Cybersecurity/Trust | Emerging Trends | Infrastructure
June 21, 2013

Countering the upsurge in numbering fraud

By Sherif Guinena

The first quarter of 2013 has seen ITU receive over 200 reports concerning fraud involving the misappropriation or misuse of international numbering resources. Network operators and tax authorities are losing millions of dollars to fraudsters each year and the international community is looking to ITU as the forum to discuss appropriate countermeasures.

A definite boost in misuse reports has been observed over recent years with the advent of innovative technologies that integrate legacy switched networks with IP-based networks. As number ranges for global services have evolved, fraudulent uses of resources have become more widespread.

The ITU membership takes this matter very seriously, evidenced by the inclusion of a reference to the importance of preventing the misuse of numbering resources in the new International Telecommunication Regulations (ITRs) produced by the World Conference on International Telecommunication (WCIT-12) in Dubai, UAE, 3-14 December 2012.

At a recent meeting of ITU-T Study Group 2 (Operational aspects of service provision and telecommunications management), the GSMA highlighted escalating reports of misuse from its members, noting an instance where it received 104 such reports from just 14 mobile operators in February 2012 alone. The GSMA has also presented SG2 with analysis of these cases and the GSMA and SG2 have committed to continued cooperation on this front.

The reports detail different types of misuse including so called SIM-box fraud and web-diallers. Developing countries have been the hardest hit by such attacks and, at a recent ITU workshop on origin identification and alternative calling procedures, Ghana indicated that studies had found about 25% of the country’s incoming traffic to be affected by SIM-box fraud and the suppression or spoofing of CLI (Calling Line Identification). Other common forms of fraud include so-called short missed calls which lure victims to call-back to an overseas premium rate number.

The toll is even greater when considered that countries worst affected are often landlocked countries or small island states to which international telecoms traffic is especially important in driving commerce, trade and economic development.

“Hijacked” calls do not terminate in the called country because, for fraudulent reasons, someone has diverted the calls to another country without the knowledge of the calling party, the called party or the domestic telecommunication operator. Fraudsters’ usual modus operandi is to divert calls to pornography sites without the knowledge of the home operator with the consequence of the operator being unable to collect calls’ termination fees. With millions of minutes involved this can lead to significant losses in revenue, and the sheer scale of misuse has in some cases caused operators to block calls to certain countries. The blocking of country codes by international operators as a prevention control is an aggressive mechanism, which would result in stopping all traffic to an affected country and is contrary to existing Recommendation ITU-T (E.156). The consequences of such an act have the potential to affect not only incomes for these countries but also undermine the social and economic benefits of these calls.

The World Telecommunication Standardization Assembly (WTSA-12) held in Dubai from 20th to 29thof November 2012, adopted the revised Resolution 61: Countering and combating misappropriation and misuse of international telecommunication numbering resources.

The Resolution was first adopted in 2008 by WTSA-08 in Johannesburg, South Africa, and was revised in 2012 in recognition of the upsurge of numbering fraud. The revised Resolution issues a much stronger directive to ITU, tasking it with new responsibilities to investigate and establish a more effective basis for combating fraud related to number misuse.

While it is not within ITU’s mandate to intervene between parties to resolve disputes, ITU is required to inform implicated Member States, and ITU-T Study Group 2 has initiated a more in-depth study into the scale of the issue and the role ITU will be expected to play in this domain over the coming years.

ITU-T Study Group 2 is in the process of revising Recommendation ITU-T E.156: Guidelines for ITU-T action on reported misuse of E.164 number resources.  ITU-T E.156 and its supplements define ITU’s role in international numbering disputes. In particular the supplements elaborate descriptions of the most prevalent types of misuse, coupling these descriptions with best-practice countermeasures.

Study Group 2 is also leading ITU’s work to improve its misuse reporting mechanism, an important part of ITU’s authoritative set of International Numbering Resources. The reporting mechanism is being redesigned to allow for a more user-friendly interface and ITU is working to ensure that its global membership is aware of this valuable reporting channel.

By Sherif Guinena

Sherif Guinena, is Advisor to the Executive President of the National Telecom Regulatory Authority of Egypt (NTRA) for technical and regulatory affairs. Guinena is the Chairman of ITU-T Study Group 2 which deals with operational aspects of service provision and telecommunications management.
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