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Tag Archives: Fraud Management

Dealing with Bypass Fraud : Think beyond the boundaries

Amid the fierce competition facing the telecom industry, sometimes we listen to stories how lack of forethought of one Telco brings on illegal traffic on the network, leading to aggressive open wars and blame games among the operators affected by the fraud. The Telecom Regulatory Authority could intervene in such scenarios and encourage a competitor to block suspicious outgoing traffic if it finds out that not enough care is being taken to avert the fraud.

Interconnect Bypass fraud is one such telecom scam costing the industry several billion dollars every year. It brings collateral damage to the networks involved, and the impact will be huge. The Telco could be imposed hefty penalty for its failure to detect and resolve the issue on time. Further, it could bring serious business implications for all participating telcos. In the process of rampant blocking of suspicious traffic, sometimes traffic of genuine customers could get blocked, leading to customer dissonance and dissatisfaction along with loss of other business opportunities.

Here’s an example of a West African Telco who suffered massively due to Bypass fraud.

Why did this happen?

The West African telecom operator had been massively impacted by off-net Bypass fraud where the network of the operator was being misused to land fraudulent calls on the competitor’s network. Over time, the problem became so grave that the Regulatory Authority of the country had to step in and take charge of things. This eventually ended with the competitors blocking both fraudulent and genuine traffic from the Telco affected by the interconnection fraud.

Investigations conducted confirmed that the huge differences between the International termination rates and local termination rates made the environment suitable for fraudsters to run their schemes. There aren’t enough KYC controls in the country to facilitate certain onboarding checks which distinguish a genuine customer from a fraudulent one.

Impact on business

There were multiple warnings and memos issued to the operator from the Regulator, indicating that the operator would have to face penalties if amendments are not made in time.

Customers flooded the operator with complaints saying that their off-net calls were being barred without prior notice and for no fault of theirs and threatened that they would eventually churn out of the network if their services weren’t restored.

The atmosphere grew so tense that instead of cooperating, the operators became more aggressive and indulged in a rat-race in trying to prove a point to the Regulator as to how better and efficient they were from the rivals in terms of detecting Bypass fraud cases.

The solution

With the understanding that Bypass scams are rampant, Telcos need to direct their efforts towards building knowledge-sharing forums where they can share insights on fraudster behavior and geographical locations from where most of the fraudulent calls are generated and what kind of products tend to get misused by these fraudsters to nip things in the bud.

Telcos should understand that indulging in rat race or blaming each other will not help solve issues arising from such frauds; rather they should adopt a proactive approach to identify and prevent such scenarios in future. Instead of the Regulatory authority dictating terms to the operators, the operators must drive the authority to create nationalized framework for user identity governance.

Vijay Amirthraj

Vijay is a Principal Consultant in Subex’s Managed Services vertical, focusing on Fraud Management. He has over 12+ years of experience in Telecom fraud, & Revenue Assurance management professional with  progressive experience in process management and managing risks in telecom business.

Why Artificial Intelligence Powered Fraud Management

Artificial Intelligence (AI) is not new and it has been around for decades. However, with the advent of big data and distributed computing that is available today, it is possible to realize the true potential of AI. From what started as an interesting story line in SCI-FI movies to programs like Alpha-Go which has been beating humans, AI has been evolving. AI also has branched out into multiple sub categories such as Machine Learning, Deep Learning, Re-enforcement learning etc.
FM-1
FM-2
An effective Fraud Management (FM) strategy includes 3 important pillars: Detect, Investigate & Protect. We believe AI can positively influence all the 3 pillars of fraud management, from reducing false positives to helping in mining root cause analysis to creating enhanced customer experience in protection.

In this post I would like to look at the starting pillar of the Fraud Management strategy – “Detection” and look at AI’s influence in this very important step. A traditional approach to Fraud detection has been through Rule Engines which could be:

  • If-Else Conditions
  • Thresholds
  • Expressions
  • Evaluating Data Patterns
These are widely known as deterministic solutions where an event triggers an action. The biggest pros and cons with this approach is that human intervention is needed to feed the logic.

For eg: for a threshold based detection humans have to feed the rule engine that count of records above a certain threshold is suspicious.

Following diagrams shows how this looks like

rule-engine

After looking at the diagram above an important question arises, should this threshold value be a straight line or can it bend based on how data behaves. Now there are ways for rule engine to behave like mentioned in the diagram,

variable-threshold

for eg, instead of having a single rule lets have multiple rules

  • Per Customer Category
  • Per Destination
  • Per Age of Customers

And multiply that with other dimensions in data which are

  • Phone Number
  • Caller Number
  • Called Number
  • Country Code

And multiple that with other set of measures per dimensions

  • Count
  • Duration
  • Value

And throw an additional billion volumes at the datasets

Quickly FM teams ends up with something like this
AI Blog1
But what they wanted or dreamt was this
AI Blog2

Now I am not saying FM teams are not skilled enough to fly, but a fraud team in a modern Digital Service provider should be more focused on other important factors.

machine-learning
So, let’s look at how a very evolved class of Artificial Intelligence known as Machine Learning looks at this problem statement. Rather than humans feeding domain information or thresholds, Machine Learning Algorithms mine data from historic fraudulent behaviors and create models. These models are then used to evaluate real production datasets to score whether they certain activity is fraud or not. An advantage is that these models are very good at looking the datasets from multiple dimensions and measures at the same time and concluding whether event is fraud or not.

This approach thereby helps in achieving multiple KPI’s of fraud management teams there by increasing efficiency.

  • Higher Accuracy – Because AI can learn and adapt to Business scenarios faster, AI can significantly increase True Positive ratio
  • Reduced time to detect – How fast a fraud event can be detected
  • Self-Learning – How over a period changing business scenarios and seasonality in data can be adopted to Fraud detection
  • Fraud Intelligence– How customer or any other entity behaviors can be learnt and categorized for better fraud detection
  • Proactiveness – Ability to mine for unknown patterns not seen in the data earlier
FM-4

Application of Artificial Intelligence has its own significant challenges and requires a new frame of thought, however looking at the Data Tsunami that has hit the fraud management teams, it looks an AI pro approach would only help Fraud Management teams to scale further.

Nithin Gangadharan

Product Line Manager, Fraud Management – Nithin has more than 10 Years of experience in Fraud Management. He started his career as an Implementation Consultant with Subex Ltd and has been part of many Fraud Management implementations across APAC & Middle East. He has also been a Subject Matter expert & Business Solution Consultant earlier. Nithin is currently working as Product Line Manager for Fraud Management and machine learning developments at Subex.

Why SIM Box Fraud is Rampant in Africa?

The second fastest-growing continent after China, Africa owes much of its recent economic growth to the use of telecommunications services. However, over the past few years, telcos in Africa have been hit by several telecom frauds. SIM box fraud, also known as the interconnect bypass fraud, is one of the major frauds affecting the dynamic telecom market in Africa. The impact is huge in terms of the loss in revenues to telcos and taxes to the government. It is estimated that Africa loses up to 150 million US dollars every year to interconnection frauds. Reports suggest that two years back SIM box fraud had brought in losses of 12 to 15 million minutes’ worth of revenue to Kenyan government and operators, and about US$5.8 million to Ghana government.

Why SIM Box Frauds Target Africa?

  • As per the industry reports, mobile subscriber growth in Africa is largely driven by the lower call prices and availability of cheaper handsets. The competition arising from over-the-top (OTT) providers has put an additional pricing pressure on telcos, forcing them to design new bundled offerings encompassing data, voice and SMS. Such bundles bring much lower per-minute revenue for the operators as compared to traditional services. Fraudsters operating the SIM boxes are taking advantage of this scenario to bypass the formal call termination systems that fetch higher tariffs to telcos.  The calls routed through the IP networks are terminated using local SIM gateways, thus compromising the formal interconnection networks and bringing heavy losses to the telcos who have invested in building the networks. Traditionally, African countries are known to have higher interconnection tariffs compared to other regions, which further explains why such frauds are prevailing in Africa.

 

  • If I were to look at data from google trends, one can also make out that Ghana in Africa seems quite buzzy about “Simbox Fraud” as a term to be searched on Google (till Nov, 2017)

 

simbox-fraud1

 

 

  • Technological advancements have also contributed for the rise in interconnection frauds. The growing sophistication around SIM box technologies has made fraud detection difficult using traditional methodologies. SIM boxes are programmed to mimic the activities of a normal call user. The equipment can have SIM cards of different operators installed, so a single SIM box can operate with several GSM gateways located in different parts of the world. The availability of SIM cards at cheaper prices and the lack of law enforcement over the sale of prepaid SIM cards have also favored the growth of SIM box fraud, further.

 

  • Globally, the difference in approaches adopted by different countries to deal with the fraud makes it difficult for operators to develop a unified strategy to fight these frauds. IP interconnection services are treated as legal in a few countries whereas they are banned in other countries due to the regulatory issues associated with such activities. For example, the Ghanaian government has declared SIM boxes illegal and made several arrests in this regard. However, SIM boxes are now available in several open markets including popular e-commerce platforms for around $1000 per unit. To make the matter worse, OTT providers like Viber are now explicitly selling their call termination capabilities to lure roaming customers to such bypass activities. Another such OTT development I recently noticed is Skype offering Free calls to mobiles and landlines in the United States and Canada from India These evolving trends convey the scale at which the SIM fraud is growing, calling for immediate action from telcos to safeguard their revenue streams.

Unified approach for addressing Sim-box fraud:

To conclude, the recent developments around SIM box fraud have further aggravated the challenges faced by African telcos. With no scope for regulatory remediation, the only way forward for them is to prevent these attacks using advanced technologies. Traditional approaches like Call Detail Record (CDR) analysis are becoming ineffective in dealing with modern SIM box strategies due to the latency and false positives associated with those methods. As the market evolves, operators are looking toward a unified approach that can help them address the crisis in a much proactive manner. The developments around machine learning and test call group (TCG) analysis have favored the growth of an integrated solution that can help telcos combat the fraud in a cost-effective manner. The approach builds the capabilities of the traditional models but integrates the advancements in artificial intelligence and self-learning rules.

Watch this space for more updates on SIM box fraud management with cognitive analytics capabilities.

Neeraj leads digital marketing for Subex with focus on Website, Search, social media, mailer automation and MIS. In addition to this role, he also looks after product marketing for Revenue Assurance & fraud Management solutions for the company. He comes with over 8 years of experience spanning across sales, product and digital marketing.

Why Telcos could never overcome Simbox Fraud since a decade Now

Simbox, Bypass Fraud/ Or Interconnect bypass Fraud has been one of the fastest growing Fraud Types In recent few years.  As per 2017 Global Fraud Loss Survey by CFCA, Global Fraud Loss Estimate stands at $29.2 Billion (USD) annually which is 1.27% of global telecom revenues.

global bypass

Source CFCA Survey Results

Simbox Fraud / Bypass Fraud has been a significant fraud issue for more than a decade now. CFCA survey results across 2009 till 2017 clearly shows an increase of more than 100%  in Bypass fraud since 2013. In this blog, we shall discuss about factors that has contributed to this continuous increase in Bypass Fraud and reasons, operators have not been able to effectively mitigate Bypass Fraud.

Factors for continuous Increase in Bypass / Simbox Fraud:

  • Reduced barrier for entry

Buying and operating SIMBoxs has never been easier with online stores, e-commerce websites,courses, forums and instant support availability.  This has led to an increased spread of VOIP based startups and subsequent increase in bypass fraud. VOIP based calling apps have also made customer acquisition easy by making them  easily available on  AppStore for Android & IOS users. For instance, a recent news from India covered the similar trend wherein those who wanted to make international calls from Gulf countries has to download an app called ‘dial to India’ Once this app is downloaded, they get a password for monthly subscriptions. The person sitting abroad will just dial the number in India, the call will bypass the VSNL gate and will directly route through the SIM box and will get connected from there. Read More

Few more such examples as below:

Illegal phone exchanges thriving on SIM boxes

VOIP exchanges used by ISI busted in Andhra Pradesh, India

  • Competitive Landscape

Reduced margins on international traffic has resulted in wholesale traffic being mixed with internal traffic. Wholesale providers have also been increasingly offering non-CLI based options which could potentially end up in Grey routes. This fierce competition had led to increase in bypass traffic particularly in countries with higher landing costs.

Reasons Operators have not been able to effectively mitigate Bypass Fraud:

  • Advancement in Sim-server Technology

Simbox have evolved from being a simple single box setup to a complex modular architecture. This architecture allows fraudsters to maintain all the simcards in a single place and using Antenna modules and multiplexers, fraudsters are able to distribute their operations in the market. In fact, Latest Simservers also comes with inbuilt anti-fraud detection solutions allowing fraudsters to  distribute his operations in multiple locations. This makes fraud detection very complex as fraud management teams have to device multiple strategies to beat fraudsters at their game.

  • Regulatory Changes

Regulatory changes in certain markets have fueled increase in traffic for Bypass. Recent changes of regulations in European Union has also resulted in traffic with E.U been heavily being differentiated in price from traffic outside E.U thereby causing significant increase in Bypass traffic.

  • Raising Concerns in Simcard Sales

Increased pressure to maintain sales and activation of new connections have resulted in dealers colluding with Bypass fraudsters. Bypass operations requires lot of sims to be activated in bulk and lack of effective subscriber acquisition controls have led to fraudsters taking advantage of it.

Fraud Management teams further have an uphill task in the Bypass fraud space as new technologies such as virtual sim’s would only increase the impacts on bypass of international traffic. It is hence important that they adopt a comprehensive fraud detection methodology to fight simbox frauds.

Nithin Gangadharan

Product Line Manager, Fraud Management – Nithin has more than 10 Years of experience in Fraud Management. He started his career as an Implementation Consultant with Subex Ltd and has been part of many Fraud Management implementations across APAC & Middle East. He has also been a Subject Matter expert & Business Solution Consultant earlier. Nithin is currently working as Product Line Manager for Fraud Management and machine learning developments at Subex.

Device Journey Management: the next frontier for Device Assurance

In recent years operators have scaled their thinking into hundreds of millions – but not in terms of data volumes, but instead in the numbers of devices now utilizing their networks.  Smart handsets have led the charge of devices, followed (and soon to be surpassed) by IoT devices, and an army of small cells that will serve to densify the upcoming 5G network rollouts around the world.

Why are these devices capturing more and more operator attention?  With over 1.5 billion smart phones shipped from manufacturers in 2017, the amount of investment by telecom operators just in this device category alone amounts to approximately 20% of their overall operational budget.  However, each year tens of millions of dollars of this opex are being written off as losses by operators due to issues with logistics (forward and reverse), fraud, and process misalignments; device journey oversight doesn’t exist as a discipline today.

Subex has invested almost two years researching this domain, including talking with operators of all sizes around the world.  What we have found is an expanding set of exploitable gaps that current systems and practices are incapable of closing.  Points of risk exist across internal processes, channel partners, distribution and supply chain, and various other areas leading to (and sometimes even originating from) the end consumers.  These risk points accumulate losses for operators that range between $500K USD to over $10M USD per month, per operator, depending on size of the operator.

The device growth area today is not only in smart handsets, but also in a wide array of small cells, sensors, and various other categories.  With already significant gaps existing in oversight, this new breed of devices puts an even greater risk on operating budgets.  Under current estimates, deployed IoT devices alone in the next 5 years will exceed 200 billion units, dwarfing the handset counts worldwide.  Can losses be sustained, or even ignored, at these levels?

Subex will be speaking about a comprehensive strategy and methodology for Device Journey Management during a presentation at the CFCA Winter Conference in Las Vegas on February 6th, 2018.  We will also be at the Mobile World Congress in Barcelona later in February where we look forward to speaking with operators encountering the same problems.

Vice President – Product Management – John Brooks serves as the Vice President of Product Management in Subex. He has over 26 years of experience in Telecommunications, spanning Fixed, Mobile, Data, and Video technologies. Within the industry Mr. Brooks was a board member for the GBA, founded the TM Forum Fraud team (authoring the first International Fraud Operations and Fraud Classifications guides), and now leads the TM Forum Network Asset Management team, focusing on transformative best practices for SDN/NFV operations. Over the years Mr. Brooks has served as an Advisory Board member for a prominent technical university, and has spoken at over 50 industry events and authored numerous papers on topics spanning IoT, Digital Disruption, Big Data, and Enterprise Risk Management. With Subex (formerly Connexn/Azure) since 1999, he has directed over 40 successful Cost, Revenue, and Business Optimization engagements at over 24 top-tier carriers globally, including AT&T, America Movil, BT, Vodafone, and Verizon.

Digital Advertisement Frauds: A Telco Story (Part 2/3)

This is the 2nd part of the 3 part blog series and covers how the digital advertisement ecosystem works along with understanding how big is the problem of fraud in that ecosystem.

This 3 part blog series puts a light on relevance of Digital Advertisements in telecom space along with providing a high level understanding of it’s ecosystem and fraud risks it injects. Idea is to give readers a basic knowledge of the digital advertisement space and the inherent risks.

The 1st part of this blog series was published on Jan 21, 2016 and you can read the same here.


Part 2 – Digital Advertisement Ecosystem & the problem of fraud

Advertisement Ecosystem is divided into 9 major components, as shown in the image below:

1. Advertiser:

Advertisers are ‘Brands’. Brands which are the source of promotions for a specific product, service etc. This is the entry point of money into the ecosystem – A demand feeder.

2. Ad Agency:

Ad Agencies are the entities who plans marketing & ad campaigns on behalf of the advertiser. They are, generally, also the ad creators, or outsource the creative bit to a media agency.

Ad Agency designs the ad strategy and works with publishers, ad networks and other industry participants making the demand meet the rest of the ecosystem.

3. DSP:

Demand side platform. These are the demand side aggregation platform solution providers. They may be part of an Ad Exchange or maybe separate entities. They allow buyers of digital advertising inventory to manage multiple ad exchange and data exchange accounts through single interface.

4. Ad Exchange:

Like the stock exchanges we all are aware of, Ad Exchanges act as a advertisement digital marketplace that enables advertisers and publishers to buy and sell advertising space, often through real-time auctions/bidding.

These are the points where the demand side generally meets the supply side.

5. SSP:

Similar to DSP, the Supply Side Platform are the aggregation platform solution providers at the supply side who enable publishers to manage their advertising impression inventory and maximize revenue from digital media.

6. Ad Network:

The Googles and InMobis of the world, Ad Networks connects advertisers to web sites that want to host advertisements. The key function of an ad network is aggregation of ad space supply from publishers and matching it with advertiser demand.

The Ad Networks are commonly known to manage most of the data exchange in the ecosystem, while earning most of the revenues.

7. Publisher:

The ad space owner. This is an entity which owns the medium (website, app, content service etc.) to deliver ads to intended end consumers/ad viewers. Commonly known as the consumer touch point.

More touch points, better touch points, better the ranking of the publisher.

8. Consumer:

The ad consumers. Customers. Us. The target entity for the whole Ad Ecosystem.

9. Data Aggregators:

The data crunchers of the ecosystem, Data Aggregators serve as the independent measurement entities for the other players in the ecosystem. Aggregators collect and compile data from individual sites to derive big picture and sell to others.

 

The Payout Models

There are 3 main payout models in the advertisement ecosystem:

1. Pay Per Click:

Pay per click, also called cost per click (CPC), is a payout model in which advertisers or ad network pays the publisher when the ad is clicked by the consumer. It is defined simply as the amount spent to get an advertisement clicked.

2. Pay Per Impression:

Pay per impression (CPI), or “pay per thousand impressions” (CPM), refers to the payout model where advertisers or ad networks pays a publisher each time an ad is displayed on its inventory. CPI is the cost or expense incurred for each potential consumer who views the advertisement, while CPM refers to the cost or expense incurred for every thousand potential consumers who view the advertisement(s).

3. Pay By Lead:

Cost per Lead (CPL), also known as cost per conversion, is a payout model where the advertiser pays for each specified action which the advertiser can consider as a business ‘lead’ with verified interest – for example, a form submit (e.g., contact request, newsletter sign up, registration etc.), feedback, double opt-in, sale etc.

The influencer of each payout model, which governs the actual payout while governing the quality rating of a publisher, is CTR (Click Through Rate).

Click through rate is defined as the rate of consumer taking the intended action – click, form fill, registration etc. over the advertisements being displayed to him.

In simple terms, higher the CTR of a publisher, higher is its quality rating. This when mixed with volume of ad traffic, directly influences the revenue for a publisher.

CTR also helps gauge the quality of ads itself – in terms of its creativity, contextuality & relevancy.

 

Role of a Telco

While traditionally Telcos have been playing a role of an advertiser, they have been slowing growing as publishers too, utilizing their web portal space for the purpose.

But, as I wrote in the first part of this blog series, Telcos are now riding on a significant ‘ad capable’ inventory being generated by their next generation product & services, specially content related.

This significant inventory at their disposal has a capability of turning Telcos into a small or mid sized Ad Network, while setting up advertisements as one of the key revenue source or service adoption enabler over the coming years.

Fraud Risk Levels in Advertisement Ecosystem

Before we move to the 3rd part in this blog series, let’s look at the existing fraud levels in the Advertisement Ecosystem.

Let me tell you, if you are all concerned about the 1-3% fraud loss levels against traditional telecom services, the fraud levels in the advertisement domain is going to give you sleepless nights.

To give you an example, one study by MediaPost reveals that, if a company has an online display ad budget of $100,000, then only $8,000 of that ad spend has the “chance” to put advertisements in front of human eyeballs.

That means, if you are paying $0.10 per impression, then the $10,000 that you will pay for 100,000 impressions will result in “chance” of only 8,000 human views—meaning that the effective Cost per Impression will actually be $1.25.

Pushes an organization’s ad investments of the track completely, isn’t it ?

Below are some industry statistics around existing levels of advertisement frauds published by the likes of SunTrust Robinson Humphreys, Ad-fraud prevention firm Pixalate & Forensiq:

Now, if a Telco’s Fraud Management team were to analyse frauds in the digital advertising domain, it will need to focus on 3 different areas:

  • Safeguarding your organization’s marketing investments & sales targets: It is more relevant when you see the Telco you are working for, as an advertiser or a brand.
  • Protecting the revenues from AD business & also safeguarding your publisher rating: This is relevant when a Telco acts as a Publisher or an Ad Network
  • Lastly, your own subscriber’s satisfaction & security levels: Now, this one is a bit confusing. But, to understand how advertisement frauds affect Telco’s end subscribers directly, let’s watch a short video courtesy Forensiq:

 

As shown in this interesting video by Forensiq, advertisement frauds not only impacts a Telco’s investments and expected revenues, but also influences customer satisfaction directly.

Recently Three, a leading telecom operator from the UK & Italy, decided to install network level ad-block solution with the below mentioned intent:

“Irrelevant and excessive mobile ads annoy customers and affect their overall network experience. We don’t believe customers should have to pay for data usage driven by mobile ads. The industry has to work together to give customers mobile ads they want and benefit from.”

If Three are successful, I can only imagine similar actions becoming widespread over the coming years or the sane players of the advertisement ecosystem gearing up to counter the problem of fraud like never before.

Clearly, there are two sides of the coin – while advertisements open up new exciting revenue avenues for Telcos, the fraud problem in the ecosystem is so widespread that it has potential to disrupt the whole revenue model built upon it.

In the next part of the blog, we will cover the most interesting bit and understand the presence of digital advertisement fraud risks in the ecosystem along with looking at a few case studies. You will not have to wait far too long, that I promise!

Abhijeet Singh

Abhijeet is currently working as Principal Consultant with Subex.

He specializes in Telecom Fraud Management and his 360 degree experience in this field includes extensive exposure in Fraud Operations Management, Consulting & Advisory, Risk & Health Assessments, Business Development – Product & Managed Services and Analytics.

Out of professional life, he is a blogger, tech enthusiast and a traveler.

Digital Advertisement Frauds: A Telco Story (Part 1/3)

Look around you and you see posters, hoardings & stand-ins. Look at whatever screen you carry or face and you will see videos, popups & banners. These are “Advertisements” and they are everywhere!

I will not be going overboard when I say advertisements are the fulcrum of relationship between every business and its consumers. Organizations put significant investments into their marketing functions which in turn enables advertisements.

While earlier advertisements were statics in nature – channel run time, physical hoardings etc., they were easy to track to ensure the investments are protected. But, with the advertisements becoming digital, increasingly dynamic & internet driven – There has been an increasing need for measuring & protecting the advertiser’s or brand’s money and even the publisher’s real estate which is used for ad delivery & consumption.

Like it or not – In Telecom space, Digital Advertisements are coming to steal sleep off every fraud manager’s eyes.

From the risk perspective, the domain is complex and different from the traditional Telecom frauds, but the most important point is that advertisements from the internet space bring fraud exposure levels which are much higher than what Telco’s are used to. And containing that, will be a real challenge!

This 3 part blog will put a light on relevance of Digital Advertisements in telecom space along with providing a high level understanding of it’s ecosystem and fraud risks it injects. Idea is to give readers a basic knowledge of the digital advertisement space and the inherent risks.

This is the 1st part of the 3 part blog and covers why telecom industry is looking at Digital Advertisements as their next enabler. 


Part 1 : Digital Advertisement and Telcos: A match made in heaven

When we think about internet or technology, there are 4 names which cross mind – Google, Apple, Facebook & Amazon.

What the 2 of these 4 giants, Google & Facebook, have taught us that AD revenues are a big deal when it comes to the digital world. With Apple & Amazon also planning to jump the advertisement bandwagon, the belief only gets stronger.

No surprise that Google & Facebook earn 90% of their revenues from advertisements. Also, most of the Apps, specially communication apps also have advertisements at the centre of their revenue model.

Considering this, it was just a matter of time our own Telecom industry shifts its focus on exploring the digital advertisements as one of their primary source of revenue.

The likes of Verizons, Axiatas & Singtels have already invested big in the area of advertisements.

Also, some other leading operators like Vodafone, Telefonica, Etisalat and France Telecom have also openly agreed for a bright future of advertisements in telecom industry.

Digital advertisements: Attracting attention within Telcos

If you look at telecom industry as an advertiser, you will find telcos spending 10-15% of their total yearly revenues as marketing budget, out of which 46% is only on digital advertising like website banner ads, video ads etc.

That is quite higher than any other comparable industry sector.

And if we believe certain studies conducted by industry experts like Adobe, spend on advertisements is only set to grow:

It only shows that telco industry agrees that this spending will only increase with mobile advertisements leading the pack.

What will drive this spending on Advertisements further ?

Now lets look at what are the factors which are going to drive the investments in the area of advertisements further.

If you look at the areas marked in yellow in the chart below, you will find that digital Advertisements are among the fastest growing revenue streams for Telecom Industry.

And, if you look at the elements which are marked with red circles, you will see a list of services on which telcos are currently betting big on.

These services, which include M2M, Gaming, Music, Video etc., interestingly are set to become the “enabler platforms” to drive advertising revenues further.

And not only that, these services also ensure that Telcos have sufficient advertisement inventory for them to upgrade from just an advertiser to become a big ticket publisher or a small AD Network.

This is the reason why you will find that these services have “Ad Delivery” inbuilt as a core functionality within their framework.

Digital Advertisements are key to make upcoming & exiting product & services more affordable to a Telco’s subscriber base and in turn boost adoption

Apart from this, we all are aware that content services are set to become a big ticket to monetize the large investments Telcos have been making towards infrastructure & quality of data services.

There are researches from the likes of eMarketer which indicate that content is set to make up 66% of the total traffic in Telco data pipes by the year 2017.

Driving on content services, advertisements are set to attract 100 billion dollars in next 1 year and an increase of 233% increase mobile ad spending in next couple of years.

Now, there is little doubt that advertisements are set to become one of the major source of revenues for Telcos or power that next big idea which will be a star of their upcoming annual report!


In the next part of the blog, we will understand how the digital advertisement ecosystem works along with understanding how big is the problem of fraud in that ecosystem. You will not have to wait far too long, that I promise! 

Abhijeet Singh

Abhijeet is currently working as Principal Consultant with Subex.

He specializes in Telecom Fraud Management and his 360 degree experience in this field includes extensive exposure in Fraud Operations Management, Consulting & Advisory, Risk & Health Assessments, Business Development – Product & Managed Services and Analytics.

Out of professional life, he is a blogger, tech enthusiast and a traveler.

Key is to ask the ‘right questions’

“In school, we’re rewarded for having the answer, not for asking a good question”

This quote from Richard Saul Wurman rightly describes how a normal human mind, as part of it’s social development process, adapts to the guidelines of “finding the answers”, rather than exploring the possibilities of asking the “right questions”.

And this mindset also reflects in our place of work. We are humanly tailored to explore satisfaction in having answers to all the questions. And in the process of being ‘answer ready’, we tend to become left brain heavy than the right. We become target driven and focus less and less on fresh set of questions which could challenge us further to drive improvement and innovation.

Fraud Management ‘function’ is no different. Being a ‘revenue protection’ function in a large ‘organization’ it is expected to act similar to a small, but important organ in human body.
Like hormone levels of an organ, health of an FM function is also measured in terms of subjective financial targets – either monthly, quarterly or yearly. And the corrective action starts when the achievements are found to be ‘less than optimum’.

But, as an experienced doctor would say – It’s the lifestyle you need to keep in check and not hormone levels to remain healthy!
Constant self-assessing questions such as – “Am I eating right ?”, “Am I sleeping right ?”, “Am I sitting right ?”, “Am I exercising right ?” etc. go a long way in guaranteeing you a healthy life. Periodic check-ups then becomes a method to confirm your good health rather than just means to detect illness or deficiencies.

Keeping healthy is a continuous process – be it human body or fraud management. It is actually a practice, than just a function.
And to setup a continuously improving fraud practice in your organization it is essential to keep asking relevant & timely questions across the following 8 pillars of this practice:

  • Influence
  • Organization
  • People
  • Process
  • Tools
  • Knowledge Management
  • Coverage
  • Continuous Improvement

While the questions could be an organization, risk or region specific, I personally always start with the following:

Influence:

  • Is our FM function on a driver seat or secondary role and working as a support function ?
  • How should we enhance the influence of our FM function ?
  • How do we keep showcasing enhanced value from FM function ?
  • How do we extend our internal & external interfacing and make the existing interfacing stronger ?

Organization:

  • How do we ensure fraud awareness keeps pace with the upgrading business dynamics ?
  • How do we enhance internal & external collaboration with FM function ?
  • How do we get higher return of investment from FM function ?
  • How to further reduce the fraud impact on the bottom line ?
  • How to make our fraud management practice more proactive ?

People:

  • Is resource acquisition better or resource development ?
  • How do we safeguard ourselves from attrition ?
  • Is our team structure agile enough while following industry standards ?
  • Do we have all the required roles and are the responsibilities clearly defined ?
  • Are we right, under or over staffed ?

Process:

  • Are my processes effective and easily exercisable ?
  • Are my processes future ready ?
  • Are my processes agile enough to adapt to any changes with acceptable TAT ?
  • Are we adopting and implementing industry best practices ?
  • What parts of my processes can be automated ?

Tools:

  • Is the Fraud Management tool adapted to my business environment ?
  • How do I ensure that the FM tool is fed accurate, complete and timely data ?
  • Are my fraud controls effective & efficient ? How do I reduce false positives ?
  • How do I ensure 100% automated fraud risk coverage ?
  • What capabilities do we need to acquire on tool front to be future ready ?
  • Are we ready against enormous data surge likely to be seen over next few years ? How do we benefit from it ?
  • Are we constantly learning from the industry in terms of fraud detection & prevention methods ?

Knowledge Management:

  • Is there sufficient attention on upgrading to the required skill sets ?
  • How do we enhance resource competency & knowledge against current & future services ?
  • Is our team keeping pace with constant fraud mutations ?
  • Is our team using the tools effectively & efficiently ?
  • Is our team knowledgeable and comfortable with processes ?
  • What are the top 5 areas of learning for the whole fraud function ?

Coverage:

  • Are we aware of all the fraud risks we are exposed to ? What is our current coverage levels ?
  • Do we know the gaps in terms of fraud risks coverage ? How can we improve ?
  • What is our strategy to become compliant to fraud risks introduced by new products and services ?
  • Are we ready for fast converging cross industry environment and the risks it introduces ?
  • What is our stand on customer and partner only risks ? How relevant they are for our business ? Is our current stand obsolete ?

Continuous Improvement:

  • What is our performance management strategy ?
  • Do we have effective KPIs ? Are these business relevant ?
  • How can we improve the fraud function’s effectiveness & maturity continuously ?
  • What metrics should I use to measure health of the overall FM function ?
  • Are we conducting sufficient & periodic RCA & decision analysis ?
  • How do we gather accumulated wisdom & actionable intelligence for improvement ?

Each of these questions can be a healthy point of discussion within your organization.
While these may give you a first hand view of health of your current fraud practice, more importantly, it may also open doors for a much detailed open table introspective sessions, enabling you to come up with much better & effective questions.

Remember, the key to remain healthy is to keep asking the ‘right’ questions.

As Albert Einstein rightly said – “If I had an hour to solve a problem and my life depended on the solution, I would spend the first 55 minutes determining the proper question to ask, for once I know the proper question, I could solve the problem in less than five minutes.”

Abhijeet Singh

Abhijeet is currently working as Principal Consultant with Subex.

He specializes in Telecom Fraud Management and his 360 degree experience in this field includes extensive exposure in Fraud Operations Management, Consulting & Advisory, Risk & Health Assessments, Business Development – Product & Managed Services and Analytics.

Out of professional life, he is a blogger, tech enthusiast and a traveler.

The threat of Signalling!

Signalling level risks, specially fraudulent accesses from connected SS7 networks, is one area which is making a lot of noise in the assurance and security functions of Telecom organizations today.
The focus on the matter is such that most of the industry conferences talking about the current and next gen threats have a lot of matter being presented and shared on this topic – both from the operators and vendors alike.

What is it ?
The signalling level risks generally refer to SS7 (2G/3G) and Diameter (4G) level vulnerabilities (inherent or configuration based) which exposes operators to hacks/frauds through signalling control commands specially in roaming and interconnect scenarios. The scenario becomes more risky considering a normally configured SS7 infrastructure of an operator is accessible to any other operator in this world, either directly or through certain number of hops.
Now, just consider a situation where a rogue operator exists or a group of hackers with a malicious intent have got access to SS7 signalling of any less-secure operator in this world.
The losses due to signalling risks, while are still quite speculative, are expected to run in billions every year. Artificial inflation of traffic (specially A2P & P2A SMSes), Spamming, Spoofing, Refiling, profile modification, unlawful tracking, unethical disruptive activities from competition etc. are examples of some risks which have been found to be existing NOW with an estimated 100% infection rate.

Why is it happening ?
The SS7 signalling based vulnerabilities have been existing since very long, but have become part of news headlines recently due to certain revelations made by famous ethical hackers at certain high profile security conferences.
Some industry pundits make a point, which most of my industry connections agree with, is that these risks exist mostly due to the fact that operators tend to create unreliable partnerships and configure unregulated access (like open GT access, acceptance of any signalling command etc.) which enables malicious parties to connect to operators networks and conduct fraudulent activities very easily.
There have also been discussions around existence of services exploiting these signalling level vulnerabilities being offered in the grey markets through rougue hacking communities for a price.

Can you eradicate these risks ?
Ideal Solution: Operators need to sanitize their access configuration on SS7. Rethink, Reidentify, Reevaluate and Reconfigure the access levels.
But this is really difficult or maybe nearly impossible to achieve due to some practical issues on the ground, such as:

  • Most of the SS7 networks were configured long time back – There is an expertise issue operators are facing wrt SS7 networks now which limits their capability in terms of reconfiguration of SS7 based networks
  • It is a time consuming activity, which, would also lead to a lot of efforts on re-testing connectivity with all the partners, attracting a lot of investment
  • It may lead to reconfiguration of the signalling level configuration at the network level, and in certain instances, would require network downtime – A complete NO-NO for a lot of players out there. Situation becomes even more problematic for countries where Telecom Networks are considered a National Infrastructure.
  • Lastly, not every operator will take up this activity for many different reasons including the reasons like operators not participating in the awareness meetings/conferences being organized around the world or even like some rogue operators participating in malicious activities deliberately.

The problem becomes much more trickier from the fact that even one infected, unsecure or rogue operator in the world will continue to pose a threat to everyone else. And sanitizing each operator against these threats is a feat which is very unlikely to be achieved.

It is now unanimously being accepted that SS7 signal based networks are here to stay (atleast 10 years in developed markets and 20-25 in developing or lesser developed countries) and even their vulnerabilities, which are expected to grow by huge amounts considering the limelight it has received recently.

The bigger problem which has started giving sleepless nights to the fraud & security functions in operators moving towards 4G and setting up their networks over diameter protocol (provides 4G signalling framework) does not have native security standards inbuilt, but requires security mechanisms to be implemented on top, a practice always found susceptible to gaps). Also, the access methods are similar to SS7, so it exposes 4G networks to similar signalling risks as SS7.

What can be done now ?
For now, an approach of detection would be ideal until the industry identifies a way to plug these vulnerabilities around the world, which is definitely a few years away with a lot of research hours of investment.
An approach of detecting malicious signalling requests in your network still has few complexities to manage:

  • High false positive rates – A lot of signalling requests appearing to be malicious come out as configuration issues from the partners. Hence, domain expertise is essential to filter out ‘needle from the haystack’.
  • Sheer size of signalling data to be analyzed – big data support is required.
  • Skill set – This activity will surely require a knowledge upscaling and may be difficult for the traditional teams like fraud and risk management to absorb. Even teams like security, with less focus on fraud domain know how, is expected to find it difficult to add this activity in their set of responsibilities.

I feel industry partnerships with vendors, possessing both the domain knowledge, right skill set and technology built on big data platform is the way to go.

These partnerships, considering no-one has a complete answer to this rampant problem of signalling vulnerabilities as of now, need to be built on solid vendor capabilities, while being both liberal and experimental to give room for exploration.

Abhijeet Singh

Abhijeet is currently working as Principal Consultant with Subex.

He specializes in Telecom Fraud Management and his 360 degree experience in this field includes extensive exposure in Fraud Operations Management, Consulting & Advisory, Risk & Health Assessments, Business Development – Product & Managed Services and Analytics.

Out of professional life, he is a blogger, tech enthusiast and a traveler.

The Re-Emergence of Convergence

Operators and global industry forums continue to wrestle with the question of whether or not to merge their fraud and security teams/work-groups to cope better with criminals who are breaking in through IP-based networks in order to derive profit for themselves (or their causes), or just to wreak havoc and disruption on their “enemies”.  Fraudsters are not just partaking in the traditional crimes of bypass fraud, roaming, Dial Through, AIT/PRS, Call Selling fraud etc., but also the exciting new stuff…. Phishing, malware, spoofing, DDoS, Trojans etc.

One can be forgiven for thinking that fostering closer links between fraud and security domains is breaking new ground in terms of responding to the threats posed by 4G/LTE, NextGen, the continued growth of e/m-commerce and the proliferation of data passing over networks.   I guess it is a sign of my advancing years that I can’t help feeling that we have been here before…

15 years ago, when I was prepping for an interview for my first job in the fraud management arena, I was listening open-mouthed as a fraud expert was explaining to me the finer points of PBX Hacking.  Thinking back, two things were very clear:-

  1. The Operator in the UK already had a merged fraud and security group (which they later separated out, then subsequently re-merged again, by the way).
  2. The main advice to combat PBX Hacking was prevention, not detection… and that meant security prevention. The operator was keen to tell its business customers that they needed to physically lock away their PBX equipment, protect their passwords, switch off unnecessary/vulnerable services such as DISA/Voicemail, carry out security awareness training for switchboard operators, support staff, suppliers, use barring at switch or extension level, keep PBX call logging records to see hacking attempts before they succeed, shred old copies of internal directories, vet their security/cleaning staff, etc. etc.   The FMS only stepped in when all the prevention activities failed and the PBX was breached.  By the time that happened, operators were already losing money directly, if they were responsible for the switch, or indirectly if their customers were liable.  Customers may have been unwittingly facilitating the fraud by their lack of security awareness etc. but even so, if a small business – used to paying perhaps $1000 a month for calls, suddenly gets a bill for $20000, they are going to fight it, refuse to pay it or be unable to pay it.  The indirect cost to the operator of customer complaints, disputes, potential court cases, damage to the brand, bad publicity, negotiated settlements, debt write-off and churn etc. can cost far more than the original bill.  It was a lose/lose situation… unless you were the fraudster.

These days, with the emergence of 4G/LTE, IP-based Networks, perpetrators are still committing the same underlying crime for the same motives as before, but now they are breaking in through a host of different entry points, wearing better disguises, carrying bigger SWAG bags and using faster getaway vehicles.  In truth, many operators are struggling to keep up with the high number and seemingly unpredictable nature of these attacks.

Security teams are traditionally very good at preventing access to networks, but they are not perfect.  The pace at which network elements, components, interfaces and transactions are increasing is making it impossible for all the preventative measures to be in-situ from day one.  Not to mention the surfeit of off-the shelf tools that fraudsters can use to break in to more and more lucrative areas of daily commerce.

In practice, Prevention alone cannot succeed.  Detection, Analysis and Response are also essential elements of the fraud management cycle.

Cycle

So, my point is this…. security and fraud teams cannot operate in silos.  Security teams must continue to try and prevent malicious intrusion as much as possible.  That requires taking in a lot of real-time data from the access points, identifying the nature of the content and the data patterns and quickly blocking anything that looks dubious.  But when the intruder gets in (and they do in their numbers), that is when the fraud team can also play their part.

Whilst the security team controls corporate IT networks, how well can they police the mobile workers and the homeworkers, the tablet users, the App Store/Android Users etc.?  And if you think that profiling subscribers was difficult historically, how much harder is it when you can’t even define what a subscriber is, let alone track their behaviour.  In the new world, the relationship between account holder, subscriber and product/service is not always obvious.  Also, the billing relationships for transactions can be mind-boggling.  Couple this with the speed at which these transactions are taking place and the value of services and content being passed across a proliferation of bearers, and you have a minefield to negotiate.

This is where a good Fraud Management System can supplement an operator’s security tools.  An FMS must now be equipped to take in much larger volumes of data than before, in many different forms and process it much quicker.   Any reputable FMS vendor will now be offering solutions with large scale, flexible data handling tools (including probe / deep packet inspection events), internal/sales partner audit logs/feeds, inline service/transaction monitoring, exhaustive rules engines (real-time, in-line and statistical), subscriber grouping & profiling features, reference data including Hotlists/Blacklists, fraud and device “fingerprinting” capabilities, ID verification, alarm prioritisation and established, flexible workflows, with a range of analytics tools and visualisation features.  All these components – in the hands of an experienced and well-managed fraud operations outfit – will help to choke fraudsters and drive them out to look for easier targets.

So, in summary, don’t let the security guys take all the strain at the prevention stage.  Share the data, share the knowledge and spread the load to the fraud team for a more comprehensive response.

To get more information about Subex Fraud products please click here.

John Richardson

Product Manager for Fraud & Credit Risk Products in Subex. – John has more than 35 years’ experience in the telecoms industry working in a variety of different roles and activities from engineering to Product Management via Project Management, Marketing, Programme Management, Presales and more….
He is a well-respected Subject Matter Expert in the area of fraud management and operations with a wealth of experience to draw on.
John is also a qualified Project Manager with accreditation from International Project Management Association (IPMA) and is an active participant in the Telecommunications UK Fraud Forum (www.tuff.co.uk) – having been accredited by TUFF with Distinction as a Telecommunications Fraud Professional.

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