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SMEs In South Africa Are Turning To VoIP To Cut Costs

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How VoIP can be of great help to South African SMEs

For small and medium-sized enterprise (SMEs) in South Africa, being able to manage their finances especially their overhead costs efficiently is highly essential. That is why most businesses in the region are turning to Voice over Internet Protocol (VoIP) for help.

VoIP is popular among cost-cutting measures for SMEs in South Africa as it offers their businesses with efficiencies and boundless options on top of being able to save from exorbitant telecom costs for up to 45%. According to a survey by CIOs, web conferencing expenses have dropped significantly by 30%, following VoIP system implementation by businesses.  

“With South Africa experiencing a technical recession in 2018 and GDP growth expected to remain less than impressive in 2019, it’s going to be belt-tightening time well into the foreseeable future,” said Evan Matthee, Chief Financial Officer of Tier One telco, ICTGlobe.

READ: CHOOSE THE RIGHT CALL CENTER AND THE BEST CONTACT CENTER SOLUTIONS OF 2019

Cost-cutting for most SMEs could mean firing an underperforming staff, changing their location, or removing non-core products and services from their portfolio. However, all of these measures are proven to negatively impact their productivity, sales, and even their peace of mind.

Implementing VoIP voice and data systems over traditional copper wire technology, however, is proven to eliminate unnecessary costs and slash operating expenses while improving the business’ productivity in different areas.

Furthermore, as SMEs operate with a very small team, it is empirical for them to allocate their time to a more productive task. According to ITToolbox.com, 40% of an SME’s productivity is lost as they stop and start critical business tasks throughout the day to check their voicemails. With VoIP, this problem can be resolved as it is known to carry multiple multi-tasking features through unified messaging.

Start-ups, most especially, need to be very careful with every business decision they make during the lean times, as they have not yet progressed into a more stable stage of the business cycle. SMEs are fragile, hence the need for incubation, and they should be especially wary of serious telecoms equipment commitments. VoIP help eliminate this risk not only because the investment is smaller as compared to traditional telecom systems, but it also offers a multitude of other benefits including conducting business to an expanded demographic.

“Cost-cutting needs to be smart with productivity in mind as SMEs could negatively impact future growth with ill-considered belt-tightening not implemented in consultation with an established ICT partner,” concludes Mr. Matthee. /apr

A consumer tech and cybersecurity journalist who does content marketing while daydreaming about having unlimited coffee for life and getting a pet llama.

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VoIP

FCC Wants Carriers To Block Robocalls By Default

The FCC is planning to allow phone carriers to block robocalls and spoofed caller ID by default; allowing the development of more tech against robocalls. Click To Tweet

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The FCC is planning to allow phone carriers to block robocalls and spoofed caller ID by default.
FCC Chair Ajit Pai proposes a bold move to end robocalls. Photo: Gage Skidmore | Flickr | CC BY 2.0

The scorching impact of robocalls in the United States is undeniably become one of the discussed topics not only among citizens but also in the board rooms of lawmakers and regulators. The increasing pressure from consumers to end the robocall epidemic has since forced regulating bodies to craft necessary resolutions to the problem.

Only recently, Federal Communication Commission chair, Ajit Pai, has proposed a bold action to help stop the growing number of robocalls that have plagued not unsuspecting victims by their annoying nuisance but some are swindling money from US citizens. Pai, who was previously criticized for his commission’s unsuccessful efforts to end the robocall problems, has circulated a declaratory ruling that, if adopted, would allow phone companies and telecommunication carriers to block unwanted phone calls by default. Also, companies could enable consumers to block calls, not on their contact list.

Furthermore, the Further Notice of Proposed Rulemaking would propose a safe harbor for providers that implement network-wide blocking of calls that fail caller authentication under the SHAKEN/STIR framework once it is implemented.

“Allowing call blocking by default could be a big benefit for consumers who are sick and tired of robocalls. By making it clear that such call blocking is allowed, the FCC will give voice service providers the legal certainty they need to block unwanted calls from the outset so that consumers never have to get them,” said Chairman Pai.“And, if this decision is adopted, I strongly encourage carriers to begin providing these services by default—for free—to their current and future customers. I hope my colleagues will join me in supporting this latest attack on unwanted robocalls and spoofing.”

Unwanted calls, including illegal robocalls, are the top consumer complaint at the FCC, with more than 200,000 received annually. Some private analyses estimate that U.S. consumers received approximately 2.4 billion robocalls per month in 2016. Advancements in technology make it cheap and easy to make robocalls and to “spoof” Caller ID information to hide the caller’s true identity.

According to the press release issued by the FCC regarding the plan of Pai to implement this policy, one of the reasons why telecom providers are hesitant to employ some technology and features that would ban unwanted calls by default is the uncertainty that they might violate some rules set by the FCC. But the commission is set to change that by allowing carriers to employ necessary technology to ease the burden of consumers with regards to robocalls.

Aside from this, the FCC wrote, by allowing companies to block robocalls by default, carriers will be encouraged more to develop technology to make this happen and for others to already adopt existing ones.

“This blocking could be based on analytics and consumer “white lists.” Third-party developers currently use similar analytics to call blocking apps. Consumer white lists could be based on the customer’s contact list, updated automatically as consumers add and remove contacts from their smartphones,” the FCC said.

Moreover, the chairman of the FCC is also proposing to hold consultations with the public regarding how caller ID authentication standards, known as SHAKEN/STIR, can inform call blocking. In a statement, Ajit Pai demanded that carriers combat malicious call spoofing. “This system of signing calls as legitimate as they pass through the phone networks may well be useful for call blocking tools,” said FCC.

New rule follows 2017 regulation framework

According to the commission, this move is the first of many steps from the regulatory body to combat and fight illegitimate call spoofing. They said that the new rule follows the rules set by the FCC in 2017 that allows carriers to block calls coming from questionable sources.

Back in 2017, the FCC deregulates the ability of carriers to implement techniques to block unwanted and spoofed calls. The 2017 ruling allowed phone companies to proactively block calls that are likely to be fraudulent because they come from certain types of phone numbers.

“Among other things, our action here will allow carriers to block telephone calls that purport to originate from unassigned or invalid phone numbers. These calls are very likely to be illegal or fraudulent; there’s no legitimate reason for anyone to spoof caller ID to make it seem as if he or she is calling from an unassigned or invalid phone number. We also allow those who hold phone numbers that are not used to make outbound calls to request that carriers block any phone calls that purport to come from those numbers. Once again, any such calls are very likely to be illegal or fraudulent. And to address the rare instance when an error might be made, we encourage carriers to establish a transparent process for legitimate callers to challenge a blocked number and to resolve the challenge quickly,” said Ajit Pai in a statement back in 2017.

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VoIP

TRACED Act Passed On Senate With Only Rand Paul Voting Against It

The Senate successfully passed the TRACED Act which would target robocalls and regulate the FCC and FTC and Rand Paul is the only onevoted against it. Click To Tweet

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The Senate successfully passed the TRACED Act which would target robocalls and regulate the FCC and the FTC but Rand Paul voted against it.
Only Sen. Rand Paul, out of all senators voted against TRACED Act. Photo: Jamelle Bouie | Flickr | CC BY 2.0

The Senate has almost unanimously voted for the passage of the law that would curb the robocall problem that has plagued American households in the recent years, but one did not: Senator Rand Paul.

According to Hiya, a Seattle-based software company, a total of 26.3 billion robocalls were received by Americans in 2018, a 46 percent increase from the only 18 billion in 2017. Furthermore, complaints regarding robocalls and call spamming is the most common complaint received by both the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) and the Federal Communications Commission (FCC). In 2018 alone, the FTC has received more than 3.7 million complaints relating to robocalls and other telecom scams while the FCC received 232,000 complaints on unwanted phone calls that include robocalls and telemarketing calls.

That is why lawmakers are in full game to resolve the epidemic. Both the House and the Senate are working hard to hasten the passing of the different legislative efforts to stop the notoriety of robocalls in the United States. They recognize that there should be a more heightened crackdown on a problem that grew significantly higher in recent years.

Recently, Massachusetts Senator John Thune, a South Dakota Republican and Massachusetts Senator Ed Markey, a Democrat, introduced the TRACED Bill (Telephone Robocall Abuse Criminal Enforcement and Deterrence) Act. The new legislation introduced by Thune would ramp up penalties for violators, put more onus on major telecom and cell service provider to address the problem and do a better job of authenticating calls, and offer ways to block neighborhood “spoofers” and other modus operandi. Neighborhood spoofing happens when scammers are tricking a caller ID into believing that a call is coming from a local area code, inducing validity to the call.

TRACED also aims to make the FCC work with the Federal Trade Commission, Department of Homeland Security, Department of Justice, and the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau to find ways to improve anti-robocall measures and prosecute offenders collectively. It will also require carriers to implement measures like SHAKEN/STIR to help consumers identify and authenticate callers.

“I think that I’m like everybody else that has cellphones and is constantly, constantly interrupted by these nuisance calls,” Sen. John Thune said in an interview. Friday, the bill was passed with a whopping 97-1 vote.

“There are no blue robocalls. There are no red robocalls. There are only robocalls that drive every family in America crazy every single day,” Markey told reporters, according to Roll Call. “Scammers use these calls to successfully pray on vulnerable populations like elderly Americans who are sometimes less technologically savvy.”

Implementation is the key

While it is agreeable that the new law will help curb robocalls, experts also argued that the implementation of the law is what’s vital. Currently, there are several rules that the Federal Communication Commission (FCC) and the Federal Trade Commission FTC) that are already in place, but it seems that both agencies were lagging in terms of implementing them.

A recent report made by Wall Street Journal, through an investigation, it was revealed that while the FCC has issued $208.4 million in fines against robocallers and auto dialers since 2015, less than 1% of the said value has been collected; an indication of FCC’s poor implementation of the regulations that are in place against robocallers.

The said amount in forfeiture orders includes a $120 million penalty issued on May 2018 against a robocaller that was accused of placing 96 million robocalls in three months to persuade and trick people into buying vacation packages.

According to the report, only $6,790 of the total 200-million worth of fines was collected by the agency. On their defense, FCC said that the agency lacks the authority to enforce the forfeiture orders it issued and has passed all unpaid penalties for the Justice Department to act upon. It was also revealed that the FCC only punished small time robocallers and spoofers, which means that they are at times unable to pay the full penalties.

On the other hand, the Federal Trade Commission was proud of collecting 8% of the fines the agency has issued in the last 15 years. Of the $1.5 billion worth of penalties since 2004, the agency, tasked in regulating trade and commerce, was only able to collect $121 million.

“The dearth of financial penalties collected by the US government for violations of telemarketing and auto-dialing rules shows the limits the sister regulators [FCC and FTC] face in putting a stop to illegal robocalls,” the report wrote. “It also shows why the threat of large fines can fail to deter bad actors.” Fines can be “a deterrent on legitimate companies that have real assets in the US,” but they aren’t as effective against scammers and overseas operators, an attorney quoted by the report said.

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Boost Mobile Disclosed Credential Stuffing Attack Two Months Post-Breach

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Boost Mobile suffered from a credential stuffing attack but they only notified users two months after.

The rise of the internet has helped businesses in countless ways, especially in terms of communication. One of the innovations that have revolutionized industries and opened new opportunities to millions of small and medium enterprises (SMEs) is the VoIP or Voice over IP. The technology allows businesses to make and receive calls using the internet, which is practically a lot more inexpensive than traditional telephone lines.

However, as VoIP operates through the world wide web, technology is also vulnerable to cyber attacks. This is evidenced by what happened to Sprint-owned virtual mobile network operator Boost Mobile when they were targeted by a particular cyber attack.

The alarming part of what happened to Boost Mobile is that they failed to alert their users immediately after they found out that their data were breached. According to a recent “quiet” announcement, Boost Mobile suffered from a data breach two months ago that allowed hackers to access some user accounts.

“Boost.com experienced unauthorized online account activity in which an unauthorized person accessed your account through your Boost phone number and Boost.com PIN code,” said the notification. “The Boost Mobile fraud team discovered the incident and was able to implement a permanent solution to prevent similar unauthorized account activity.”

According to the notice posted on the Boost Mobile website, the said breach occurred on March 14th, 2019, but it seems that they only notified their customers and disclose information about the breach two months after they discovered the cyber attack. According to the notice, the breach resulted in several customer phone numbers and PIN codes being exposed.

No information was also disclosed regarding how many people are affected by the current breach. But the company notified California’s attorney general regarding the incident, means the number of victims could be more than 500.

Note: Legislations in California require businesses to inform the attorney general whenever a data breach affecting 500 or more people.

While the company kept mum on the number of victims, they, however, was able to confirm that the data breach was a consequence of a targeted attack.

“The Boost IT team identified unusual activity on a page of the Boost.com website, blocked access and not long after implemented a permanent solution,” said the spokesperson. “Customers’ credit card and social security numbers are encrypted and were not compromised.”

The notification also noted that the hackers used the phone numbers and PIN collected from the breach in accessing customer accounts in the Boost Mobile website. These codes can be used to alter account settings. Hackers can automate account logins using lists of exposed usernames and passwords — or in this case phone numbers and PIN codes — in what’s known as a credential stuffing attack.

Credential stuffing attacks have been designed by hackers to be completely automated, making use of extensive collections of stolen credentials bought from the black market to be able to brute force their entry to a computing system. Other several companies have been attacked by this type of modus operandi as well. Credential stuffing attacks have also infiltrated the networks of other popular brands such as TurboTax, Dunkin’ Donuts, Basecamp, and Dailymotion in the first quarter of 2019.

A similar incident also happened to the popular Japanese clothing brand UNIQLO, when a credential stuffing attack also compromised data of almost 500,000 customers. Nearly half a million accounts have been compromised as the internal server of the famous Japanese clothing brand, UNIQLO, has been breached, according to a notification sent out by the company today.

The announcement states that the UNIQLO Japan and GU Japan online stores have been hacked and third parties were able to gain access to 461,091 customer accounts following a credential stuffing attack on their servers.

According to the notification that the company sent out to the affected accounts, the credentials stuffing attack, which led to the data breach, took place between April 23rd and May 10th this year. However, the number of compromised account could be higher because the investigation is yet to be concluded.

“While the number of incidents and circumstances may change during the investigation, Fast Retailing is today providing notice of the facts as determined at present, and the company’s response,” says Fast Retailing.

Meanwhile, Boost Mobile said that they have already sent temporary PINs to affected customers via a text message. It is still unclear whether the two incidents were related or not.

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