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January 16th, 2020

Stopping Illegal Robocalls with STIR/SHAKEN: 2019 Recap & 2020 Projections

In 2019, illegal robocalls continued to plague American consumers, with an estimated 2 billion scam robocalls placed in December alone. While regulators and legislators remained focused on enacting new rules and regulations to protect consumers, telecom industry stakeholders collaborated on standards and solutions.

At the same time, enterprises looked for more effective approaches to reach customers by phone. Unfortunately, there is no silver bullet for stopping illegal robocalls, but STIR/SHAKEN call authentication is touted as a significant step in restoring trust in phone calls.

Below is a look back at key developments with STIR/SHAKEN in 2019—and predictions on the momentum in 2020.

 

It’s Official: TRACED Act Became Law

Just in time for New Years’ celebrations, the Pallone-Thune Telephone Robocall Abuse Criminal Enforcement and Deterrence (TRACED) Act received a final sign-off by the President after being passed by the Senate and House earlier in 2019. This significant federal law allows for expanded prosecution of illegal robocallers and requires carriers of all sizes to implement a call authentication service within 18 months of the law being enacted. Various state-level protections were also put in place during the year, such as California requiring STIR/SHAKEN call authentication implementation by January 1, 2021, ahead of the federal deadline.

In 2019, the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) continued its role in the fight against robocalls by levying millions of dollars in fines against bad actors and empowering carriers to block calls. In addition, the FCC expanded its influence internationally by participating in the first official cross-border STIR/SHAKEN call.

 

Crucial Industry Collaboration

Industry groups, carriers, technology vendors, and enterprises gathered at events such the FCC SHAKEN/STIR Robocall Summit, PACE Washington Summit, and SIPNOC to tackle the robocall problem. The conversations and debates that continue after these events are critical to moving forward on the complex and widespread challenges that the stakeholders face. It’s important to note that while protecting consumers is the key focus, businesses are also impacted, as the lack of trust harms the customer experience—and ultimately the bottom line.

 

Making STIR/SHAKEN a Reality

A significant milestone for STIR/SHAKEN in 2019 was that the governing ecosystem, the Secure Telephone Identity (STI), officially went live on December 16.

Because Neustar has been appointed as the initial STI-Certification Authority (CA), we issue the digital certificates used by service providers to authenticate and verify calls. This bolsters the capability of Neustar’s Certified Caller by deploying all of the necessary components to implement STIR/SHAKEN. It is a fully managed end-to-end process that verifies caller telephone identity, digitally signs calls, and helps identify spoofing.

 

Progress on Implementation

Along with collaborating on standards and solutions and responding to requests for input from the FCC in 2019, the largest carriers in the US put their deployment plans into action and began the process of implementing call authentication across their networks.

As the leading provider of STIR/SHAKEN solutions for carriers, Neustar has enabled many of the leading carriers on their successful implementations, including CenturyLink, Frontier, and Vonage. We expect others to make announcements in the near future. In addition, Neustar’s STIR/SHAKEN software was integral in facilitating the first authenticated call by a US mobile operator, as well as the first cross-border STIR/SHAKEN call with Telus.

 

What’s Next: Predictions for 2020

Now that the law has been passed, the governance system is set up, and implementations are underway, it looks like 2020 is going to be the year for STIR/SHAKEN.

  • Fraudsters have been difficult to identify up until now, and even when caught, the penalties have gone uncollected and perpetrators remained undeterred. The TRACED Act expands the authority of the FCC and Department of Justice (DOJ), so we foresee a renewed focus on enforcement and stiffer penalties for bad actors.

  • Carriers big and small will continue their work on rolling out call authentication services to meet the deadline in 2021. The FCC noted it is working on regulations to force implementation if it doesn’t see sufficient progress by service providers. The TRACED Act requires all carriers to implement call authentication but includes specific provisions for smaller carriers. Rural carriers with limited resources and legacy technology will seek alternative call authentication solutions. Along with STIR/SHAKEN, carriers will also continue to refine and enhance their robocall mitigation capabilities to stay ahead of the scammers and ensure legitimate calls get through to subscribers.

  • Enterprises still rely on the phone channel, particularly when addressing customer support issues that are difficult to resolve through other online capabilities. In the short term, businesses will still experience challenges in reaching their customers by phone. By gaining an understanding of how their calls are verified with STIR/ SHAKEN and working on ways to have their calls verified at the highest level, it will help prevent calls from being incorrectly being mislabeled as spam or wrongly blocked. Due to the advanced telephony needs of enterprises, STIR/SHAKEN does not address all of their use cases. Expect new approaches and standards to emerge (such as delegation) to address these challenges.

  • Consumers will start to see some calls verified through STIR/SHAKEN, but a standard device alert (e.g., an icon or message) and a common understanding of what that means for consumers remains a work in progress.

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