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News

Targeted mobile spam based on demographics

AdaptiveMobile : 20 June, 2013  (Technical Article)
A new wave of mobile spam targets users based on demographics such as income level, postcode and ethnicity
Targeted mobile spam based on demographics

AdaptiveMobile has unearthed evidence that spammers are using mobile users’ personal data to launch invasive, highly targeted attacks. For the first time, mobile spammers can use such information as a subscriber’s first name, postcode, income level and ethnicity to make attacks personalised and therefore more effective. AdaptiveMobile issued the findings in its Global Mobile Security Insights for Mobile VIII, “Mobile security threats: conflict, combat and culture in the United States,” which is the result of mobile traffic analysis from major US mobile operators.

The AdaptiveMobile report has found a key driver for the spam is the availability of cheap databases of US cell phone subscriber data. For example, for $199, criminals can purchase a list of 50,000 mobile phone users’ data broken out by first name and postcode. AdaptiveMobile is seeing such attacks as:

* 11,500 bank card deactivation texts sent from spammers that purportedly came from a local bank in the Tennessee area
* A junk car buyback scam that blanketed the 786 area code in US, a location where 18 per cent of the population lives below the poverty line

The report also finds that an emerging source of spam – mobile virtual network operators (MVNOs) – is more difficult to detect and stop. Spam by MVNOs occurs in low-level, long-running campaigns with a maximum of 150 texts per spammer vs. the fixed operator model, which averages 2000 messages per sender. These types of low-level spam are usually illegal, malicious messages that look to grab financial and other sensitive data or to monitor activity on the phone. Operators increasingly need to protect subscribers against attacks that bypass traditional detection methods.

“For the mobile operator, protecting subscriber activity on the network has become more difficult due to attacks that are designed to evade detection for the longest amount of time,” said Simeon Coney, Vice President of Research at AdaptiveMobile. “These under the radar attacks will emerge as important ones for operators to identify quickly to keep subscribers safe.”

AdaptiveMobile has found that, for the mobile operator, the threat of the virtual carrier extends into Over the Top services. The value of OTT platforms is in the number of subscribers, and many promoters are using SMS via a single handset and over an operator’s network to gain a large volume of users quickly. This method leaves operators without a way to track and protect subscribers who respond to these texts. The model of OTT growth using operator networks is expanding internationally with a recent campaign originating in the United States reaching 29 countries, including Russia, Zimbabwe and Bahrain.

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