Monday, January 28, 2008

SMS (text messaging) spam

It's finally happened: I'm sure we're not the first people to get this, but in the last week, both Kyla and I received spam text messages on our cell phones. That's obviously even more of a problem than spam e-mail because few people have unlimited text messaging plans, meaning that you have to pay for each text message you receive. So getting an unwanted, unsolicited text message from someone you don't know is as close to stealing as you could get.

I'd never considered the possibility of this becoming a widespread problem, because usually it would be cost- (and time-) prohibitive for someone to type and send out mass text messages (from a handset): they'd get charged for every text sent regardless of if it didn't work, or if the recipients didn't respond, etc. But most companies offer e-mail to text services (like Verizon - ours is just our 10-digit cell phone number @vtext.com), and even forms online where you just type in the phone number(s) you want to send to, type the message, and click send. These methods are, of course, free to the sender. So of course that's how this spam is starting to get out - they can mass e-mail to thousands of phone numbers (all of which are simply numeric - it wouldn't be hard to be guaranteed a fairly high success rate of guessing a working cell phone number), and at no cost to the sender.

So over the weekend, I called Verizon to see what they're doing about this problem and what they could offer me to filter spam messages out. I honestly expected the run-around and endless (though doubtless legitimate) explanations about how hard it would be to implement that type of filtering as excuses for why they couldn't do anything for me. However, I was quite pleasantly surprised.

Within about 6 minutes of an airtime-free call, I'd learned that I could block messages from up to 15 specific e-mail addresses (such as spammer@spam.com), e-mail domains as a whole (spam.com), or even block any messages sent from specific methods (all messages sent from e-mail OR all messages sent from the web form OR both). Also, for even better filtering, you can set up a nickname for your phone number and use that in addition to the 10-digit number address. Nicknames started as just a nice feature; you could tell people they could send texts to a more memorable address - myname@vtext.com instead of 5551231234@vtext.com . But since a user-selected nickname of nearly any length is much harder for spammers to guess, they've also allowed you to block all text messages NOT sent to your nickname - a much more user-friendly filtering tool than not allowing people whose messages you may want to use any method (e-mail or web form).

To find these tools, just log into 'My Account' at http://www.vtext.com, click on 'messaging' in the red menu bar at the top, click on 'preferences' in the red navigation bar on the left, then click on 'Text Blocking'.

As an added bonus in our case, they asked for what it displayed in the 'from' field of the text messages (in my case, 6245, whatever that means), and have credited our account for all messages received from that address this month. All in all, a very positive experience with Verizon Customer Service. Props to them.

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1 Comments:

At April 23, 2008 at 3:01 PM , Anonymous Anonymous said...

6-2-4-5 => M-A-I-L

 

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