Grey Routes: The Ultimate Enemy?

September 19, 2023

As we have observed in our last blog, the list of fraud incidents is long, and as usual, they all jeopardize operators’ revenues and ruin their reputation. However, Grey route fraud poses several challenges for mobile operators and the telecommunications industry. In this blog, we’re going to understand the origins, meaning, and challenges of grey routes as well as the impact they have on MNOs and businesses.

What is a Grey Route?

But first, let’s take a minute to understand what is a Grey route. The latter defines a route that is not authorized by the mobile operator for delivery of SMS to their subscribers, therefore not compensating the telecoms that facilitate it. It is worth mentioning that grey routes take advantage of the fact that international text messages can be routed to their destination using multiple pathways, each with its own cost calculation.

How it all started? 

Grey route messaging finds its origins in the early era of wireless communications. With the soaring popularity of wireless phones among consumers, the need to adapt and cater to their ever-evolving travel habits became evident. So, it became only natural for service providers to offer seamless message-sending and receiving capabilities from any corner of the globe. In response to this growing demand, the telecommunications industry swiftly enacted a global network roaming system.

This innovative system known as SS7 was designed exclusively for peer-to-peer communications ensuring the provision of smooth and dependable text services, regardless of a person’s geographical location. Interestingly, in its initial stages, access regulations to SS7 networks were unexpectedly lenient, enabling any company identifying itself as a service provider to gain entry to the SS7 platform, hence providing vulnerability for fraudulent network activity.

A real network invasion 

Unfortunately, distinguishing between fraudulent Application-to-Person (A2P) messages and genuine Person-to-Person (P2P) messages posed a considerable challenge for legitimate service providers. Consequently, they found themselves with no other option but to deliver both types of messages, ensuring that legitimate P2P messaging remained uninterrupted. As a result, A2P messaging has been exerting immense pressure on the SS7 platform, compelling service providers to take decisive action against unauthorized messaging.

To address this challenge, they have resorted to forcefully combating suspected A2P messaging by implementing arbitrary shutdowns. This approach aims to protect the integrity and stability of the SS7 platform while upholding its intended purpose for legitimate communication needs. However, nothing could have ever stopped fraudsters who were even more challenged by these aggressive tactics and decided to fight back by redirecting messages through SS7 points and routes, thus escaping service provider shutdowns.

Major Impact on Operators & Businesses 

The urgency behind detecting and blocking grey routes lies in the potential loss of revenue for operators. When individuals or entities employ grey routes to terminate traffic, they essentially exploit the operator’s routes without paying for access. Consequently, these parties can offer services at an exceptionally low price due to this unfair advantage. Apart from financial implications, businesses unknowingly using grey-route traffic also face the risk of message delays or complete non-delivery.

In addition to the immediate financial concerns, the persisting delivery issues can have far-reaching consequences for businesses’ operations and reputation. Operators and service providers risk facing a scenario where companies become increasingly dissatisfied with Application-to-Person (A2P) services as a whole. Such dissatisfaction may lead to a decline in companies’ reliance on A2P services, reducing their overall usage. This potential loss of trust and reduced adoption of A2P messaging solutions could significantly impact the industry’s growth and undermine the broader benefits it offers to businesses and consumers alike.

On the other hand, fraud poses another critical threat to both operators and businesses. For operators, the risk lies in the potential damage to their reputation when their subscribers receive fraudulent schemes and spam messages on their networks. Such occurrences can erode trust and confidence in the operator’s services. Similarly, for businesses, the grey-route threat includes the possibility of financial loss for their customers due to malicious grey-route scams using their company names. These scams can harm the company’s reputation and result in dissatisfied customers who fall victim to deceptive practices.

It’s never too late! 

Service providers have made the eradication of grey route messaging a top priority on their agenda. In fact, it is imperative for operators to tackle these issues proactively to maintain a fair, efficient, and reliable messaging ecosystem for all users. This is where a good and reliable firewall comes into play by effectively blocking grey route traffic. Thanks to this new technology, Mobile Network Operators (MNOs) and their partners can unlock greater revenue potential through increased legitimate traffic on their networks.

Shutting down grey routes leads to multiple advantages for both aggregators and MNOs, as it redirects the traffic onto direct routes. As a result, the MNOs and their partners can fully capitalize on the authentic messaging traffic, bolstering their financial gains while ensuring a more reliable and secure messaging experience for their customers.