Telstra to block millions of scam text messages

Telstra has vowed to block millions of malicious texts from being sent to customer devices in a bold crackdown on criminal scammers.

Telstra has rolled out Australian-first technology that automatically blocks scam texts at a network level before they get a chance to infiltrate mobile devices.

The telco will from Thursday apply the new function to all devices on its network in what’s expected to block millions of scam text messages every week.

Its sophisticated technology uses a machine that scans and picks out suspicious content like malicious links, and assesses them in conjunction with time, sender, number of messages sent, and the recipient.

The delicate process protects the identity of the recipient while still ensuring legitimate messages such as emergency alerts, and messages from banks, large businesses, government departments, and Telstra apps like MessageBank get delivered.

In the process of the technology becoming more independently intuitive, some potential scam texts will be flagged with Telstra specialists who will review whether they are actually malicious or not.

“Customers might be concerned we’re going to block legitimate SMSs, but we obviously put in place a lot of protocols and procedures to make sure we don’t do that,” Telstra CEO and managing director Andy Penn told .

Customers can also opt out of the function if they choose.

Mr Penn highlighted the company’s confidence in the technology’s effectiveness off the back of an internal three-month trial which started in December with about 2500 employees.

“Those trials have given us some great insights and helped to develop the model, so we increased it externally,” he said, adding how Telstra anticipated a greater need for the function following Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.

Malicious texts to Android phones also jumped massively from 50 reports in 2020 to 11,000 in 2021, which largely has been attributed to the Covid pandemic and increased use of digital services.

“The overall level of text messaging increased quite significantly during those periods for those reasons and we just saw scammers taking advantage of that,” Mr Penn said.

The technology, which is part of Telstra’s “cleaner pipes” initiative, has been developed using a “complex and evolving” threat platform, he said.

“With the technique we’re using, we built a threat platform and an analysis around identifying ranges of different sorts of things that give us a clue about what’s malicious. The machine learning gets better and better over time.”

Unfortunately with each technological advancement however, the criminals are never too far behind.

“For every day we implement one more of these, the malicious actors get more aggressive and sophisticated,” Mr Penn said.

Customers won’t need to do anything to have the function turned on, but they will need to contact Telstra if they want it turned off.


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