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There’s a compelling reason why the Federal Communication Commission’s (FCC) STIR/SHAKEN was so desperately called for before its eventual implementation on June 30th, 2021. America has a nasty robocalling problem to the tune of roughly 4 to 5 billion fraudulent robocalls every month (as of 2021). And attacks are growing more ferocious.
STIR/SHAKEN was designed amid a shifting fraud landscape. Fraudsters aren’t trying to skim money off the back of telecom transactions anymore; today, it’s about harvesting personal and financial data. Enter the ‘Robocall Big Bang,’ where attackers around the world are exploiting vulnerabilities in current technologies to target end users directly.
Regulators know this, hence STIR/SHAKEN, a suite of technical protocol and governance framework standards meant to clamp down on robocalls, most of which carry a spoofed Calling Line Identification (CLI), or Caller ID. This is how fraudsters make U.S customers believe they’re receiving a call from someone in the U.S. when they’re not. Given that the carrier originating the call is supposed to ‘sign’ and verify each call as legitimate, STIR/SHAKEN was supposed to bring confidence to end-users and terminating carriers (the final destination of the call — in this case, the U.S.) when they verify an incoming Caller ID received on an IP network.
It’s nice in theory, but BICS FraudGuard revealed a 65% increase in the volume of attacks to U.S. subscribers between November 2021 and February 2022.
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Call traffic isn’t a straight line: The problem with STIR/SHAKEN
At the heart of STIR/SHAKEN’s shortcomings is a misunderstanding of how international voice traffic works.
International call traffic isn’t a straight line. Rarely does a call travel directly from an operator in a country or to a mobile network operator in the U.S. There are many ‘hops’ in between: You might see traffic transiting between three or four carriers, but it’s not unusual to see as many as seven or eight separate connections between carriers as traffic makes its way across the globe.
If an operator in Singapore erroneously certifies a U.S. CLI in a fraudulent call as genuine, and if numerous hops occur before the final U.S.-operator destination, then all the regulations imposing methods to certify that CLI — and thus the call — ultimately mean nothing.
As soon as you have many intermediate parties in international traffic, you lose traceability. The signature of the CLI will only be passed onto different carriers in the chain if the call also transits through IP networks, which is not always the case. Worse, data protection laws and company policies often further prevent operators in the U.S. from tracing a call’s origin. And since foreign operators are unbound by FCC regulations, there’s little incentive to implement STIR/SHAKEN.
Global adoption needed
In other words, STIR/SHAKEN forces international gateway providers to sign CLIs — and in costly ways — that they cannot conceivably know are genuine. All an international gateway provider in the middle can do is acknowledge the call was verified by an earlier operator (if the CLI signature is passed on in the SIP headers). Alternatively they can ascribe a ‘C-level attestation’ to the call (the lowest trust level), effectively confirming that they themselves haven’t manipulated an incoming call that originated from somewhere completely different.
What is the value of this ‘attestation’? For American customers’ comfort and safety, not much.
A policy like STIR/SHAKEN can only work if applied to every other country sending calls with U.S. CLIs, which isn’t realistic. For all of America’s influence as a major geopolitical player, it could never impose its domestic regulation on operators in Japan, Zimbabwe, or Australia. Its governance framework is simply not designed for adapting to the international environment.
A quick look at the Robocall Index reveals that the year-on-year number of robocalls has dropped, but not enough to justify the tremendous costs incurred by international carriers for performing low-value, C-level attestations of calls.
AI to combat fraud
Against the robocall plight, for regulation to be effective, we would need a global framework that applies equally to all international parties. But the complexity of this means it’s unlikely to occur anytime soon.
Tools like analytics and machine learning (ML) can alleviate this and are already part of FCC regulations. Indeed, BICS runs a FraudGuard platform that sources intelligence from more than 900 service providers, then applies AI to detect and block incoming fraudulent calls and texts. In the last year, BICS has blocked millions of calls before they reached U.S operators and subscribers.
Part of why AI works here is because the answer to combatting fraud is less ‘Know Your Customer’ than it is ‘Know Your Traffic,’ and in this respect, AI tracks traffic behaviors very well. But these tools cannot be relied on as a crutch. They need to be used with care to avoid blocking legitimate traffic and causing legal disputes between international carriers.
Time to look for humbler solutions
Tracebacks, also supported by FCC regulation and led by the Industry Traceback Group (ITG), are an investigative process to root out the party responsible for originating fraudulent calls. Starting with the last carrier, the call is traced back through many carriers, bypassing confidentiality agreements and privacy legislations where possible to find the bad actors. Punishing robocallers must be part of our strategy, rather than punishing intermediate parties doing their best, but admittedly, this is a very lengthy process.
Fortunately, there are humbler solutions. One involves providing greater clarity for international carriers on the North American Numbering Plan (NANPS) to ease differentiating ‘good’ traffic from ‘bad’ traffic (that is, which U.S. CLIs are allowed to generate traffic from overseas aside from roaming end users?).
Operators typically assign enterprises operating abroad with numbers and ranges with which they can generate traffic from outside the U.S. — a call center serving American customers will often carry U.S. CLIs even if they originate from elsewhere. A list of these enterprise numbers could feasibly be shared with the international telecom community; any inbound number not on the list that doesn’t show human roaming behavior would be marked suspicious.
New threats in a 5G world
Adopting more measures to combat fraud and security threats will only become more important in a 5G and Internet of Things (IoT) world.
This transition will add complexity to the telecom ecosystem, inevitably creating more entry points and loopholes for fraudsters to exploit. A networkis only ever as strong as its weakest link, so we will need to bring our A-game in fraud prevention and security protection as an international community. This includes stricter audits of who we’re doing business with, especially if other parties are found to be originating spoofed calls.
Fraud prevention never stands still. Fraudsters are constantly adapting and expanding geographically. There’s no single magical solution, but we have to recognize that we can never fully eradicate fraud. Protocols like STIR/SHAKEN are a starting point to protect the telecom ecosystem, but the challenge of international borders necessitates a truly global collaborative approach from the whole ecosystem, including national regulatory authorities and operators.
Katia Gonzales is head of fraud prevention at BICS and Chair of the i3 Fraud Forum.
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One of the most irritating (and slightly painful) parts of joining a Microsoft Teams call could soon be fixed by a new update.
The video conferencing service is a popular choice for many companies, meaning calls with large numbers of participants joining at the same time, and from the same location (such as a meeting room) are a common occurrence.
However, often when multiple people join a meeting in the same room, a feedback loop is created, which causes echo, which in most cases quickly escalates to howling – with Microsoft likening the noise to when a musician holds the mic too close to a loudspeaker.
Fortunately, a new fix is coming for Microsoft Teams users. In its entry in the official Microsoft 365 roadmap (opens in new tab), the new “Ultrasound Howling Detection” describes how it aims to prevent this noise for users on Windows and Mac across the world.
Microsoft says that the update should mean if multiple users on laptops join from the same location, it will share with the user that another Teams Device is detected in their vicinity and is already joined with audio to the current meeting.
If a user has already joined with their audio on, Microsoft Teams will automatically mute the mic and speakers of any new the person who then joins the call, hopefully putting an end to the howling and screeching feedback.
Thankfully, the update is already listed as being in development, with an expected general availability date of March 2023, so users shouldn’t have to wait too long to enjoy.
The new updates are the result of using a machine learning model trained on 30,000 hours of speech samples, and include echo cancellation, better adjusting audio in poor acoustic environments, and allowing users to speak and hear at the same time without interruptions.
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Mike Moore is Deputy Editor at TechRadar Pro. He has worked as a B2B and B2C tech journalist for nearly a decade, including at one of the UK’s leading national newspapers and fellow Future title ITProPortal, and when he’s not keeping track of all the latest enterprise and workplace trends, can most likely be found watching, following or taking part in some kind of sport.
Shazam! Fury of the Gods lands in theaters on March 17. (Image credit: Warner Bros.)
The final trailer for Shazam! Fury of the Gods has debuted online – and it looks even more charming, funnier, frenetic, and darker than its predecessor.
Shazam’s sequel flick arrives in theaters worldwide on March 17, so it’s about time we were given another look at the forthcoming DC Extended Universe movie (read our DC movies in order guide to find out where it’ll fit in that timeline). Luckily, Warner Bros. has duly obliged. Check it out below:
Okay, there’s some messy CGI and a slightly corny vibe about Shazam 2. But hey, the first problem can be ironed out before the superhero film takes flight, while the latter is part of what makes this movie series spellbinding (see what we did there?).
But we digress – you’re here because you want to find out what you missed from Shazam! Fury of the Gods‘ new trailer. Below, we’ve pointed out six things you might have overlooked. So, what are you waiting for? Shout “Shazam!” and let’s dive in.
1. Who are the Daughters of Atlas?
For a film centered around Shazam, we don’t actually see the titular superhero appear in the official trailer for the first 20 seconds.
Instead, we get another glimpse at Fury of the Gods‘ villains, aka the Daughters of Atlas. The powerful trio comprises the power-hungry Hespera (Helen Millen), dragon-riding Kalypso (Lucy Liu), and Athena (Rachel Zegler), the latter of whom seems particularly torn about how the sisters are going about their business.
So, why are they gunning for Shazam and his superpowered foster siblings? Essentially, when Billy Batson was gifted his abilities by Djimon Hounsou’s wizard in the film film (available now on HBO Max), one of those powers was the Stamina of Atlas. The Daughters of Atlas aren’t too happy about their father’s ability being passed down to a child, so they want to take back what is theirs – and they’ll do it so by any means necessary.
2. Mythological monsters
Shazam’s first DCEU outing featured some horror-imbued creatures in the form of the Seven Deadly Sins. How, then, do you go about topping (or, at the very least) matching what came before? Throw in a bunch of myth-based monsters, of course.
Kalypso’s imposing dragon is the most notable inclusion. It feature prominently throughout the trailer, and we even get an amusing Game of Thrones reference from Shazam – “Hey, Khaleesi!” – in the movie. Hey, Warner Bros. loves to mention its suite of IPs in as many of its films as possible.
But Kalypso’s wyvern isn’t the only fairy-tale-based beast we see. Minotaurs, griffons, and demonic unicorns are just three of the other monsters who’ll turn up in Fury of the Gods. Basically, don’t expect this to be an easy fight for Shazam and company to save the world.
3. You can’t get the staff these days
Saving earth from a new titanic threat will be even harder when Shazam’s adoptive family are stripped of their powers, too. And it seems that the staff, which was wielded by Hounsou’s wizard in the first movie, is the key to giving and taking those abilities away.
In 2019’s Shazam!, the titular hero gave powers to his foster siblings to help him combat the Seven Deadly Sins and Doctor Sivana. They’ve still got those power in Fury of the Gods, too, but they won’t have them for long, based by what the trailer suggests.
The footage shows Freddy Freeman and Mary Bromfield being drained of their abilities by the Daughters of Atlas at various points. The trio are using the wizard’s staff to rob the teens of their powers, so it’s clearly of major importance to the movie’s main players.
Later, we see Shazam wielding it – not before he asks the wizard to take his powers back, mind you, when he becomes convinced he can’t defeat the Daughters of Atlas. Anyway, Shazam’s brandishing of the staff suggests he needs it to boost his own abilities if he’s going to defeat the movie’s antagonists and give his siblings their powers back. Expect the staff to play a vital role in Fury of the Gods‘ plot, then.
4. Prison break
In order to get the wizard’s staff, it seems the Daughters of Atlas go after Hounsou’s magic wielder to obtain it.
We see Hounsou’s character imprisoned at various points, including a shot of Hespera chastising him for giving the power of the gods to Billy, Freddy, and company. “You ripped it from our father’s core,” she tells him, which implies Hounsou’s wizard might not be as mighty and heroic as we were led to believe.
Anyway, Hounsou’s wizard interacts with Shazam later in the trailer, so he clearly escapes captivity. Whether he does so alone, or he enlists Shazam’s help – does that magic-infused dust, which he sends through his prison cell window, have something to do with it? – is unclear. Regardless, we’ll see Hounsou’s character break out at some stage.
5. Is that you, Doctor Strange?
Remember when we said Zegler’s Athena doesn’t seem as keen to destroy earth as her sisters? That’s because, at the 1: 14 mark, we see her use her powers with a uncertain look on her face. You wouldn’t look like that if you were convinced you were doing the right thing, would you?
Based on the fact she’s pushed away by Kalypso (using the staff no less), seconds later, it seems she’ll be swapping sides at some stage.
Interestingly, it seems the wizard’s staff can do more than give or take a person’s powers away. One perceived ability certainly has an air of the Doctor Strange/Marvel-based mystic arts about them. Just look at the Escher-style nature of how the scenery bends and folds in on itself when Athena is pushed back, and when Shazam evades numerous buildings at the 1: 44 mark. We’d be very surprised if DC and Warner Bros. didn’t take a leaf out of the MCU’s book with such an aesthetic.
6. Light the way
Shazam and his fellow superheroes get a costume upgrade in Fury of the Gods. The group’s threads are more streamlined and less plastic-looking this time around, which is pleasing to see.
Fans had been worried, though, that these suits wouldn’t feature one of the first movie’s most underrated (if somewhat tacky) aspects: the glowing lightning bolt on Shazam’s chest. Shazam’s costume in the 2019 movie was manufactured in a way that allowed the bolt to physically light up, avoiding the problem of having to add awkward lighting effects during the post-production phase.
Thankfully, Shazam! Fury of the Gods‘ official trailer confirms that Shazam’s lightning bolt will glow. However, given the sleeker look of the costumes this time around, it appears that the illumination effect has been added in post. Regardless of how it’s been implemented, we’re just glad it’s a feature that’s been retained.
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Jokes aside about Chrome’s incognito mode, the ability to open a private tab for sensitive browsing is incredibly useful. You can perform searches that you want to keep from affecting your recommendations or appearing in your search history—which applies as much to tax information and medical questions as anything more scintillating.
And now on all phones and tablets, you can protect your incognito tabs from prying eyes by locking them down. A quick tweak to Chrome settings on iOS and Android makes biometric or PIN authentication required to view your private tabs whenever you leave the app and then return. It’s an extra layer of protection for when you forget to close a tab when you’re done—easy to do if you’re constantly hopping between apps. No need to worry about banking info sitting unguarded, for example.
Trying to feature out for yourself is easy. If it’s rolled out to your Android device (or if you’re only now trying it on your iPhone or iPad), just tap on the three dot menu in Chrome, then Privacy and Security. Toggle on Lock Incognito Tabs When You Close Chrome. Now when you switch away from Chrome and then come back, you’ll have to pass an authentication check before you can see and interact with those private tabs again.
For folks who use incognito tabs more on mobile than dedicated apps, this feature is a very welcome addition—and one I hope to see come to desktop computers next. I leave my incognito windows open on PC for long stretches way more often than on a phone or tablet. I haven’t yet met a browser window stuffed with tabs that I didn’t like to keep around. And sometimes I’m reading up on something I don’t want roommates to know about; other times, I have private correspondence I’m working on that I really don’t want to be seen.
I can always lock my PC, but I occasionally forget to slam my fingers on Win + L before dashing off to deal with an overflowing pot or vomiting cat. The best alternative is setting up Dynamic Lock in Windows, but that only works if you move far enough away from your computer to trigger the auto-lock. It unfortunately doesn’t prevent someone also in your kitchen from wandering by your screen and teasing you about your recent discovery of r/illegallysmolcats. Ask me how I know.
Alaina Yee is PCWorld’s resident bargain hunter—when she’s not covering PC building, computer components, mini-PCs, and more, she’s scouring for the best tech deals. Previously her work has appeared in PC Gamer, IGN, Maximum PC, and Official Xbox Magazine. You can find her on Twitter at @morphingball.