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Telecommunication Industry Working Group Aims to End Robocalls Through Cryptographic Credentials

Elijah Labby

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Photo of Iconectiv Chief Technology Officer Chris Drake by ITU Pictures used with permission

July 1, 2020 — Every day, Americans are inundated with millions of robocalls. But the Verifying Integrity in End-to-End Signaling Working Group seeks to put an end to them.

The group of the GSM Association, which is chaired by network management company Iconectiv, aims to develop technologies that can identify and intercept internetwork signaling fraud — when nefarious actors route their calls through online programs that make their numbers appear local, increasing the likelihood that recipients will answer.

Such calls can come at great cost to the recipient. If they accept the call, the number is deemed active and can be distributed to other robocallers. In some cases, robocallers will call individuals, allow the phone to ring once, and then hang up, hoping that recipients will return the call and be subject to expensive calling fees.

Technology developed by Iconectiv and other members of the VINES Working Group would log callers known to commit such abuses and warn recipients that the caller is a known scammer before the call connects.

Chris Drake, chief technology officer at Iconectiv, says that the company’s innovations are doing “a lot to contribute to the end of robocalling.”

The majority of such calls come from places where “frankly, the various aspects of government enforcement look the other way,” Drake said.

He cited Caribbean countries, Somalia, and Eastern European countries such as Latvia and Russia as being particularly high abusers of robocall and rerouting technology.

However, methods of ending robocalls are not simply about stopping false calls but also verifying legitimate ones, Drake said.

Iconectiv’s platform verifies businesses that have the service by providing an alphanumeric code or other text that is irreplicable and proves that the call is coming from a legitimate source.

“The reason [we] use a cryptographic credential is the bad guy couldn’t come and claim that,” Drake said. “He’s been verified and get into the carrier’s channel because he doesn’t have the credentials cryptographically to present himself as Iconectiv.”

Drake said that Iconectiv and other members of the VINES Working Group have worked closely with the Federal Communications Commission to deter robocalls in earlier iterations of what eventually became the TRACED Act, but he said that there is still legislative red tape that he’d like to see cut, such as the right to revoke consent to legal calling lists.

A revoking consent capability, similar to those used for email mailing lists, would be useful “if you’ve ever tried to get off a list when someone calls, if you answered and you find out that’s some kind of pitch, or worse, you asked to get off the list and it feels like the next day you’re on ten more lists,” he said.

A provision for such a law was in earlier drafts of anti-robocalling legislation but failed to survive Congressional negotiations.

Drake also said that there should be legislation that requires the identification of companies participating in mass calling practices.

However, Drake said that attempting to stop robocalling in the United States is a difficult task.

“[They’re] very clever about trying to avoid being recognized for a pattern… they rotate numbers, all kind of tricks,” he said. “…Vines is looking at a way of testing that an actual call is happening from one network to another.”

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