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Privacy and cybersecurity threats

Many Filipinos have been surprised that the latest text message scam being sent to their mobile phones now contain their names, which means data providers have either leaked or sold our information and the security breach poses a cybersecurity threat to the public.

The National Privacy Commission said on Wednesday it has started investigating the text scam reports, saying it was working with the National Telecommunications Commission, the anticybercrime group of the Philippine National Police, as well as major telecommunications companies to get to the bottom of the issue.

One hypothesis of the NPC is that the modus operandi has something to do with a popular e-wallet platform, noting that the formatting of the personal information included in the messages seemed familiar.

Text scams are a type of phishing attack, which is a fraudulent activity wherein scammers trick users into giving out their personal and sensitive information. Having access to such data will allow scammers to take over or use without permission the victims’ bank and other financial accounts.

The NTC has instructed local telco players to text blast their subscribers warning them against this new form of scam, which usually offers fake job opportunities to entice victims. It also directed telco firms to “accelerate the process of blocking SIM cards that are being utilized to perpetrate these fraudulent activities.”

Scam and spam messages continue to proliferate despite the concerted effort against them, and Filipinos have gotten used to this nuisance. However, this new development where the scammers already have access to the names connected to the mobile numbers should be very worrying as it indicates a major privacy and security breach somewhere within the supposedly secure systems that consumers should be able to trust.

The government, along with the telecommunications and financial services sector, as well as other services that have been gathering personal information, especially during the half-baked contact tracing efforts during the pandemic, will need to address this vulnerability that we open ourselves to scammers when our private information is not properly secured by those who should be responsible for it.*

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