Olongapo Telecom & Information Technology

Friday, April 22, 2005

Relentless rise of the mobile phone rings changes for world’s poor

By Shafiq Alam

CHOWGACHI, Bangladesh: With just four calls from a mobile phone, remote Bangladeshi farmer Mir Jahid Hussein can now ensure he gets the best price for his seasonal jute seeds—something he could once only dream of. As it is for tens of millions of poor rural-dwellers in developing countries from Bangladesh to Botswana, mobile-phone technology is revolutionizing Hus­sein’s life for the better, enabling him to cut out cheating middlemen and deal directly with buyers from district markets.

The march of the mobile-phone phenomenon is relentless, with 1.65 billion cellular connections worldwide at the end of 2004 and forecast to rise up to 10 percent annually to 2.32 billion in 2008, according to US research group Gartner Inc.

Like most people living below the poverty line, Hussein, who ekes out a meager living from half a hectare (one acre) of land, can’t afford a phone of his own. Despite this he is still able to take advantage of the technological revolution.

The biggest growth in mobile telephones is now expected to come from developing countries such as Indonesia and India, analysts say, as telecoms companies switch strategies away from saturated developed markets such as Europe, the United States and Japan to largely untapped poorer nations.

“Europe is almost at 100 percent capacity, while South Africa is around seven percent,” says Andrew Chet­ham, principal analyst for Gartner Inc. in Hong Kong.

“Companies are now getting better at making money from the lower end, with cheaper handsets, especially in the Philippines,” says Chetham, who says handsets are generally priced between US$200 and US$300. “Everyone is looking for the US$40-dollar handset, which can still make them money,” he adds.

In China, too, poor farmers have benefited from the spread of mobile phones through text messages giving them information about prices, weather forecasts and pest control.

Ministry of Information figures released in January showed the number of Chinese subscribers topped 334 million in 2004, up 65 million on the previous year.

The rate of growth in India’s mobile-phone market is second only to China.

The country is adding an extra 1.8 million customers every month compared to five million a month in China. According to the Cellular Operators Association of India 49.92 million Indians now possess a mobile phone in a country where bureaucracy has traditionally made landlines difficult to secure. The number now exceeds the number of landlines, which stands at 45 million.s

In South Africa thousands of migrant workers and their families have taken advantage of their newfound access to mobiles.

“The cell-phone revolution has allowed users to leapfrog from archaic forms of communication straight into the digital era,” says Yvonne Muthien, spokeswoman for the MTN Group, the country’s second largest mobile phone company with 7.7 million subscribers.

In the past, millions of rural South Africans went to a local store to make their calls or write letters. Many were denied a landline because they did not have a bank account or a fixed address to which bills could be sent. Now, more than 85 percent of black-owned small businesses rely solely on mobile phones, according to a study by the world’s biggest cell-phone provider Vodafone Group.

“We used to write a letter to inform a family member working in the mine about any problem the family faced. That took weeks, but now we have cell phones,” says Mantinga Mazantsana, a taxi driver.

But not everyone will be joining the revolution anytime soon. Myanmar is one of the few countries where mobile phones have yet to permeate widely—strictly controlled by the military government, they remain the exclusive preserve of the wealthy and well-connected.

There are currently fewer than 200,000 cell phones in use in a country of 42 million people.

The nation’s rich and famous are frequently seen with a mobile phone pressed to their ear. But with a connection costing more than US$1,100, the benefits enjoyed by the poor of so many other nations remain an unattainable dream for the majority

Tuesday, April 19, 2005

Hackers are increasingly exploiting blogs

MALICIOUS hackers are increasingly exploiting blogs as channels to distribute malicious codes and cracking tools, the US-based firm Websense Inc. said. Websense's Security Labs said that this year alone, it has identified hundreds of blogs providing harmful computers codes for download.

Cyber-criminals are now taking advantage of blog sites that allow users to easily publish their own web pages at no cost, the company said.

Apparently, blogs are now attractive vehicles for hackers since they provide large amounts of free storage; do not require identity authentication to post information; and offer hosting facilities that do not provide anti-virus protection for posted files, Websense added.

Some blogs have been discovered to contain malicious code like computer viruses or keylogging software that can infect visitors, it said.

Some hackers have used spam to attract unsuspecting victims to their blogs.

Blogs are now used to store malicious codes that can be accessed by a Trojan horse that hidden in an infected computer, the security company said.

On March 23, 2005, a spoofed email message attempted to redirect users to a malicious blog, which in turn ran a Trojan horse designed to steal banking passwords, according to Websense. In this particular scenario, users receive a message spoofed from a popular messaging service, offering a new version of their instant messaging program.

Upon clicking the link, users were redirected to a blog that hosted a password-stealing keylogger. When predetermined banking websites were accessed, the keylogger (bancos.ju) logged keystrokes and sent them to a third party.

Dan Hubbard, senior director of security and technology research for Websense, Inc., said that social engineering, the use of deception or impersonation to access unauthorized information, is involved in luring victims to blogs containing malicious codes.

Internet safety campaign launched to protect children

Inquirer News Service, Agence France-Presse

Child pornography on the Internet is surging and threatens to expose millions to sexual abuse if the IT industry and governments do not take urgent measures, warned a global campaign launched Monday. Children's organizations in 67 countries have joined together to launch the "make-IT-safe" campaign.

"It's a growing problem, and it's a global problem," Carmen Madrinan, executive director of Bangkok-based ECPAT International, which helps monitor child protection issues for the United Nations.

ECPAT, which is spearheading the initiative along with London-based Children's Charities Coalition for Internet Safety (CHIS), "calls on the Internet and hi technology sectors to take responsibility that its goods and services are safe for children everywhere," Madrinan said.

The campaign demands the information technology industry create a global child protection lobby, fund research of technological tools to combat sexual abuse, and support child protection campaigns in the world's major languages.

Most nations, especially in the developing world, lack laws criminalizing child pornography and do not have sufficient capacity among police to crack down on abuse, said Madrinan.

The Internet has sparked enormous growth in child exploitation including through prostitution, sex tourism and trafficking, and by pedophiles using it to stalk children, the United Nations concluded last year at a Bangkok conference.

While some positive steps have been taken, including the shutdown of some chat rooms, CHIS spokesman John Carr said online industries have come up short.

"When dealing with issues such as spam, viruses, phishing and other threats, the Internet and online industries have shown a great willingness and a great ability to come together to develop common technical standards and protocols," Carr said.

"This has simply not happened in the field of child protection. This must change."

In the Philippines, a research center commissioned by the United Nations Children's Fund (Unicef) to write a book on child pornography said local Internet Service Providers (ISPs) were uncooperative.

"We were so frustrated with ISPs. They were uncooperative and they did not want to talk with us; not a single interview was granted," the Philippine Daily Inquirer quoted Elizabeth Protacio-De Castro of the Center for Integrative and Development Studies of the University of the Philippines.

Advances in technology, including the ease of anonymously putting up and shutting down child pornography websites, is helping sex offenders stay one step ahead of authorities.

New digital cameras, webcams and mobile telephone cameras are also making it easier to record child abuse and distribute the images.

Key areas of concern are Belarus, Russia, the United States, and Asia, which leads the world in the number of people online with more than 300 million users, Madrinan said.

Text scams thrive on cell phones’ popularity

By JOEL D. PINAROC, The Manila Times Subeditor


This is but one of the text, or simple messaging service (SMS), scams circulating among the 30 million mobile-phone users in the country.

The One-Stop Public Assistance Office (OSPAC), a subagency of the National Telecommunications Commission (NTC), reports that victims of these bogus messages are not necessarily indigent folk, but include doctors, lawyers and other professionals.

Danilo Cuenca, OSPAC chief, said one documented case involves a lawyer who was duped into buying 12 prepaid cards in 300-peso denomination and dumping these into one number being used by the scammer.

"If the scam involves cash, the scammer often asks for prepaid cards.

If it involves prizes in kind, say a car, victims are often instructed to open an account or deposit certain sums to an ATM account to be able to ‘claim’ the prize," Cuenca said. He cited another case involving a private employee who deposited P15,000 to claim "prizes" supposedly won from an electronic raffle.

Unfortunately, the National Telecommunications Commission cannot pursue these cases and can only recommend "blocking" the number used in the hoax. Blocking makes the subscriber identification module, or SIM, card no longer usable.

Scams through text messaging continue to victimize mobile-phone subscribers despite efforts of carriers and government regulators to curb the crime.

Current estimates place the number of mobile-phone subscribers at more than 30 million, many of whom are subscribers to market rivals Smart Communications and Globe Telecommunications.

Sun Cellular, a relative newcomer to the mobile-phone business, is also enjoying brisk sales, and has logged more than 1.5 million subscribers.

Analysts project that the growth in the number of subscribers could also eclipse earlier forecasts of 20 percent, to reach more than 30 percent this year.

The density is notable in a population of roughly 82 million, indicating that mobile phones continue to outpace the rollout of land-line telephones.

Text exchanges between the more than 30 million subscribers, 90 percent of whom are on a prepaid scheme, also mean big business for carriers. These daily exchanges of text messages continue to generate billions of pesos in revenues.

However, with the significant increase in mobile-phone users, the number of consumer complaints against text scams is also on the rise.

An estimate from the Antimoney Laundering Council said scammers have pocketed more than P5 million from text scams in 2003. The figure is expected to increase in 2004 and 2005 once reports are verified.

Text scammers are also relatively hard to pursue, because they can easily switch from one number to another or can use multiple numbers to initiate the scam.

New scams

The NTC, the government agency that regulates the telecommunications industry, is processing around 30 confirmed cases under the OSPAC.

The OSPAC chief, Cuenca, said it is difficult to give an estimate because thousands of cases remain unreported. Victims are also reluctant to come forward and those who do have requested confidentiality clauses in filing scam cases with the OSPAC.

Edgar Cabarios, director of the NTC’s Common Carrier Department, added that scammers often name-drop or cite government agencies, like the Bangko Sentral ng Pilipinas, the Philippine Charity Sweepstakes, and the Philippine Amusement and Gaming Corp. to make the text messages more believable.

Ramon Isberto, public relations head of Smart, said scammers often use "psychological" ploys to lure unsuspecting consumers.

"A scam usually involves winning in a raffle draw or lottery. The ‘winner’ is informed that he or she can claim the prize from, say, the Philippine Charity Sweepstakes, supposedly to persuade the winner to disclose personal data," Isberto said.

"This is the most common scam being reported to us," he said.

‘Hazy’ rules

Rules on how regulators and carriers should go after text scammers, however, remain hazy.

Isberto said Smart cannot act on consumer complaints and can only report cases to the NTC.

"Sometimes the police are needed in cases of fraud through text messaging," Isberto said, adding that carriers have no legal authority to track suspected scammers.

The NTC’s Cabarios said, however, that carriers could take action on scam reports, particularly on the monitoring side.

He admitted, however, "it would be difficult to track down and monitor these scammers, because they usually use multiple numbers and are on prepaid arrangements. It would also be costly for the carriers."

Text scams fall under the crime of swindling and estafa; thus rules on how carriers and regulators should act on these cases remain unclear.

Bank secrecy laws also forbid agencies to open bank accounts that are used in scams.

Going after the scammers

But the NTC has put in place several measures to combat text scams.

The OSPAC’s Cuenca said the NTC will soon sign an agreement with the Department of Trade and Industry, the Bangko Sentral ng Pilipinas and the Antimoney Laundering Council, among others, to create for an interagency task force that would look into text messaging scams.

"The agreement will be signed before the end of the second quarter," Cuenca said.

The NCT has also filed a proposal in Congress to make text scam a "special crime."

Cabarios said the NTC expects to control text scams more effectively through a proposed special four-digit number to be assigned to carriers.

He said the NTC will hand down the memorandum on this "anytime soon."

The proposal requires carriers to direct all promos, and raffles to the four-digit number to help consumers indicate which promos are legitimate and which are scams.

Mother of all scams?

The consumer group TxtPower meanwhile says that the bigger issue is "push" marketing that the carriers themselves initiated.

Push marketing contains promos, invitations and gimmicks that subscribers have not asked.

Anthony Ian Cruz, convener of the group, said push marketing allows carriers to send out "unwanted" text messages to subscribers, without giving them enough information about their contents.

"The carriers usually send this promo inviting subscribers to reply or to register to avail themselves of the promo. What most subscribers don’t know is that they are being charged for merely replying via text messaging," Cruz said.

Although subscribers can easily ignore push marketing, he said carriers may have been violating privacy laws, because of the "abuse" of personal data from subscribers.

"Some carriers ignore the intended use of this private information. They sometimes use this information for other purposes, including sending out spams, or unwanted messages, through SMS," Cruz said.

He believes the money churned out by carriers from push marketing could reach astronomical sums.

He said a mere one percent of the more than 30 million subscribers unwittingly replying to these promos could mean that carriers can easily churn out millions of pesos daily.

The NTC apparently heeded the group’s calls last week when it issued a circular ordering carriers and content providers, which are firms directly engaged in sending promotional materials through text messages, not to send unsolicited push information.

The order, posted on the NTC website, said carriers could send promotional materials provided they get "explicit permission" from subscribers.

The memo also ordered carriers to stop sending materials once a subscriber does not reply to these messages.

It also required simple messaging services to display senders’ identity including addresses and numbers where subscribers can send requests to stop the spamming.

Carriers were also ordered to act on consumer complaints 30 days after receiving spam-related cases. The new rules will apply to both simple messaging service and multimedia messaging service, the NTC said.