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Telstra filtering text message scams at the network level

Telstra, blocking more than 522 million text message scams in the past year as part of its Cleaner Pipes initiative combining artificial intelligence and user-enabled rulesets, has begun blocking text message scams at the network level.

In the same period, more than 26 million scam calls were blocked from reaching customers in 2022

The telco says its new SMS scam filter feature will help address the problem before reaching the end users mobile device

ScamWatch estimated Australians last year lost $63.6 million from phone-based scams. Additionally, of the 213,000 reports received last year, 113,000 were about phone scams.

According to a blog post authored by CEO Andy Penn, the scam filter – part of Telstra’s ‘cleaner pipes’ initiative – is designed to prevent theft of personal information like banking logins, block the spread of malware, and prevent customers passing infections onto their own contacts.

Telstra CEO Andy Penn

“We know the number of scam text messages on our network is on the rise – in 2021 we had more than 11,000 reports of malicious texts to Android devices compared to 50 reports in 2020,” Penn wrote. 

His blog post explained that the scam blocks have undergone three months of internal testing.

“Around 2500 employees have taken part and we’ve been successful in detecting and blocking hundreds of scam SMS messages every day.

“Our people on the pilot program told us they saw a reduction in the number of scam SMS messages they received”, Penn wrote.

Penn also wrote that “we won’t block commercial messages from banks and other large businesses, government departments, emergency alerts and Telstra applications like MessageBank.”

There is also an opt-out mechanism: text 0438214682 with the words FILTER OFF to turn the feature off.

“If you change your mind you can turn it back on by sending a message to 0438214682 saying FILTER ON,” Penn wrote.

The technology has been fine-tuned and rolled out to every customer on Telstra’s network, including for other providers such as Belong that use the network.

The capability is complex and evolving but in simple terms applies knowledge of what scam text messages look like to block them.

Automatic machine scanning picks suspicious content such as malicious links and combines this with other patterns and characteristics such as the time, sender, the number of messages sent and the recipient.

The technology has been enabled on all messages crossing Telstra’s network, including those of its low-cost subsidiary brand Belong while also placing protections to ensure legitimate messages still get through

The Australian Competition and Consumer Commission last year noted that phones were the most common way for scammers to target victims and also the most successful in terms of financial loss.

Secondary editor and executive officer at Tech Business News. Contracting as an IT support engineer for 20 years Matthew has a passion for sharing his knowledge of the technology industry. He's also an advocate for global cyber security matters.

Matthew Giannelis
Matthew Giannelis
Secondary editor and executive officer at Tech Business News. Contracting as an IT support engineer for 20 years Matthew has a passion for sharing his knowledge of the technology industry. He's also an advocate for global cyber security matters.

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