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Mobile operators are being warned to brace themselves for a global upsurge in mobile messaging abuse.

The growth of mobile messaging, reductions in message delivery costs, inherent network vulnerabilities, and new mobile marketing initiatives are converging to create a perfect storm for abuse, according to mobile security firm Cloudmark. It reports mobile spam is becoming a growing problem.

China and Southeast Asia are at the leading edge of the problem, partly due to low costs in sending and receiving text messages. In China, the average subscriber receives between six and 10 mobile spam messages per day.

Meanwhile, in India some operators face spam levels of about 30 per cent, even after protocol-level filtering. Levels of spam in Japan are likely to increase as operators open their networks to email-to-SMS and MMS services, Cloudmark warns.

Attackers are applying techniques familiar to those at the receiving end of conventional email spam to the medium. For example, spammers are impersonating other mobile phone numbers and networks to send out spam using SMS spoofing techniques. Unregistered pre-paid SIM cards are also being used to distribute mobile junk messages.

Mobile spam started out as an unscrupulous medium for material ranging from mortgage offers to pornographic messages. It is increasingly being used to scam prospective marks into calling premium rate numbers, texting premium rate short codes, or entering personal information into a phishing site. The increased prevalence of money making rackets has resulted in growing complaints to operators from customers who had previously ignored mobile spam.

As well as copping an earful of abuse over the problem, operators are also being left out of pocket. SMS faking and spoofing attacks from off-network sources cost operators hundreds of thousands of dollars each month in inter-carrier roaming and connection charges, according to Cloudmark.

It reports that government regulators across Asia are stepping in to mandate that mobile operators exercise greater control over mobile spam by making sure customers' complaints are acted upon and to insist on registration of pre-paid mobile SIMs.

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