Over the Christmas period at least two countries (Ireland and New Zealand) experienced a single large Spam attack originating from numbers in US Networks. Most of the messages were typical Apple giveaway scams of the following ilk:
Your phone was respectfully chosen as Apple's Over Stock iwinner! GoTo [**REDACTED**] & enter code 2255 to receive your Free Gift-Card now!
The URLs contained in the message redirected through several links to eventually redirect to an online auction website.
We have covered in our last GSIM report the ecosystem that is present in the United States, making it very attractive to SMS Spammers, sending both nationally and internationally, and this certainly attack fits into that pattern. However, while the scale of this attack was very large, we also recorded something unique about this attack. : the first ever SMS spam in the Irish language:
Ta do uimhir a rinne an lae inniu buaiteoir sheasur saoire! Cliceail ar [**REDACTED**] a eileamh do thairge saor in aisce!
While this text is grammatically poor as Gaeilge, the example is interesting, as not only is it the first recorded , wide-scale, SMS spam in Irish - it has come at a much earlier stage in SMS spam’s life-cycle, than the equivalent email spam. While email spams in Irish exists, they have been very rare. Some interesting early examples are here, with a more widescale attack occurring at the start of 2012.
The use of this language at an earlier stage makes sense for a few reasons. Emails, if anything, are written more in the language of the office, but SMSs are more typically a personal communication – making it more logical to attempt to use the language one would expect to elicit a response in. And in addition, it is much easier to tell what language a receiver of spam is more likely to speak from a phone number, than an email address. This makes a localisation language much easier to guess for the spammers.
At least that’s the theory, in this case, there have may been too much emphasis on Country information factbooks. It is true that Irish is one of the two official languages in Ireland, along with English, and the last census of Irish language knowledge in 2011 showed 1.77 million saying that they can speak Irish (around 41%), but in reality the language is probably used as an everyday medium by a much smaller number –less than 100k, making the prospective response pool smaller. However on the other hand, within Ireland, Irish is used in all official communications, making the use of the language a more ‘prestige’ form of communication, and this may also have been what the spammers have tried to exploit, as was postulated in the Irish language email cases
Incidentally if any of our New Zealand readers has received a SMS Spam in Māori, let us know!, and in the interim, i would like to say : Athbhliain faoi mhaise daoibh!
Cathal Mc Daid is one of the world’s foremost experts in Mobile Network security and his pivotal work in the industry has been recognized by the GSM Association. As CTO his role is to define the technology strategy and long-term technical vision, as well as to lead the team responsible for applied research in the fields of cybersecurity & mobile networks.