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Spark extends online protections to safeguard customers from objectionable material, cyber-risk, and scams

Spark today announced it is introducing a range of online protections to safeguard its mobile and broadband customers including a new automated text message (SMS) scam firewall and the adoption of two filters that will help reduce exposure to malware, phishing, and child sexual abuse material (CSAM).

Spark Sustainability Director Leela Ashford says: “We want to play our part in protecting our customers from the growing list of threats they face online – from scams and cyber security risks, all the way through to exposure to abhorrent and illegal child sexual abuse material, which exploits vulnerable children.”

The SMS scam firewall, which will be rolled out from April, will automatically detect known fraudulent SMS content before it reaches the receiver.

The firewall, which is informed by a global database of confirmed scam content, is expected to significantly reduce the amount of scam texts being received by Spark customers by detecting URLs, phrases, and ‘calls to action’ that are known to be used in SMS scam campaigns, and blocking them, preventing them being received by the customer.

Leela continued “For many years, Spark has been monitoring outgoing SMS traffic patterns from our own network in an effort to detect scams, more recently with automation alerting our fraud teams to unusual activity so we can block offending accounts.

“While this has resulted in a significant reduction in scam SMSs sent from our own network, our new filter improves our ability to detect and block this activity coming through to our customers from other mobile networks as well.

“We are really pleased to be able to add these extra layers of protection, but we also remind our customers that fraudsters are always evolving their tactics, so it is really important that we all remain vigilant when online.”

Spark also announced it is in the final stages of signing up to be the first New Zealand internet service provider to become a member of the Internet Watch Foundation (IWF), allowing it to block CSAM contained on the Foundation’s URL List on its network. This list includes criminal websites that have been individually assessed by an IWF analyst and is updated twice daily.

This new measure builds on Spark’s recently announced agreement with the Department of Internal Affairs’ (DIA) to block access to websites containing CSAM on its network, as well as its long-standing participation in the DIA’s Digital Child Exploitation Filter.

Spark has also this week formally endorsed WeProtect Global Alliance’s ‘11 Voluntary Principles to Counter Online Child Sexual Exploitation and Abuse’, which provides a framework for the digital industry to help combat online child exploitation.

“The dissemination of child sexual abuse material is a growing issue in Aotearoa and globally. We want to ensure we do whatever we can to protect our customers from this illegal content, and extending our blocking activity through our new membership of the Internet Watch Foundation is one of the ways we can further strengthen protections on our network.”

To further strengthen its defence against malicious activity, Spark has worked with the GCSB’s National Cyber Security Centre to implement the Malware Free Networks (MFN) service into its network. This service helps to reduce incidences of mobile and broadband customers inadvertently downloading malware onto their devices, by blocking confirmed malicious websites on Spark’s network.

Spark has also adopted what is called ‘Brand Indicators for Message Identification’ (BIMI) into its spark.co.nz domain, which allows some email platforms to detect whether an email from Spark is legitimate by showing either its trademarked logo or a blue verification tick in the sender section.

The new feature will help prevent New Zealanders falling victim to scammers impersonating Spark via email phishing campaigns.

Spark has already implemented MFN and BIMI for customers, will commence blocking using the IWF URL List in April once officially in membership, and also begin rolling out it’s SMS scam firewall from April.

 

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