AurorA guests on RAG-TV

Timo appearing on RAGTV S2E1
Timo on RAGTV S2E1 with hosts Eric Priezkalns and Lee Scargall

On Wednesday, June 17, 2020 I had the honour of appearing on the opening episode of Season 2 of RAG-TV, the online streaming show of the Risk and Assurance Group. Their virtual conference in May was seen by over 2,000 telecom industry pros in over 93 countries ! Read more about that here and here.

RAG ia an association for telco professionals involved in all aspects of Revenue Assurance; fraud management, enterprise risk management, law enforcement liaison, credit risk, market assurance, capex analysis and security. Actually, association sounds too stuffy, a club is a better description. A club of like minded telecom fraud and risk managers wanting to get better and improve.

Commsrisk described the episode like this
“Telcos come in all shapes and sizes, from the hundreds of millions of customers served by an Indian mobile network like Jio, and the extensive multi-country operations and carrier function of a group like Vodafone, to telcos that serve tiny island nations and small, focused international carriers like AurorA International Telecom, based in Waterloo, Canada. They all need to work together in order to connect phone users whilst fighting the rouge elements that plague our industry.”

“AurorA’s Timo Vainionpää and LATRO Services’ Donald Reinhart were the guests for the first episode of the new season of RAG Television, giving me the opportunity to ask them about the factors that encourage bypass fraud and what can be done to identify and compete with gray routing. Watch the replay of the show below.”

Watch here !

Stand on Guard this Canada Day

July 1st is Canada Day ! For me it will always remain Dominion Day but for you young’uns Happy Canada Day ! A day to celebrate this wonderful country of ours.

It is an unfortunate fact that the hackers of the world like to plan their attacks on public holidays when network supervision may not be at its highest. On top of that we are still in the fight against COVID-19, and the criminals have escalated their attacks. Furthermore, our friends south of the border will be celebrating their Independence Day on Saturday, July 4 which gives them even more incentive to be out in force.

Please remember to be vigilant this Canada Day and guard access to your switches.

AurorA has to deliver any traffic that is sent to it , so you are responsible for any unauthorized access to your network. AurorA will pass on any alerts that it gets of suspicious traffic patterns. AurorA has also implemented automatic blocking of B numbers once we detect a suspicious fraudulent traffic pattern in an attempt to minimize losses. Also we have also implemented blocking of entire routing destinations after a threshold is breached to further protect you, our customers, from these criminals and mitigate the damage.

Make no mistake, these frauds are perpetrated by criminals; sometimes organized crime, sometimes terrorist groups looking to raise funds for their causes.

Have a safe and happy holiday. Thank you for choosing AurorA and trusting us with your international traffic.
Timo Vainionpaa

RAG London Online 2020: Day 2

The sponsors of RAG London 2020
Thanks to the sponsors of RAG London Online 2020 for the free event

Today was the second and final day of the Risk and Assurance Group (RAG) London conference. Due to the ongoing global pandemic it was turned into a virtual online conference. The sessions began at 7:30 AM London time (2:30 AM in Waterloo) but I listened to the whole event from start to finish for the second day in a row.

Today there was a superb real-life session on assuring network assets from Optus, one on revenue protection and maximization for pay-TV providers, Rating Reconciliation, RAG Online Learning Courses and Risk Management in Other Industries (retail, utilities, financial services and charities). The bulk of the remaining sessions, though, were related to fraud management in various forms. These were the meat, the substance I was craving when I decided to attend the conference.

A lot of modern voice calls are now placed using the SIP protocol ; IP, 4G LTE, 5G, OTT apps and all modern PBX all rely on SIP. SIP calls are a combination of two elements, a signalling stream and an RTP stream. As part of the signalling, a log-in and password accompany every call. Hackers have latched on to this to hijack SIP calls and steal those credentials. This is now the main vector for PBX hacking to do IRSF. The TL/DR is if you are using SIP (and we all do) then no one is 100% safe and we need to be very vigilant.

There were two panels discussing various aspects of fraud management . One was about integrating Test Calls into an assurance strategy to find issues that might go unnoticed if we just focus on CDR reconciliation. The other panel looked at the rise in SIM swap fraud during the pandemic , OTT bypass fraud (or OTT hijack might be a better description) via Viber, Off-net bypass, Refile and SIM box detection.

Then there was a session on IRSF (International Simple Resale Fraud); Wangiri (one ring) is one form of it, hijacked PBX’s are another and is the one I see more commonly with my customers. Kenneth Mouton outlined three tactics to provide protections; i) setting traffic limits ii) Databases (of numbers to block) iii) Analytics (CDR vs Signalling, AI/ML vs rule based) . He also ran through five myths about IRSF and proceeded to debunk them

  • – “Subscriber pays” is a myth
  • – “You can fix problem 1” is a myth
  • – “IRSF is only about Premium Numbers” is a myth
  • – “IRSF/Wangiri is high volume in a short period” is a myth
  • – “RAFM Managers know IRSF” is a myth

There is enough substance here (and my notes are copious) that I plan on writing a few more detailed blog posts in the near future. For sure at least one just on SIP and another just on IRSF.

Those are just some of the over-arching themes from over ten hours of superb content. If you missed it and are interested , some of the videos will be posted on the RAG website here.

I would like to thank the hosts Eric Priezkalns, Rachel Goodin and Tony Sani for putting on a great virtual conference. I would like to thank all of the speakers and all of the sponsors. And I would like to thank RAG, for bringing together over 2,000 people in telecom revenue, risk and business assurance from around the world (93 countries !) in a free to attend event.

I so look forward to the next RAG event, hopefully it will be a live one. The content of the virtual event was superb but I miss the networking part of the conference and the chance to chat face-to-face with like minded professionals. Here is hoping we can meet in person again soon.

RAG London Online: May 13-14, 2020

The compères Eric, Rachel and Tony

Today was the first day of the Risk and Assurance Group (RAG) London conference. Due to the ongoing global pandemic it was turned into a virtual online conference. The sessions began at 7:30 AM London time (2:30 AM in Waterloo, eek !) but I listened to the whole event from start to finish.

The conference covered revenue assurance, fraud management, cybersecurity, billing accuracy, enterprise risk management, margin optimization, cost management and other kinds of business assurance.

Revenue Assurance is a broad topic that can cover many issues in a telecom business. Many of the presentations highlighted the growth and evolution of revenue assurance from a simple audit type function to informal analytics to entire ecosystem tracking. RA professionals can not only increase the top line by preventing revenue leakage but also improve bottom line profits and cash flows, all without dampening demand. In fact
it can be said that business assurance is the only function that assures profit as it has the data to measure costs on a customer basis.

The near future for RA would be to embrace emerging technology such as Machine Learning and other for automating more and more processes. The skills of RA professionals in telecom will also find their way into other industries such as Finance, Utilities , Consumer and Tech.

There were discussions on the blockchain for telecom as well as specifically for battling Wangiri one-ring fraud. Other fraud management schemes such as STIR/SHAKEN, A&B # Handshake, and Seismic were discussed.

One of my favourite lines I heard today, reminded me of my sales philosophy with my own customers. “Trust is the biggest thing; it is about the relationship, it is not a transaction”. It was said in a discussion of RA working with internal partners such as network but it really did remind me of why I love my business and serving my customers.

Those are just some of the over-arching themes from over ten hours of superb content. If you missed it and are interested , some of the videos will be posted on the RAG website here.

Better yet, get yourself out of bed at 2:30 AM tomorrow and catch Day 2 of the conference live. That way you can participate in the Q & A sessions ! I am looking forward to it myself.

RAG – Risk and Assurance Group

You may have noticed a new logo on our home page and footer. AurorA, more specifically Timo, is a member of RAG, the Risk and Assurance Group.

I joined RAG back in June, 2019 after attending their conference in Toronto held at Telus Harbour. I wrote about that experience here.

RAG can be described as an association for telco professionals involved in all aspects of Revenue Assurance; fraud management, enterprise risk management, law enforcement liaison, credit risk, market assurance, capex analysis and security. Actually, association sounds too stuffy, a club is a better description. A club of like minded telecom fraud and risk managers wanting to get better and improve.

What makes it a club is the spirit of openness. The way to solve many of the issues in fraud and risk in the telecom industry is to work together. At RAG, people are encouraged to be open, to ask questions, provide answers and share, to share experiences and information and practices.

I have met many great people in the industry from all over the world through RAG. They have been kind enough to share their knowledge openly with me. You can find some of this online at the RAG website , where you will also find episodes of RAGTV and even online training courses under RAG learning. The conferences, such as the one I attended in Toronto, have been held around the world; London, Nairobi, Bahrain, Bonn, Johannesburg, Delhi and more. They are a great way to meet people face-to-face, network and interact directly.

With the global COVID-19 pandemic raging, the next scheduled conference on May 13-14, 2020 will be held online. Although the start times are pretty early for the Eastern Time Zone (2:30 AM EEEK) I still plan on getting up and watching some of the sessions live.

So know you know why many of my social media posts on Twitter and LinkedIn feature RAG. I am proud to be a member, and happy that they agreed to let me display the logo on my website. Membership in RAG really helps me stay on top of what is happening in the world of fraud and risk management so I can better serve you, my customers. Together, we can all help the telecom industry mitigate the hackers, cheats and criminals out there.

2020 Redux

Photo Credit ; Carmi Levy, @carmilevy more at http://writteninc.blogspot.com/

Back in early January, I wrote a post on my 2020 vision where I focused on a few topics I thought would be of importance in the New Year. My goal was to avoid the dreaded Top 10 list of predictions by providing more substance.

Back then we were all quite innocent and unprepared to imagine a global pandemic and what our collective human response to it would do to our lives. So I thought I would revisit the trends I identified to see how well they held up over four short months. Then try to look forward to what the rest of this year might bring, especially as we begin to restart the economy as we inevitably come out of self-isolation and lockdowns.

Telecom Fraud
Well, did I ever nail THAT one on the head. As we have been forced to self-isolate and work from home, the hackers, cheats and swindlers have been out in full force. Traffic on telecom networks both here in Canada and globally have skyrocketed but there has also been more and more attacks on telecoms. Traditional fraud schemes such as Wangiri fraud and the related International Revenue Share Fraud (IRSF) are up dramatically. This has been a major point of emphasis for AurorA since fraud mitigation is a key part of the added value of providing premium voice termination. The AI based fraud tools that we use have saved tens of thousands of dollars of catastrophic losses for wholesale customers and their retail and commercial customers. This trend shows no sign of abating and will continue throughout the rest of the year.

The Decline of Voice
I missed this one badly. My basic premise, supported by the traffic numbers, was that voice traffic was in a long term secular decline. Who would have forecast that during a pandemic, the killer application would turn out to be voice ? During their isolation, people wanted to reach out and talk to friends, family and loved ones. Voice traffic has skyrocketed, especially to international destinations.

Given that apps such as WhatsApp and Skype are available for free calls, it is interesting that people still rely on the ubiquitous telephone and voice calling. Everyone has a phone, and calling “just works” for everyone. My own feeling is that people prefer the high quality connection that comes from a premium quality phone call. Text (and email) doesnt cut it; it is too cold and lacks nuance.

Recession is coming
Wish I didnt get this right. Recession has come on a whole lot faster than anyone anticipated. The pandemic hit to our economy is huge, the unemployment levels are unprecedented in their speed and depth. The governments have had to spend huge sums to provide liquidity and financially prop up people, families and businesses while we dealt with the pandemic. This recession will be deep, and the length of it is unknown. There is far to much complexity to try and predict how and when we will come out of this recession.

Moving Forward
So, whats next ? What should we be doing as telecom service providers over the next few months when the lockdowns slowly get lifted. How can we prepare for what’s next ? Some of us will be looking simply to survive, others to maintain and still some will be better positioned to grow. I think three potential things to consider are a) controlling costs b) solidifying existing revenues c) looking to add top-line revenue.

For cost control now is the time to tighten the screws on your organization from top to bottom. Examine all costs, especially all S,G & A line items to see where savings can be had. Billing systems, payment services, any form of overhead costs should all be examined and cost savings sought wherever possible. Now is the time to tackle those cost savings projects that we were too busy for before and make productive use of the work from home time.

Maintaining revenues such as voice traffic can be key. Consumers and businesses have rediscovered calling. Promote that service, especially the high quality of your voice connections. Using a premium supplier that protects you from exposure fraud also protects you and your customers from unforseen costs. Be prepared to cement that goodwill that your customers feel towards you right now.

Finally, if you are lucky enough to have been prudent and maintained strong cash liquidity, times of recession can often be times of the best top-line growth. During hard times, business customers are looking to cut costs, and will be more receptive to moving away from their current providers to be able to save money. This is when they will look to competitive suppliers. So have your marketing and especially your front line sales staff prepared for this opportunity. You can attract customers with new offerings too; to increase the value of your bundle how about internet, home phone and asset tracking ?

We will get through this period, we are resilient and we are strong, especially together. As always, Amitel and AurorA are here to help. Reach out to me to have deeper discussions on the above, or any other pain points you may be experiencing. Reach out to me just to talk ! Looking forward to growing together with you in 2020 as we navigate through these unusual and uncertain times.

Your Friend in Telecom

Timo

Thanks to Carmi Levy, @carmilevy for use of his superb photograph. Follow his work at http://writteninc.blogspot.com/