In a mobile world of multiple devices, operating systems and service providers, text messaging still continues to be one of the world’s most popular mobile channels. Uniquely, it offers the one mobile channel that all mobile users can reliably communicate through. But the qualities that make text messaging so versatile also make it a prime target by those looking to exploit its popularity.
One of the serious threats that has arisen from this targeting is “grey routes,” or illicitly used messaging routes that result in unreliable delivery of messages and huge amounts in lost revenues each year. Grey routes pose a grave risk to the operators whose networks are inappropriately used, the businesses whose reputations and operations can be irreparably damaged, and the mobile users who can become victims of fraudulent schemes and spam. This is why it’s imperative that these routes be shut down and that businesses as well as operators stay vigilant against their use.
In my work in managing text messaging campaigns for businesses, I continually come across common questions about grey routes, and in this post, I share some of the most frequent ones below. It’s vital that businesses as well as mobile operators fully understand the threat of grey routes and raise awareness to continue to reduce the undelivered messages and lost revenues that they cause. I hope the answers below help, and I invite you to comment below to share your experiences with grey routes.
- What are grey routes exactly? Grey routes are a form of fraudulent messaging. They’re paths into a operator’s network that are illicitly used by third parties to push application-to-person (A2P) messages (messages sent by an application and usually targeted to multiple users, such as marketing or spam messages) that ride on the dedicated connections for person-to-person messages (single messages sent from one user to other users, such as in a typical personal messaging conversation) connections of operators. In this way, these third parties often avoid an operator’s termination charges but still utilize its infrastructure. Although this form of clandestine delivery is not illegal, it presents an enticing commercial loophole for many entrepreneurial text messaging aggregators. The name “grey route” comes from the dubious nature of the pathways. A “white route” is said to be one on which both the messaging source and destination have a legitimate termination agreement in place. This is opposed to a “black route,” which is one that is illegal on both ends. In between white and black routes are grey routes, which are legal on one end but illegal on the other, and these routes are particularly difficult to detect.
- What threat do grey routes pose now? According to recent research by Mobilesquared, it’s estimated that $30.8 billion in total A2P messaging revenue leakage will occur from 2017 to 2022 globally because of grey-route traffic.
- What are the biggest threats that grey routes pose? The critical reason why operators must detect and block these routes is loss of revenue. Simply put, when someone uses a grey route to terminate traffic, that party is riding an operator’s route without paying for the access, and as a result that party is able to offer a very low price for that service. Additionally, businesses that unwittingly use grey-route traffic risk having their messages delayed or simply not delivered. This, of course, would be unacceptable for companies using A2P for time-critical alerts or authentications. Moreover, if these delivery problems continue to affect businesses’ operations and reputations, then operators and service providers face the risk of companies becoming dissatisfied with A2P services in general and reducing their use of them. Another crucial threat is fraud and its ramifications. This includes, for operators, the damaged reputation they can suffer as a result of their subscribers receiving fraudulent schemes and spam messages on operator networks. For businesses, the grey-route threat also includes the financial loss to any of their customers that is caused by grey-route scams that are maliciously attached to particular company names.
- What are some of the most effective ways to combat grey routes? Today, there are several factors that can affect the impact of grey-route traffic. One of the most significant of these is how grey routes are being detected. Previously, a manual mechanism was used where inbound and outbound ratios were compared to identify if there were any imbalances. Now, though, the industry is moving toward a more technologically advanced automated detection method. With this process, different elements within the message itself are examined to determine if messages are coming from an A2P provider likely to be using grey routes, or a P2P provider, a true mobile operator. With this type of detection method, we can identify, confirm and block a grey route within seconds, compared to weeks or months using the manual method.
Have you had any experiences with grey routes? I would love to get your comments.
As Vice President of Product Management, Chris Wright oversees the mid-term strategy for Syniverse’s product portfolios, using close working relationships with customers and in-depth research of industry trends. Since first joining Syniverse, in 1996, Chris has held a number of senior positions, including, most recently, Senior Director of Global Messaging, in which he was responsible for global P2P messaging strategy and product development, and Managing Director and Acting Vice President of Syniverse’s Würzburg, Germany, office, in which he led the integration of the A2P and P2P messaging businesses of MACH following Syniverse’s acquisition of that company. His other positions have included Development Manager for Signaling Solutions and Messaging, Technology Research Manager and Senior Product Manager. Over his 20-year-plus career, Chris has made numerous contributions to the telecommunication industry, which have included co-authoring the gateway Short Message Peer-to-Peer Protocol (SMPP) interoperability standards that are currently utilized in North America. He holds a bachelor’s degree in electromechanical engineering from the State University of New York (SUNY) at Binghamton.