and send SMS messages; or worse still activate itself as an MMS and attach itself to the message. This means that a virus can then self-replicate itself across a network.

A bad virus attack or significant volume of spam can eat up a lot of network resources with no revenue to show for it. It's important that network operators raise awareness of the nuisance of spam because at the end of the day they have to answer to their board members and shareholders.

What other adverse affects might this phenomena pose for network operators?

I believe that spamming and viruses can seriously damage the reputation of operators in the eyes of subscribers.

A few weeks ago there was a major alert over a virus called ‘COMWARRIOR' that was circulating in the region. This virus automatically sent messages once it infected a handset, thus eating away at the credit of the end-user.

Our findings have shown that mobile phone subscribers tend to associate such problems with the operator, which has a serious affect on brand equity.

How have network operators in the Middle East responded to this threat so far?

We've been operational with STC for approximately 12 months and are currently filtering 20 million MMS messages per week, checking for both spam and viruses.

STC has publicly stated that it does not want subscribers bothered by spam without the possibility of opting out of these prompts.

Even though the mobile has been identified as a lucrative channel for marketers, they must establish a level of trust with consumers and demonstrate that they respect the ready access to end-users. When marketers use this channel inappropriately, as recently highlighted by the CITC, and consumers receive messages they do not want, this trust is broken.

Regional telcos are taking the risks posed by viruses increasingly seriously and the growing threat is leading them to take notice.

In one incident, we dealt with a virus that would infect a handset and then send an SMS message to the network operator registering the particular handset as stolen. That message rapidly spread right across the Middle East replicating itself onto almost 50, 000 handsets and almost doubled the amount of traffic on one network.

Ultimately, this can all lead to customer churn and it takes a great deal of investment to win back customer trust.

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