| September 20, 2021

CTS Connects Podcast: STIR/SHAKEN: Moving from theory to practice

On June 30, STIR/SHAKEN mandate was implemented. In our fourth installment of our CTS Connects Podcast, we examine the initial impacts and what may lie ahead. Our experts cover what has happened, what STIR/SHAKEN really does, and what the industry can expect next.

Listen to this valuable discussion with our host Phil Voelker and the following experts:

  • Tamika Davis, Manager – Product Development Engineering, Comcast Technology Solutions
  • Joel Balistreri, Product Account Manager, Comcast Technology Solutions
  • Rich Law, Product Manager – Voice Services, Comcast Technology Solutions



Speaker 1:                        You're listening to the CTS Connects Podcast from Comcast Technology Solutions. Visit ComcastTechnologySolutions.com/CTS-Connects to explore more.

Phil Voelker:                    Hello, and thank you for joining another CTS Connects Podcast. My name is Phil Voelker, I am the writer for Comcast Technology Solutions. And today we're going to talk a little bit more about Stir/Shaken. This is a continuation of a conversation that we had earlier in the year. Stir/Shaken is a huge event for voice telephony. It's a big change that was mandated by the FCC. And the last time we got together to talk about it, it was in progress. And we were talking about the ramifications of Stir/Shaken and what it meant for the industry. And on June 30th, per the FCC order, Stir/Shaken is live. And what we'd like to do now is talk a little bit about what's happened since the launch and not just about what Stir/Shaken can do, but also really what it can't do, what it is and what it isn't. Joining me today are Tamika Davis, our Manager for Product Development at Comcast Technology Solutions, Joel Balistreri who is a Product Sales Account Manager, and Rich Law, who is also a Product Manager for Comcast Technology Solutions. So welcome all three of you. I appreciate you joining me today.

Joel Balistreri:                  Thanks so much, Phil.

Tamika Davis:                  Nice to be here.

Phil Voelker:                    So Tamika, let's start with you. Let's talk a little bit about really just sort of wrapping some reality around Stir/Shaken, not just the kind of pie in the sky aspects of it or what it really does.

Tamika Davis:                  Thank you for that question, Phil. Stir/Shaken, I know is a little bit of a mystery, but what it does is it forces the person that is calling you to have to reveal the truth about where they're calling from. They cannot call you spoofing a different phone number or presenting a different phone number that they are not authorized to use.

Phil Voelker:                    So essentially that's probably one of the most important distinctions we should make right out of the gate, is that aside from all of the other conversations around Stir/Shaken, that's really just it. Stir/Shaken is an architectural change designed to prevent spoofing so that when you see a phone number on your device, you can be confident that that's truly the number that you're getting, that's calling you

Tamika Davis:                  Precisely. The other thing that it did is it forces phone carriers or any kind of voice provider to have some skin in the game and to be aware of who their customers are and to foster an environment for truthful caller ID presentation. I'll put it that way. If a carrier is not involved and isn't taking steps to help protect their consumer, then there really is no way for us to do this. It takes everybody working together. It's a cooperative effort

Phil Voelker:                    Makes total sense, because at the end of the day, it's a two way street, right? It's where the call starts and where the call ends.

Tamika Davis:                  I couldn't have said it better. Absolutely.

Phil Voelker:                    Fair enough.

Joel Balistreri:                  Yeah, Tamika, actually, I got a question for you. So kind of Stir/Shaken related, a lot of us were sitting around, it was almost like a Y2K experience. July 1st came and we didn't see a whole lot of change, but one thing I was getting from a lot of customers and just people in general is we also have this, the ITG. And how does the ITG tie into Stir/Shaken or, does it even tie in to Stir/Shaken? What's the difference?

Tamika Davis:                  Good question. So to answer you completely, let's take a step back. We talked about what Stir/Shaken does. And essentially it means that you can't pretend to be somebody that you're not, at least from a phone number perspective. But let's say that you get a call and that call in your opinion, it wasn't right. You think that it was somebody trying to scam you. ITG is a group of companies that participate in assisting with tracing back calls to determine where that call originated. The reason for it is Stir/Shaken will prevent somebody from spoofing, but it doesn't communicate or certify the intent of the person that's calling you. What the trace back system does is it traces those calls back to the carrier that allowed that call to be passed through, and it holds them accountable for holding their caller accountable for whatever happened on that call. So think of Stir/Shaken as the foundation of the house. And the other pieces are the building blocks that go on top of that. Protecting consumers was never going to be a one hit wonder. There wasn't ever going to be a single architectural change or industry change that was going to prevent everything. What we needed to do is to come together and create building blocks of things that address the needs of our customers.

Joel Balistreri:                  All right, well, thank you.

Phil Voelker:                    That helps me significantly understand. So, because if you look at it from the point of view that Stir/Shaken was a regulatory requirement, in other words, in order to arrive at the consumer protections that we want to arrive at, Stir/Shaken very simply just had to come first. It's not the answer per se.

Tamika Davis:                  Absolutely. And I think one of the most common misconceptions is what is the difference between an annoying call and a fraudulent call? Annoying calls are not illegal. So Saturday morning telemarketing calls, those are not inherently illegal. They're completely valid ways of doing business. It's the bad actors that insert themselves and make themselves look like legitimate businesses that causes the issue. So the building blocks that we're developing and I'm sure other companies are as well, how do we extend the value of Stir/Shaken? Where do we go next? So separately from ITG who traces things back when you've already received a call, what else are we doing to help prevent those calls from coming to you? And I think that's the next place we go, and that's scoring the telephone numbers, actually assigning a score based on calling characteristics to determine whether or not that caller looks like they're legitimate, or do they look like somebody who might be perpetuating some sort of fraud. That's really the next step.

Phil Voelker:                    Gotcha.

Rich Law:                          And Tamika, it's my understanding that, that those aren't going to be necessarily mandated initiatives, that it's kind of up to each company and to work with their customers and figure out what's the right set of applications and solutions to get the customer the sort of communications dynamic they want. Do I have that right?

Tamika Davis:                  Absolutely. So each company is the closest to their customers. So knowing your customer means what kind of business are they in? What are their calling patterns like? Being able to recognize when their normal calling trends are changing and catching it. So our goal going forward is to put our energy and effort into recognizing bad actor calls and preventing those calls from ever getting to the consumer's handset.

Joel Balistreri:                  So Tamika with the Stir/Shaken is now fully deployed, what are we seeing? What impressions do we have thus far with, as it relates to Stir/Shaken?

Tamika Davis:                  Well, I think my initial impression is that everybody thought they were going to stop getting telemarketing calls.

Joel Balistreri:                  I'm included with that.

Phil Voelker:                    Definitely not the case.

Tamika Davis:                  Exactly. Seriously though. I don't think we have any solid takeaways yet. There are still some companies that are implementing Stir/Shaken. There were some that applied for extensions. There are network reasons. But by the end of the year, I definitely think we'll see everybody onboarded onto Stir/Shaken. And again, like was asked, each company is going to have to decide for themselves, what is that next step? How do you put that next layer of protection in?For us at Comcast at least, part of our thinking is how do we also enable our customers who are making legitimate calls? How do we best assist in making sure that those calls get to where they need to go and they have an opportunity to be answered?

Phil Voelker:                    Gotcha. Now that we're past June 30th, are we at least in, from a Stir/Shaken standpoint, are we at least in the majority, are most of the calls happening in accordance with that architecture?

Tamika Davis:                  Almost all of the companies, major companies in the U S, were adhering to the June 30th deadline. So by that measurement, absolutely. Like I said, there are still some calls that don't have Stir/Shaken. If a call originates internationally, it won't have that because it doesn't have a domestic U S number to check against. So there will never be a hundred percent, but I think we're nearly there now.

Phil Voelker:                    Gotcha. Is the framework at least there and working?

Tamika Davis:                  Absolutely.

Phil Voelker:                    So I guess my next question is to the group and whether it's you Tamika, or Joel or Rich, now that we're past that, now that we can see that the framework is there, Stir/Shaken is in effect, what do we think is going to happen next? What is the next step? Is it just call scoring? Is that the logical next step?

Rich Law:                          I think from my perspective, maybe I'm a little bit glass half full, but fraudsters are fraudsters and they're going to work hard to figure out now that Stir/Shaken has been implemented, how do we get around it, right? So from my perspective, I think we got to be really vigilant, right? As a network operators and as consumers to pay attention, be aware. And I think the strategy is right, the tactics will come. But I think there's going to be a response from those bad actors. I just don't know if we see what that is yet. Does anybody else have a perspective on what might be happening?

Tamika Davis:                  Not yet. I think that's what I was inferring when I said we don't have any solid takeaways yet. But to your point, that is exactly what I'm watching for. I am watching intently to see how the calling patterns change and where do the bad actors shift their attention.

Joel Balistreri:                  So do we think, Tamika do you think the call scoring, I believe you said earlier that right now, it's kind of left up to the individual companies to handle the call scoring, but do you think there's going to be some regulation that comes out on call scoring and if it's not, what are we doing for call scoring now?

Tamika Davis:                  In my opinion, I don't think call scoring will become something that's regulated because each network is slightly different. What we do--and I can't speak for anybody, any other company--but what we do is we use analytics. We look at every phone number and we look at things like, how often do you call? When you call, how often do people answer the phone? If they do answer, how long do they talk to you? Those are the kinds of patterns that we look for. You know, we look for extremely short duration calls. If people don't want to talk to you, there may be a reason. So there's no one metric, but we definitely use analytics and apply them equally across the board. A phone number is a phone number. All we're doing is judging the behavior and calling patterns of that phone number as we see it.

Phil Voelker:                    Oh, that makes sense. I mean, there's only so much you can do, you can't make a whole lot of assumptions about a call because again, highly regulated industry, phone calls, you can't block a phone call unless you have a good reason.

Tamika Davis:                  Exactly. And as long as you have a reason, that's really the biggest point, right? Each company will have a way to reach out to say, "Hey, my calls, aren't getting through to your customers. And I would like some assistance." So there is a mechanism for fixing a bad call route, if you want to call it that. But at the same time, we need to help encourage our customers to know the right way to use their phones.

Phil Voelker:                    Well, that makes sense. At the end of the day, call scoring is just a next step, right? To Rich's excellent point, we've got a lot to pay attention to. This is in a lot of respects, sort of uncharted territory in terms of how fraud evolves to take advantage of this new architecture, or circumvent it I guess is probably a better way to look at it. I think we're going to need to talk about this some more. I think we're going to need to get together in a few months and see what happens.

Joel Balistreri:                  So Tamika with the ITG and Stir/Shaken, where do we go from here? What are your thoughts?

Tamika Davis:                  I think in the future, we build more on top of Stir/Shaken. Part of what Stir/Shaken can do as a technology is there's the ability to send your actual company logo, for example, to the person you're calling. If you were a flower delivery person, I would appreciate having a phone call, letting me know you're there and actually seeing the logo of the flower company come up on my phone. I think things that we can do to put more power in the hands of consumers and enable our customers to do business is where I think Stir/Shaken goes.

Phil Voelker:                    Right. And that's incredibly valuable, right? You look at Stir/Shaken as this foundation for consumer protection. It doesn't really, it provides the very basics, but then after that, there's a lot of really interesting opportunities to move forward. I'm going to assume that everybody listening to this call is a call screener. So if you don't want to have to screen all of your calls, if you can at least have a higher level of confidence, that to your point earlier, Tamika, when you get a phone call through Stir/Shaken, you don't get any guidance as to the intent of that call, you just know that the number is accurate, right?

Tamika Davis:                  Exactly.

Phil Voelker:                    Exactly. And so as you move forward, now you can actually build upon that foundation and provide rich call data. You can provide more information to make that call more successful.

Tamika Davis:                  Exactly. That's at least that's what I think. And I think that's where we should go. Anything that focuses on our customers and empowering and enabling them is where our focus should be.

Phil Voelker:                    Fantastic. Well, I guess I'll open it up for any final thoughts before we leave. You know, we've certainly covered a lot of great information, but not only should we be thinking just about the bad things that can happen on a fraudulent call, but also about the value that we can add to the calls that we really want to go through--the good calls. Does anybody have any final thoughts in that respect?

Rich Law:                          Yeah Phil, I think that's a great point. You know, I think so much of the focus has been on helping the receiver out in terms of being able to filter out some of these calls, potentially shut down some of these bad actors, but I think going forward, there's going to be, we're going to have to change our point of view a little bit more to think about both sides of the call, right? You know, there's clearly lots of legitimate reasons why folks need to make calls, whether it's for business or personal reasons, right? And I think the industry needs to figure out how do we best help both ends, right? That to create that trusted communications channel. So I think there'll be some more focus in the coming months, around--and years--around the person originating that call, like how do we help that customer or that person, that entity, make the, make the connection with the person on the receiving end? So I think that dynamic of considering both parties and trying to enable a more satisfactory connection is where we'll be going.

Phil Voelker:                    And that'll probably be a big part of our next conversation as we get more learnings, as we understand more about life post Stir/Shaken, I think we're going to have a lot more to talk about. So that seems like a good place to wrap it up now, as we continue to monitor the situation and learn more about Stir/Shaken. But Tamika, Joel, Rich, thank you for your time. Hopefully all four of us can get together again probably later this year and talk through it some more.

Joel Balistreri:                  Yeah. Great. Thanks so much, Phil.

Tamika Davis:                  Thank you, Phil.

Rich Law:                          Thanks, Phil.

Phil Voelker:                    Great. And for everybody listening, thanks again. This is Comcast Technology Solutions and we look forward to you joining us again on the next CTS Connects Podcast. Take care.

Speaker 1:                        Thanks for joining us for the CTS Connects Podcast. Visit ComcastTechnologySolutions.com/cts-connects to explore this and other topics.