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Spark unveils online protections against cyber hazards & scams
Fri, 22nd Mar 2024

Spark, a major telecommunications entity, has unveiled a collection of online protections to ensure the safety of its mobile and broadband customers from hazardous material, cyber threats, and scams. The new tools encompass an automated text scam firewall, as well as two filters designed to minimise exposure to malware, phishing, and child sexual abuse material (CSAM).

Spark's Sustainability Director, Leela Ashford, stated, "We want to play our part in protecting our customers from the growing list of threats they face online— from scams and cyber security risks, all the way through to exposure to abhorrent and illegal child sexual abuse material, which exploits vulnerable children."

The SMS scam firewall, rolling out from April, will autonomously identify and block proven fraudulent SMS content before it reaches the end-user. The firewall will tap into a global database of validated scam content, foreseeably reducing the volume of scam texts received by Spark customers by identifying and blocking known URLS, phrases, and calls to action leveraged in SMS scam campaigns.

Ashford further elaborated, "For many years, Spark has been monitoring outgoing SMS traffic patterns from our own network in an effort to detect scams, more recently with automation alerting our fraud teams to unusual activity so we can block offending accounts." She added that the new filter will enhance Spark's detection and blocking capabilities against activity coming from other mobile networks, whilst urging the customer base to remain vigilant online.

The company announced it's on the verge of becoming the first internet service provider in New Zealand to join the Internet Watch Foundation (IWF), enabling it to block URLs containing CSAM as indexed in the Foundation's constantly updated list. Its upcoming IWF membership will supplement its recent agreement with the Department of Internal Affairs (DIA) regarding the blocking of websites harbouring CSAM. Moreover, Spark has formally endorsed WeProtect Global Alliance's 11 Voluntary Principles to Counter Online Child Sexual Exploitation and Abuse.

Ashford stated, "The dissemination of child sexual abuse material is a growing issue in Aotearoa and globally. We want to ensure we do whatever we can to protect our customers from this illegal content, and extending our blocking activity through our new membership of the Internet Watch Foundation is one of the ways we can further strengthen protections on our network."

In order to fortify its defence against harmful activity, Spark has joined forces with the GCSB's National Cyber Security Centre to integrate the Malware Free Networks (MFN) service into its network. This service aims to reduce instances of customers inadvertently downloading malware by blocking known malicious websites. Additionally, Spark has incorporated Brand Indicators for Message Identification (BIMI) into its domain, enabling certain email platforms to verify an email's legitimacy from Spark and thus prevent phishing scams impersonating the company.

The new measures are already in effect for Spark customers with plans to commence blocking using the IWF URL list and roll-out its new SMS scam firewall beginning April.