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Scammers can spoof their caller ID to look like a familiar company’s number.
ASU prof developing tools to protect consumers from robocallers.
Legitimate organizations won't call and ask for sensitive data, says ASU prof.
June 13, 2017

Adam Doupé's lab working on tech that could build level of trust in a caller's phone number

Scammers can leave voicemails without causing your phone to ring. They can mask their number so you think your bank is calling you. Their next trick is combining phone and computer scams for a double hit. Robocallers, scammers and spammers continue to find new ways to get people to pick up the phone and give them sensitive information, money or both.

Adam Doupé, an assistant professor in ASU’s School of Computing, Informatics and Decisions Systems Engineering and affiliate faculty member to ASU’s Global Security Initiative, has been researching the techniques robocallers use and their success rates and has been developing new tools to protect consumers.

Here he talks to ASU Now about his findings.

Question: How do spammers and robocallers leave voicemails without causing phones to ring?

Answer: There are companies, several companies in fact, that offer services for this type of call. Based on their patent filings, the way this works is that the company calls your phone twice at the same time. There is a delay between when a carrier received your call and when your phone rings, and as soon as your line is busy, the other call goes to your voicemail. The company drops the call that is connecting to your line, and leaves open the call that has gone to your voicemail.

Q: Why are phones so vulnerable to spam calls?

A: The core problem is that caller ID can be easily and inexpensively spoofed, meaning the phone number you see on your screen for the incoming call is not actually the phone number that is calling you. Spoofing only costs a few dollars, and systems to generate lots of calls aren’t expensive either.

Additionally, caller ID is an optional field in the "initiate call" message that is sent to start a call. No one checks the validity of that field, and the number added to that message is what shows up on your display. As part of my team’s research, we looked into what tools and techniques have been tried to prevent robocalls and scams, and none have been successful.

Q: Do any legitimate companies use spoofing? If so, why?

A: Yes, companies will change their outgoing caller ID to be the phone number they want customer-service response calls to go through when returned. Fundamentally, a legitimate company should never spoof a phone number they don’t actually control.

Scammers, however, sometimes spoof their caller ID to look like a familiar company’s phone number. For example, maybe you recognize your insurance carrier’s customer-service number or your bank’s number. Or, if you Google the phone number while you’re on the call, you might see that the number is affiliated with a trusted company. Scammers rely on that trust to make their scams successful.

Q: What solutions are in the works to protect consumers?  

A: When you’re browsing websites, you’ll see what we call a “security indicator,” also known as a green lock. If you’re on Google or Facebook, you’ll see the lock and know that you’re talking to the real website. It’s a visual indication that your communications are secure. In my lab’s work, we’re creating a similar mechanism for phone calls to build a level of trust in the caller ID phone number.

We have filed for a patent on this technology, and we are working with the International Telecommunication Union, a global telecomm standardization body, to have this technology standardized.

Q: With the new tricks scammers are using, does the Do Not Call Registry matter anymore?

A: It is useful. The Do Not Call Registry is still a useful step to avoid calls from companies that are using telemarketing legitimately. The bad thing is, the registry information is public, so scammers can try to use that information. Ultimately, people doing illegal things aren’t going to be deterred by regulations. And many scammers operate outside of the U.S. using VOIP — Voice Over Internet Protocol — to make calls via Internet services like CallFire, which provide virtual phone numbers.  

Q: What do you see as the next wave of scams?

A: We are seeing a growing amount of tech-support scams with a mix of viruses and malware. The scammers will get you while you’re visiting a website, you’ll get a popup window that says to call a tech-support number because your machine is infected. When you call, you’re giving the spammers remote access and from there they are in control.

Generally, we’re seeing the merging of computer frauds with phone calls.

Q: What should we do if we’re receiving spam calls?

A: If you’re in any way skeptical about a phone call you receive, hang up right away and Google the number to find out if it’s legitimate. Even if it was a legitimate number, let’s say Google tells you the phone number is from Chase, that doesn’t mean Chase called you. That said, if you call the company back on their publicly listed customer-service line, you’ll speak directly to the company and you’ll know whether the original call was spam.

Also, it’s important to know that big companies, or government agencies, are not going to call you and ask for sensitive data. Your bank or the IRS will not call and ask for your Social Security number. If you are asked for that information, hang up and call the company or organization back on its publicly listed customer-service number.

Another important thing to remember is that robocallers and scammers tend to target people who are in the U.S. on visas. People from other countries may not be familiar with IRS or government agency protocols and may not know that they shouldn’t provide that information over the phone.

Leslie Minton

Media Relations Manager , Media Relations and Strategic Communications

480-727-4294

 
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Students inspire ASU professor to explore U.S.-Mexico soccer rivalry.
June 15, 2017

Experts explore the cultural, political importance of teams, athletic events

When Jeff Kassing, an Arizona State University professor of communicationsin the New College of Interdisciplinary Arts and Sciences, asked students in his course on the cultural significance of soccer to select and profile a historic rivalry, he expected them to choose the likes of Barça vs. Real Madrid, Boca Juniors vs. River Plate or Argentina vs. Brazil — but instead many opted for U.S. vs. Mexico. 

“So it was through the eyes of my students that I came to understand the richness and significance of this rivalry and how it presented Mexican-Americans with an opportunity to engage their dual identities,” Kassing told an audience attending an ASU event in Mexico City three days before Sunday’s U.S.-Mexico World Cup qualifying match (spoiler alert in case you have the game on your DVR: it ended in a 1-1 tie).

Perspectives on the U.S.-Mexico Soccer Rivalry: Passion and Politics in Red, White, Blue and Green

Inspired by his students, Kassing then assembled journalists and scholars from both sides of the border to explore this unique rivalry, and the larger relationship it represents, in a forthcoming book he co-edited, “Perspectives on the U.S.-Mexico Soccer Rivalry: Passion and Politics in Red, White, Blue and Green.”

The ASU event “Do Sports Unite or Divide Us?” — held in the Condesa neighborhood’s Impact Hub co-working space — also featured ASU sports historian Victoria Jackson and Mexican journalists Irma Cuevas and Carlos Bravo Regidor.

Bravo, a political columnist who directs the journalism program at Mexico’s prestigious Centro de Investigación y Docencias Económicas (CIDE), said that sports fandom can often be an important source of identity for communities.

“I am a third-generation Barcelona fan, with Catalan ancestors, and that team’s slogan of ‘Mes que un club’ [‘More than a club’] says it all in terms of the cultural and political importance of the team,” Bravo said.

“I think for many of us, you can’t speak of choosing your teams. They choose you.” 

He added that just like politics during the Franco dictatorship made the Barcelona-Real Madrid rivalry all the more consequential, the general perception that President Donald Trump is hostile toward Mexico has added to the passions and intensity surrounding the U.S.-Mexico rivalry for North American soccer supremacy.

Jackson told the audience that sports can be used to lure students into studying and appreciating history. 

“Most students who enroll in my courses are not history majors or even enthusiasts; they’re often sports fans who need a humanities credit,” Jackson said. “I use sport as a means to uncover the broader story of time and place. We place sport in its social, cultural, economic, and political context, and explore how a sporting moment both reflects and influences the society in which it exists. Sure enough, I end up blowing a lot of minds and gaining new humanities converts. Seeing students reach that critical moment of discovery of their love of history is an experience that will never get old for me.”

In addition to getting people to appreciate history, sports can inspire social cohesion and pride in place. Cuevas, who hosts a public-radio sports broadcast across Mexico, noted that at a time when people are disenchanted with politics, sports can help fill the void. 

“Rooting for the national team or our Olympians and sharing in their victories is a way for us to feel a positive form of solidarity and nationalism,” she said. 

Sports panel in Mexico City

Jeff Kassing, Arizona State University professor of communications, speaks during the ASU-hosted panel “Do Sports Unite or Divide Us?” June 8 in Mexico City. The other panelists were (from left): Irma Cuevas, Mexican sports journalist; Carlos Bravo Regidor, political columnist and journalism program director at Mexico’s Centro de Investigación y Docencias Económicas think tank; Andrés Martínez, panel moderator and special adviser to ASU President Michael Crow; and Victoria Jackson, ASU lecturer and sports historian.

 

Indeed, Bravo cautioned, it’s this kind of feeling that governments often seek to exploit through sporting events that can become vehicles for propaganda. Vladimir Putin, for instance, may be a big sports fan, but his interest in the 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi and next year’s Russian World Cup transcends sport.

“It’s about how the rest of the world perceives your country, and how your countrymen rally around the flag,” Bravo said.

Jackson pointed out that next year is the 50th anniversary of the Mexico City Olympics, which occurred as the world was convulsed by revolutionary inter-generational fervor. The Olympic Games are mostly remembered in the U.S. for the black power salute of African-American track medalists John Carlos and Tommie Smith, while in Mexico the event is remembered for the massacre of student protesters that preceded it. The authoritarian Mexican government at the time was determined to make a good impression on the world as an Olympic host and sought to quash all dissent before the arrival of foreign journalists, athletes and fans.

“My students have no idea of this horrible massacre in Mexico, but in my course I try to convey to them that it was connected to the same questioning of authority and demands for democracy that were shaking much of the world,” Jackson said.

Back on the current U.S.-Mexico soccer rivalry, Kassing observed that although all good heated rivalries contain a measure of antagonism, there’s also a certain bonding that develops over time between rivals.

“And if there is any confusion about us being in this together in North America, the 2026 World Cup should make a powerful statement,” Kassing said, as it is expected to be jointly awarded to the U.S., Mexico and Canada.

Cuevas agreed that sports can bring our countries together and listed a number of recent efforts by U.S. sports leagues to reach out to Mexican fans, including the two regular-season NBA games the Phoenix Suns played in Mexico City last January.

“I should also note that Mexico has a player in the doubles final of the prestigious Roland Garros tennis tournament this weekend, which is a big deal,” Cuevas said. “And his partner is an American.”

The engaged audience continued the conversation over refreshments after the panel discussion, and many stayed on to watch that evening’s Mexico-Honduras World Cup qualifier.

The panel was moderated by Andrés Martínez, a special adviser to ASU President Michael Crow and a professor of practice at the Cronkite School of Journalism and Mass Communication, who is curating a series of such ASU conversations in Mexico City aimed at increasing awareness of the university and its strengths among Mexican media and other influencers. The events also aim to engage with ASU alumni in Mexico City.

“I’m eager to create a steady flow of ASU faculty coming south, sharing their research insights with counterparts in Mexico, and giving Mexicans a taste of what makes ours such an innovative university,” Martinez said. “Thanks to the work of my colleague Rafael Rangel Sostmann and many others, ASU is well-known and admired among university leaders in Mexico, and now we’re also trying to expand this reputation and awareness to the broader public.”

 

Andrés Martínez contributed to this report. Top photo by Steve Evans (originally posted to Flickr as Inside Soccer City) [CC BY 2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0)], via Wikimedia Commons