There has been a flurry of cases in which IP phone users have been overcharged by significant amounts after their phones, which use Internet connections, were hacked.
Hackers use such tactics as breaking into a switchboard that connects a telephone to the Internet, and then giving instructions to make international calls automatically by controlling the phones remotely.
In the case of international calls, domestic telecommunications carriers collect fees from IP phone users, and then pay part of the fee to phone companies in the overseas destination. Some countries employ a system in which part of the phone charges are paid to receivers as a fee for information. Criminal organizations are suspected of reaping profits through the fraudulent use of this system.
We cannot overlook the rampant nature of heinous cyber crimes, targeting telephones, easily accessible household items. The telecommunications industry and supervisory authorities should cooperate closely in improving countermeasures.
Using such means as fiber-optic networks, IP phones transmit and receive voices in the form of digital signals. As the charges for calls are comparatively low, the use of IP phones is widespread in Japan, with the number of IP phone contracts accounting for more than 50 percent of fixed-phone contracts.
NTT East and West said they have confirmed at least 130 cases of this type of hacking since last fiscal year. But the amount the damage caused, including that of other carriers, remains unclear.
One IP phone hacking victim was asked by NTT East to pay more than ¥2.5 million, with the carrier claiming that the victim made 15,000 phone calls to Africa over a matter of three days.
Responses too little, too slow
On a contractual basis, the phone user had no choice but to pay that bill. But why did the carrier not suspend the phone calls as the number of international calls was obviously abnormal. Surely there are many IP phone users who are dissatisfied with the explanations given by carriers.
In many cases, users charged large amounts had asked the two NTT carriers to suspend international calls, but ended up suffering further damage as the carriers were too slow in processing the requests.
The decision of the two carriers to agree to partially compensate victims is reasonable, as the refund covers the period between when users requested the suspension of overseas calls and when such services actually ceased.
Telephone carriers should check the user’s status of phone calls and take measures to suspend the phone lines promptly if the frequency of international calls is extremely unusual.
It also is important for both telecom carriers and phone sales companies to explain the danger of illegal access by hackers and measures to prevent this from happening.
Users should take such self-protection measures as changing passwords, needed when gaining access to an IP phone switchboard, to ones that are more difficult for others to work out.
This type of damage was particularly severe in March, and involved IP phones installed by a Tokyo phone sales company. But it was already in July when the Internal Affairs and Communications Ministry requested, in written form, that telecom carriers reinforce measures against this type of hacking. The ministry acted far too late.
The ministry must prevent the damage caused by cyber crimes from spreading by sharing relevant information with such organizations as the Consumer Affairs Agency and the police.