Australian technology news, reviews, and guides to help you
Australian technology news, reviews, and guides to help you

How does Telstra’s Cleaner Pipes protect us from scams?

Education is going to help all of us go on the defensive agains scammers, but Telstra’s latest project is built to stop scams before they hit you. How does it work?

Every week, scammers and cybercriminals make a dent on the wallets of Australians with calls, texts, and emails. They come in all sorts of forms, but the idea is always the same: a message to convince you to hand over your money in some way or another.

A prize draw. A late payment notice. A package waiting for delivery. A warrant for your arrest. An investment opportunity. Someone who loves you. Tech support needs. The NBN calling you. A Nigerian prince leaving you a fortune.

You know the drill; scammers have an assortment of efforts to lure you in with, and they’ll stop at nothing to get their hands on your money.

Unfortunately, many Australians are falling for these efforts, with over $160 million in losses in Australia this year alone. The year is hardly over, and yet the losses keep on accruing, with a frighteningly new tally every month.

Frustratingly, we’re all under threat even if you think you can outsmart the criminals trying things.

However Telstra has been working on something to stop these attempts before they hit you, limiting the financial and identity-driven impact, and also preventing its network from wasting time and data on these calls and messages in the first place. It’s a telco-driven approach that happens at Telstra’s end, resulting in a project called “Cleaner Pipes” to stop the scams before they can hit you, protecting people not just subscribing to Telstra, but the virtual operators using its network, as well.

“Cleaner Pipes is how we’re further reducing instances of customer data being compromised through malware, ransomware and phishing,” said Darren Pauli, Senior Cyber Security Analyst at Telstra.

“Cleaner Pipes means we’re reducing the impact of cyber threats on millions of Telstra’s customers, including stopping the theft of personal data, financial losses, fraudulent activity and users’ devices being infected with malware,” he said.

“While it can’t completely eliminate the risk, or substitute appropriate threat protection, it’s contributing significantly and we’re blocking more than 13 million suspected and suspicious scam calls a month, on average, from reaching our customers.”

How does Telstra’s Cleaner Pipes work?

Telstra doesn’t talk up much about the technology, but it’s essentially a learning system, using a proactive form of filtering to analyse and understand messages, guessing how they evolve and blocking them at the telco level.

It’s apparently the result of more than two years of testing, preventing downloads of viruses, remote access software, malware, and even thwarting the communications mechanisms of bonnets, breaking the connection and stopping security attacks in their tracks. Designed to block scam calls at scale, it has reportedly allowed Telstra to block scam calls and malicious text messages, helping to make life a little safer for customers.

However Cleaner Pipes is an edge not every telco offers, with this one specifically working for Telstra and the virtual operators using its network, including Mate, Belong, Boost, and Aldi, to name a few, and it will even help customers if they accidentally click on a dodgy link.

“We know many consumers and small businesses might not have the resources to adequately protect themselves so this is where Cleaner Pipes steps in,” said Pauli.

“If customers click on a link to a malicious or suspicious site that has been blocked, they will be presented with a webpage alerting them to what has happened.”

Perhaps more importantly, it’s a project that is always evolving.

What Telstra’s scam protection is blocking

You might look at each scam we report on — and there are quite a few — automatically thinking that they’re all the same and that you’ll never get caught, but the reality is scammers are adapting as the online criminal finds new ways to exploit. Fortunately, Cleaner Pipes is evolving to match specific scams, working out the pattern and adapting to block.

In the case of the Wangiri “call once and run” scams (where someone calls your phone, hangs up, and hopes you call them back on a premium price, charging up a fortune to your phone bill), Telstra focused its efforts on this type of call, looking at the high-priced international numbers, and using the pattern to block them. And that’s just the start.

The system also goes on the attack with spoofed calls, disguising caller IDs with fake phone numbers, and making it seem as if you’re being phoned by a legitimate local mobile user, when the reality is you’re being called up by a scammer. It means Telstra is training its system to recognise the frauds before they reach you, and is doing much the same with SMS coming from a fake government organisation, as well.

“We’re blocking 13 million suspected and suspicious scam calls a month, on average, from reaching our customers. This is a twofold increase from the number of scam calls we previously announced we were blocking in February 2021 and is far more than any other telco,” said Pauli.

“Customers might notice they’re getting less illegitimate phone calls like Wangiri or ‘one ring’ calls from scammers now than they were six or twelve months ago – this is Cleaner Pipes ‘doing its thing’,” he said.

With the rise of Flubot scams, Telstra is tuning Cleaner Pipes to respond, adapting and limiting the numbers of messages that get through to consumers.

“Scammers are always finding new tactics and that means that no technology platform will ever stop scam calls entirely so Cleaner Pipes is continually evolving and we’re adapting our algorithms and detection methods to block existing and future scamming tactics.”

Phone use

Protection without realising it

The catch of Cleaner Pipes is that it won’t necessarily be perfect at all times.

Like any adaptive system, it’s something that is gradually learning and improving over time, so even if you’re a Telstra subscriber, or someone on one of the Telstra-connected virtual networks, you may still get a dodgy call or SMS. That can happen, of course, so you still may want to know the education, staying aware of just what’s going on so you’re not caught out.

As for other telcos, we wouldn’t be surprised if Australia’s other major telcos have something going on in the background. With scam numbers rising and losses up alongside them, protecting customers without them realising it may well be one of the major features you pay for alongside your phone’s reception.

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