ASU team tests 'green padlock' solution to scam phone calls

Posted: Updated:
The internet may seem like a scammer’s paradise, but far more people complain about getting fooled by fraud over the phone – and the problem appears to be growing. (Source: 3TV/CBS 5) The internet may seem like a scammer’s paradise, but far more people complain about getting fooled by fraud over the phone – and the problem appears to be growing. (Source: 3TV/CBS 5)
The problem with current caller ID is that it’s easy to spoof, said Adam Doupé of ASU’s Security Engineering for Future Computing (SEFCOM). (Source: 3TV/CBS 5) The problem with current caller ID is that it’s easy to spoof, said Adam Doupé of ASU’s Security Engineering for Future Computing (SEFCOM). (Source: 3TV/CBS 5)
TEMPE, AZ (3TV/CBS 5) -

The internet may seem like a scammer’s paradise, but far more people complain about getting fooled by fraud over the phone – and the problem appears to be growing. 

Since 2013, complaints about phone scams have doubled, according to the Federal Trade Commission. There were 543,000 complaints of phone fraud in 2016.

Some researchers at Arizona State University are testing a potential solution: smarter caller ID.

The problem with current caller ID is that it’s easy to spoof, said Adam Doupé of ASU’s Security Engineering for Future Computing (SEFCOM). With a few clicks on a computer, a scammer can easily mask their phone number and make it appear to be a government agency or a bank.

“We were actually shocked to learn that caller ID is an optional piece of information that none of the switches on the phone call network check for authenticity,” Doupé said.

Led by PhD student Raymond Tu, a team at SEFCOM decided to investigate an authentication method similar to one used online: the green padlock displayed in secure URLs.

“This green lock icon gives some assurance that you are talking to who you think you're talking to,” said Doupé.

Online, a green padlock icon indicates, among other things, that a website’s domain has been authenticated by a trusted third party. The smart caller ID system would work in a similar way; callers with verified phone numbers would have a green padlock icon in their caller ID.

To obtain the green padlock, companies would need to verify their phone numbers with a third party using a cryptographic signature.

“If anybody else spoofs it, they don’t have that cryptographic signature, so that’s going to fail,” said Doupé.

Unverified calls would display an yellow icon under SEFCOM’s preliminary scheme. Spoofed calls would appear in red. The team plans to test the efficacy of the design interface soon.

“It's going to be a lot more difficult for people to pretend to be somebody else,” said Doupé.

Eventually, they hope to get large carriers like AT&T and Verizon to build the authentication system into their phone networks. The team submitted their idea to the United Nation’s International Telecommunications Union last year, and won an award.

The university applied for a full patent on the technology in March.

Click/tap here to download the free azfamily mobile app.

Copyright 2017 KPHO (KPHO Broadcasting Corporation). All rights reserved.


Derek StaahlDerek Staahl is an Emmy Award-winning reporter and fill-in anchor who loves covering stories that matter most to Arizona families.

Click to learn more about Derek.

Derek Staahl

This once-uncompromising "California guy" got his first taste of Arizona in 2015 while covering spring training baseball for his former station. The trip spanned just three days, but Derek quickly decided Phoenix should be his next address. He joined CBS 5 and 3TV four months later, in August 2015. Before packing his bags for the Valley of the Sun, Derek spent nearly four years at XETV in San Diego, where he was promoted to Weekend Anchor and Investigative Reporter. Derek chaired the Saturday and Sunday 10 p.m. newscasts, which regularly earned the station's highest ratings for a news program each week. Derek’s investigative reporting efforts into the Mayor Bob Filner scandal in 2013 sparked a "governance crisis" for the city of San Diego and was profiled by the region’s top newspaper. Derek broke into the news business at WKOW-TV in Madison, WI. He wrote, shot, edited, and presented stories during the week, and produced newscasts on the weekends. By the end of his stint, he was promoted to part-time anchor on WKOW’s sister station, WMSN. Derek was born in Los Angeles and was named the “Undergraduate Broadcast Journalism Student of the Year” in his graduating class at USC. He also played quads in the school’s famous drumline. When not reporting the news, Derek enjoys playing drumset, sand volleyball, and baseball.

Hide bio