Robocall Plague Won't Be Easy to Solve Despite FCC Call for Action

By Wayne Rash  |  Posted 2016-07-27 Print this article Print
Robocall solution

T-Mobile has a robocall blocker on its Android phones provide by Hiya, but according to Hiya's vice president of data, Jan Volzke, the carrier hasn't been able to integrate a similar service for iOS devices. However, Hiya does make an iOS app available to users.

Other apps are available from other vendors. YouMail makes an app that provides third-party voicemail, which also includes robocall blocking. According to YouMail CEO Alex Quilici, the problem with robocalls is getting worse and he said that it's getting harder to separate them out from legitimate calls.

"We have technologies that look at call patterns," he said. YouMail has used those technologies to measure the level of robocalls and has produced a Robocall Index that tracks calls, callers and provides a robocall lookup service.

It turns out that calling patterns are the next step in fighting robocalls because, in the same way signature based antivirus had to give way to behavioral analysis, so fighting robocalls must change.

So how to tell what's a robocall if you’re fighting them? According to Volzke, it's not that hard. He gives an example of a single number generating as many as 5,000 calls in a few minutes as an indicator. Even a teenager in the house can't make that many calls. Unfortunately, as quickly as the technology appears to fight those calls, the people that produce them change tactics in much the same way as the tactics of malware distribution change.

And that's the problem with fighting robocalls. There is no obvious way to reliably block robocalls, especially given the ability of the callers to spoof any number and name they wish. Quilici said that the single most common number and name that shows up in calling logs as a robocall is from CapitalOne Bank, but as you might guess, it's not the bank that’s calling.

Adding to the problem, carriers (or robocall blockers for that matter) don't want to be in the position of blocking legitimate calls as they fight those that aren't. You can only imagine the problem if a call from someone's child in trouble got blocked by a wayward robocall blocker and that's what everyone is trying to avoid.

In one sense, the problem with robocalls is a lot like the problem with malware, but with robocalls the target is a voice telephone line that's not easily secured.

When telephones were originally developed, the idea was that you could call anyone, anywhere in the world. The problem now is that Robocalls can ring up thousands of people anywhere in just a few minutes. Fixing the threat of robocalls is dramatically more complex because of that.


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