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DNC registry alone will not stop spam, fraud: Cloudmark

COME Dec 2, the Do Not Call (DNC) registry - part of Singapore's Personal Data Protection Act - will be open for consumers here to register their names so that telemarketers cannot call them without permission; security software vendor Cloudmark, however, believes the development will have minimal impact on mobile spam and fraud.

Cloudmark chief technology officer Neil Cook says that the DNC registry is a step in the right direction, but that it will not be able to stop the illegal companies from sending out spam.

"The measure also depends on telemarketers to enforce, but this is not possible (to effect) with illegal establishments," Mr Cook said.

The DNC registry will allow consumers to opt out of getting marketing messages by SMS, voice call and fax. Messages that are sent out via apps linked to phone numbers, such as WhatsApp, are also covered, but not the apps linked only by email addresses.

Mr Cook predicts that despite the advent of this registry and the tightening regulations not just in Singapore but across the region, the problem of mobile spam and fraud is very likely to increase instead of decrease. This is because currently there are not many operators in the region which have implemented network filtering for their mobile networks, resulting in almost unfettered access for spammers to get their malware-laden messages across to consumers.

It is also more economical for cybercriminals to send SMS spam using prepaid SIM accounts than it is to send out email spam, since most of their messages on the latter platform are caught and filtered out. "Mobile phones are simply a more trusted medium," Mr Cook said, adding that spammers are getting more joy here.

In an internal study backing his views, Cloudmark said mobile spam rates for Singapore and Malaysia hover in the range of one per cent of every SMS sent; the Philippines has 2 per cent, while Indonesia has one of the highest in the region with 3 per cent.

"The rate at which consumers in Asia-Pacific receive and send emails and text messages is increasing every minute. With the rapid expansion of 4G across the region, there is an even greater need to ensure that checks and systems are in place to meet customer demands for a secure environment and a clean network," he stated.

Regional operators, in particular, have a strong incentive to engage vendors such as Cloudmark to implement mobile network monitoring and filtering for spam.

The SMS platform is being increasingly overlooked by consumers in favour of services such as WhatsApp, Line and KakaoTalk, which have the added advantage of being relatively spam-free. In order to win people back to SMS, operators will need to offer better safeguards over the types of messages their subscribers are receiving or face further erosion of their once-lucrative messaging service, Mr Cook said.

Cloudmark announced in September it had inked a deal with Australia's Optus to protect its network from mobile and email spam, while other regional customers include NTT Docomo in Japan, Vodafone in New Zealand and India's Bharti Airtel. It has also partnered India's TeleDNA to offer anti-spam tools to operators such as Tata, Uninor, Idea and Aircel, Mr Cook said. India's telecom regulator had issued a directive to all operators to put in anti-spam controls by the end of 2013's third quarter in order to reduce the level of mobile spam, which the executive said amounted to 40 per cent of all mobile messages sent to consumers there.

As for Singapore, the vendor continues to be in talks with the three mobile operators, but no partnerships have yet been signed, Mr Cook said.