Government agencies explore use of AI to block fraudulent websites faster: Jo Teo

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SINGAPORE — Government agencies are considering using artificial intelligence (AI) to quickly detect and block fraudulent websites through telecommunications networks to protect the public from scams.

To complement this, the National Crime Prevention Council will also launch a WhatsApp channel by the third quarter of this year to get information about fraudulent websites from the public.

These come in the wake of a series of SMS phishing scams that have recently targeted OCBC Bank customers.

Announcing the new measures on Tuesday (February 15), Communications and Information Minister Josephine Teo told parliament that one of the government’s upstream measures to tackle scams is disrupting the ability of scammers to reach potential victims via communication infrastructures such as telecommunications networks.

A key part of this is blocking scam websites because of how these sites allow scams to be “dealt with on a larger scale and faster” than through phone calls or text messages, she said.

This happens for fake sites because, compared to phishing for victim credentials and personal data via phone or text message, no direct human interaction is needed when phishing through a fraudulent website.

Ms. Teo, who is also minister in charge of the Smart Nation and Cybersecurity, delivered one of three ministerial statements dealing with the government’s approach to combating scams, in response to 39 parliamentary questions tabled on this subject.

The Infocomm Media Development Authority (IMDA) and the police work with internet service providers to block fraudulent websites, which helps protect most Singaporeans – more than nine in 10 – who go online daily.

In 2020, around 500 suspected fraudulent websites were blocked. But that number jumped in 2021 to 12,000, with Ms Teo saying the net had been cast much wider.

Fake sites played a big role in the scams that cost 790 OCBC customers $13.7 million from December to January. Crooks had impersonated OCBC to text the victims, claiming there were problems with their bank accounts.

This resulted in the scam text messages being bundled with legitimate bank text messages, which many victims claimed led them to believe that the fake messages were genuine.

The scam text messages tricked victims into clicking on a link that took them to a fake OCBC website where they were asked to enter their bank details.

Ms Teo said in the OCBC cases, more than 350 fraudulent websites were blocked, with around 52 sites blocked in a single day at the peak.

However, she said the scammers were quick to create new websites during their scam campaign and this type of behavior would persist.

So using AI to help detect and block these sites, along with the new WhatsApp scam channel, could help the government strengthen its ability to tackle scam sites and be more responsive. .

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