The Wild West Web: Are mobile phones key to online security?

Fergal Parkinson, Director of TMT Analysis, discusses security, identity and data intelligence issues facing the industry — and how best to stay protected

An award-winning communicator and co-founder and Director of mobile number intelligence company TMT Analysis, Fergal Parkinson works with TMT's Global Mobile Numbering Data which enables organisations to obtain rich and actionable intelligence to strengthen and validate the user verification process, reduce fake accounts, give risk insights, improve conversations and even determine the optimal channel for message delivery.

He is a former correspondent for BBC News, where he covered many of the major world stories of the past two decades including 9/11 and the build up to the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq. But over the past 15 years, he has proactively helped many leading technology and financial global brands 

manage their media and reputational risk including Telefonica, bp, Mastercard, Bottomline, Barclaycard, HSBC and Vocalink

Here, Parkinson details security, identity and data intelligence issues facing the industry today — and how best to stay protected.

Are mobile phones key to online security?

The internet is vast. So vast in fact, that 2.5 quintillion bytes of data is created on there every day — that’s the equivalent of 10 million blu-ray discs piled as high as two Eiffel Towers combined.

The internet is also highly populated, with more people than ever before able to access it. A staggering 4.9 billion people are able to use the internet around the world. That’s 62% of the global population.

And given the sheer size and scale of the online world, it’s difficult to regulate it. As such, not only can individuals operate under false aliases which leads to increases in fraudulent activity, but material — such as explicit content — can be accessed and viewed by anyone who has an internet connection. 

Are you who you say you are? 

As the internet becomes increasingly integrated into daily life, scammers have kept pace, with more sophisticated techniques. And this has significantly impacted the financial services sector. 

UK Finance found that more than £1.2 billion (US$1.5bn) was stolen by criminals through authorised and unauthorised fraud in 2022, equivalent to more than £2,300 (US$2,900) every minute. And 78% of these cases were Authorised Push Payment (APP) fraud cases that started online.

Given the apparent lawlessness of the internet, it’s more important than ever that financial services firms take actionable steps towards protecting themselves. If they don’t, the risks are twofold: their customers risk losing significant sums of money, and there are also reputational risks of an organisation being ‘caught out’ by fraudsters. 

Any online financial service that requires customers to set up accounts and deals with financial details or transactions needs to operate securely. So, a key area where financial services firms can work to protect themselves from fraud is through the implementation of robust mobile-data driven customer identity verification technology, allowing firms to confirm the customer is who they are claiming to be. 

As 85% of the adult population currently uses a smartphone, there is considerable market penetration ensuring mobile phones are one of the most effective verification channels at an organisation’s disposal. Also, the fact that almost half, 46%, of people have had the same phone number for over a decade means that organisations can obtain rich and actionable mobile numbering data to strengthen and validate the user verification process, reduce fake accounts and improve customer communication. As such, embedding this technology is central to boosting a financial service firm’s security processes. 

Protecting children in the Wild West Web 

While online impersonation and fraud is a prevalent issue for organisations operating on the internet, there’s another, entirely different issue — and one that’s separate to fraud — that’s threatening both organisations and individuals. And again, identity verification technology can help mitigate it.

There are millions of children who operate online daily. In many countries around the world, the lack of regulation means there is little to prevent internet users accessing and consuming adult or inappropriate content regularly.

The adult entertainment sectors — including the porn and gaming industries — are particularly high risk. In the UK, a report from the Children’s Commissioner for England found that one in 10 children in England have viewed pornography by the age of nine, rising to half by age 13. 

Around the world we have seen recent strides to address the issue. In the US, for example, the state of Louisiana made it illegal for porn sites to publish or distribute content deemed harmful to minors without having the appropriate age verification barriers in place. Others have followed suit.

Organisations in the adult entertainment sectors should embrace these strides with open arms as not only will the introduction of age verification laws protect minors, but it will also protect companies against reputational risk from failing to prevent underage users from accessing explicit or unsuitable content. In extreme cases, improved security can also ensure that companies avoid fines for poor practice.

In embracing the shift, they should adopt identity verification technology to verify an individual’s identity, including their age. This technology works by analysing a users’ mobile phone number.  

With data gathered from over 80 countries every day — including trusted sources such as telecoms companies and mobile network operators, regulators and third parties — this technology can reduce impersonations and accurately verify a user’s identity, just from their mobile phone. This real-time data is fast, accurate, reliable and ratifies whether that person is who they say they are.  

This new era of identity verification — named ‘silent authentication’ — removes the need for a one-time-password (OTP), as organisations can do identity checks in the background without requiring users to wait or leave their website or app. Specifically, it uses direct carrier connections to verify possession of a phone number without requiring a users’ input — such as leaving the website or app to confirm who they say they are — which is a huge step forward in terms of user experience.  

Ultimately, silent authentication will revolutionise the entire verification process — safeguarding minors, protecting organisational reputation and boosting user experience.  

The age of identity verification 

The world is constantly changing, and we all must be on top of our game to deal with this fact. There are plenty of benefits for businesses with an online presence to introduce more stringent security processes but reducing reputational risk, kickstarting commercial growth and tackling the rising wave of fraud overwhelming the industry are just three that should lead organisations to act now. 

And clearly, the age of identity verification has risen in accordance with the mainstream rise of the internet as organisations need their customers, and other potential customers, to verify that they are who they say they are. The quicker that businesses — across all industries, not just in the adult entertainment, gaming and financial services sectors — recognise this and implement the right technology to future proof their operations, the better. 


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