April 28, 2017–The Industry Robocall Strike Force established last year at the request of then-FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler today reported that since announcing its initial progress last October (TR Daily, Oct. 26, 2016), the group has enabled the Alliance for Telecommunications Industry Solutions to accelerate its timeline for work on caller authentication and other technical issues related to robocalling.
Among those efforts was the availability and formal publication of the Signature-based Handling of Asserted information using toKENs (SHAKEN) framework and the development of interoperational guidance for implementing the SHAKEN framework, which was published in January.
ATIS hopes to complete work on SHAKEN-related best practices by year-end, the strike force said in the report issued today. Also, “[s]ince the publication of the initial report [in October 2016], ATIS launched a virtualized testbed to advance industry efforts to mitigate illegal robocalls and caller ID spoofing,” the report says. “The ATIS Robocalling Testbed, hosted by the Neustar Trust Lab, allows the testing of SHAKEN by generating end-to-end calls that include all network functions. The testbed allows service providers and vendors to test their implementations of SHAKEN in a test environment to ensure full interoperability.”
As recommended in the initial strike force report, ATIS’s Packet Technologies and Systems Committee has been investigating “the feasibility of using vertical service codes (i.e., *XX codes) to report unwanted robocalls.”
The report also discusses the U.S. Telecom Association’s investigation of DNO (do-not-originate) robocall mitigation efforts. The success of trials involving specific numbers assigned to the Internet Revenue Service, a toll-free directory assistance service, and the Immigration and Customs Enforcement agency “were effective due to the efforts being narrowly targeted towards the specific set of telephone numbers identified and confirmed as inbound-only. That is no guarantee that they will be similarly effective in the future, or that they could be successfully scaled without creating harmful unintended consequences. If DNO blocking procedures were more widely deployed beyond a narrow set of numbers (i.e., inbound-only telephone numbers), bad actors could easily and rapidly transition to randomized and/or legitimate telephone numbers in order to circumvent DNO blocks,” the report says.
“Accordingly, due to the nature of the DNO blocking process (i.e., outright blocking in the network), its use should currently be limited to those instances where the number in question (i) is used by bad actors as part of an impersonation scam, (ii) is confirmed as an ‘inbound-only’ number using strong vetting procedures that go beyond merely asking the subscriber or its carrier about the number’s use, and (iii) appropriate authorizations are obtained from the entity to whom the number is assigned. In addition, the process should also be deployed in a highly controlled environment,” it adds.
Regarding the Industry Traceback (ITB) Group’s efforts to trace robocalls back through multiple network hops to find the originator, the report says, “Between January 13, 2017, and January 27, 2017, USTelecom staff identified approximately 70 upstream carriers, and sent approximately forty separate communications to upstream carriers requesting assistance on the ITB Group Traceback efforts (several of these upstream carriers lacked readily available contact information). None of the non-ITB Group members provided actionable information. However, working with just the members of the ITB Group, USTelecom was able to trace the call back through four distinct network hops by the end of the traceback effort.”
The report adds, “Finally, USTelecom recently met with staff from the FCC’s Enforcement Bureau to discuss the traceback efforts of the ITB Group, and potential handoffs of information collected by the ITB Group during the traceback process. During this initial meeting, USTelecom staff provided FCC personnel with an overview of the enhanced traceback process, discussed areas of potential cooperation, as well as certain challenges faced by industry in these efforts. USTelecom will continue to work with its partners in government and law enforcement, in order to maximize the effectiveness of industry-led efforts.”
In other strike force efforts, that app trade association ACT has designed and established a “public-facing website that provides technical information and recommendations for current and potential robocall control app developers, including technical updates related to changes to information provided by networks and vendors on call spoofing or signaling systems that applications can harness”; reached out to its members to educate them “about opportunities to develop robocall control apps”; and created an online workshop to help app developers “get up to speed on the technical and policy considerations behind robocall control apps.”
The report also outlines consumer education efforts by CTIA and USTelecom, as well as CTIA’s efforts to bring industry stakeholders that are not strike force members, such as vendors of caller ID and spam solutions, “into the discussion and activity on illegal robocall abatement.”
Efforts are also continuing on issues such as on-device displays about illegal robocalling, the report says. The report also details solutions rolled out by individual calling service providers and phone operating system providers.
In a statement issued in response to the task force report, FCC Chairman Ajit Pai said, “Illegal robocalls not only ruin dinner but they defraud consumers. The Strike Force has made significant headway in helping consumers combat illegal robocalls and malicious spoofing. I’m pleased that industry remains committed to carry this work forward. As demonstrated by our recent robocall blocking proposals, we at the FCC are here to help with this work and do whatever we can to combat such calls.”
Kevin Rupy, vice president –law and policy at USTelecom, said in a statement, “Today’s report of the industry-led Robocall Strike Force holds a lot of good news for consumers regarding the ongoing battle against illegal robocalls. The report details a number of positive developments, among them the expedited development of industry standards for combatting such calls, the growing availability of consumer tools to block or screen unwanted calls, and increased cross-industry cooperation on the detection and blocking of illegal robocalls. Industry efforts to address the robocall problem, however, are far from over. The framework and processes put in place by the Robocall Strike Force have created a foundation for future industry efforts. USTelecom and its member companies are committed to working with other industries to continue the fight against these illegal robocalls.”
CTIA Assistant VP–regulatory affairs Krista Witanowski said, “CTIA and the wireless industry have been working hard and making significant progress in combatting illegal robocalls, while developing tools to give consumers greater control over the calls they receive. The wireless community — including wireless providers, handset vendors, and system providers — is united in its efforts to defeat robocalls. These efforts, which collectively stop more than a million robocalls every day across the country, are ongoing and the wireless industry remains fully committed to stopping such nuisance calls.”
ATIS President and Chief Executive Officer Susan Miller said, “ATIS has been central to industry efforts to deploy anti-robocall solutions, protect consumers and maintain trust in our telecommunications systems. Our work is a careful balancing of the need for quick action with the need for effective mitigation approaches. Our industry-driven efforts provide a solid foundation for the future of call-blocking applications.” However, Maureen Mahoney, policy analyst for Consumers Union, said, “The Robocall Strike Force is making progress but most consumers still don’t have access to effective call blocking protection. The phone companies should keep working to improve call blocking tools and make sure that all of their customers, including those who rely on traditional landlines, get the protection they deserve. Call-blocking should be a standard feature offered to all phone customers and not a safeguard that consumers have to pay extra to get.” —Lynn Stanton, firstname.lastname@example.org