Spammers sending more texts ahead of CASL, researchers find

If you’re a resident of Montreal, Que., chances are you’re one of the most targeted people to receive text messaged spam on your phone – and you may have gotten more than usual in the last six months, thanks to a rise in the amount of spam before Canada’s Anti-Spam Legislation (CASL) comes into force on July 1.

Out of all of the text messages flying around over Canada’s wireless networks, Montreal is the city that receives the most amount of malicious spam, which receives about 34 per cent of all of the spam sent in Canada – far more than any other city in the country. Meanwhile, Vancouver, B.C., gets nine per cent of the total spam, and Quebec City, Que. attracts 5.5 per cent, according to a new study from AdaptiveMobile Ltd., a mobile security services provider based in Dublin, Ireland.

Other shortlisted contenders were Edmonton, Alta., Toronto, and Calgary, Alta., in that order. Edmonton and Toronto were in the four per cent range, while Calgary got around three per cent.

By watching the traffic through the Canadian carriers it works with, AdaptiveMobile found Canadians received about 1 million malicious messages between December 2013 and the beginning of June 2014. That number doesn’t include messages from legitimate businesses – they’re phishing attacks, with spammers trying to wrest valuable information like banking credentials. To gain this data, spammers send adult content, aggressive marketing from people like ticket scalpers and payday loan providers, fake giveaways, and so on.

While the 1-million figure is limited to Canadian carriers working with AdaptiveMobile, Cathal McDaid, head of data intelligence and analytics, says he feels this number is accurate as his researchers are likely to catch noticeable spikes in spamming – for example, the spam attack that took place in British Columbia in mid-December. McDaid would not specify which carriers were working with Adaptive Mobile. However, he notes the reason why Montreal might be getting the most amount of spam is simply because spammers are more active in that region.

“We believe it’s primarily due to a lot of local, aggressive marketing which is happening within the Montreal area, especially for certain sporting events. So as a result, these types of spammers have to hit the local area,” McDaid says, adding spammers have become very good at pinpointing who they want to target. For example, researchers noticed there was more adult content in the spam going to areas where the main industries involve oil or coal, which are more likely to have more men living there.

About 66 per cent of these messages are coming from Canada, while 28 per cent are U.S.-based. That might explain why spam via SMS has gradually been growing in the six months between December and June, with spammers making more of a push to send out their messages before CASL kicks in, McDaid says.

Still, he hopes CASL will act as a deterrent towards these spammers, once it becomes enforceable.

“[CASL] is one of the most aggressive anti-spam legislations in the world, in our experience,” he says. “Whether it’s going to affect the criminal spammers which we see on a daily basis, that remains to be seen. These people are already breaking the law, one way or another … I would like to say they would be, but chances are they’re already in this business, they’re already in this game. But certainly legislation would help, and the threat of fines and prosecution happening would as well.”

In the meantime, there isn’t much people can do to avoid receiving these kinds of malicious messages, McDaid says. Spammers usually pick up mobile numbers through buying lists through the black market, data breaches, or just by hunting for any mobile numbers posted online.

However, there’s a bigger picture to this. When people do receive spam, they should report it to their carrier or regulator and avoid acting on it. If spammers get less of a payload and also realize they could face prosecution, they may stop trying to send spam over text messages.

“It’s sort of a circle,” McDaid says. “The more that people report spam – eventually, they’ll be put out of business.”

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Candice So
Candice So
Candice is a graduate of Carleton University and has worked in several newsrooms as a freelance reporter and intern, including the Edmonton Journal, the Ottawa Citizen, the Globe and Mail, and the Windsor Star. Candice is a dog lover and a coffee drinker.

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