Grey Routes Pose Hidden Threat to Text Messaging: Part 1, Operators

In a mobile world of multiple devices, operating systems and service providers, SMS continues to be one of the world’s most popular mobile channels, uniquely offering a singular channel through which all mobile users can communicate. However, the qualities that make text messaging so attractive as a channel also make messaging a target by those who seek to take advantage of its ubiquitousness.

One increasingly serious threat is “grey routes,” or low-quality messaging routes that cost operators millions of dollars in lost revenues each year. Grey routes pose a grave risk to the operators whose networks are inappropriately used, the enterprises whose reputations and business operations can be irreparably damaged, and the mobile users who can become victims of fraudulent schemes and spam. It’s imperative that these routes be shut down since they can cause harm to so many parts of the mobile ecosystem.

In this post, part one of a two-part series on grey routes, I address some of the most common questions I get about grey routes as they pertain to operators – like how they have grown, how they hurt operators and how they can be stopped. In part two, I’ll go into more depth and specifically discuss how grey routes affect enterprises.

I invite you to read below and chime in with any thoughts you have on this rising mobile threat.


1. What are grey routes exactly?
Grey routes are basically fraudulent messaging. They’re A2P [application to person] messages, such as marketing or spam messages blasted to thousands of people, that are questionably riding on the dedicated P2P [person to person] connections of operators. More specifically, 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.

2. How has the problem of grey routes grown over the past few years?
Grey routes have been a major problem for the mobile industry. Over the past year, we’ve seen a 15 percent growth in grey route detection. However, we see that rate is definitely going to grow in 2014 to 25 percent or higher.

3. What is the biggest threat 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 entity is riding an operator’s route without paying for the access, and as a result that entity is able to offer a very low price for that service. In fact, the price charged to deliver a message through a grey route can be anywhere from five to 10 times as less as a message on a direct connection by a legitimate mobile service provider.

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. The threat also includes, for enterprises, the financial loss to any of their customers that is caused by grey route scams that are maliciously attached to particular company names. I’ll go into more detail on the specific threat to enterprises in part two of this blog post.

4. What are some of the most effective ways to combat grey routes?
Today, there are several factors affecting 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? Do you have any thoughts on the risk they pose to the mobile industry? I would love to get your comments.

Also, check out the next part of this post, “Grey Routes Pose Hidden Threat to Text Messaging: Part 2, Enterprises.”

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About the Author ()

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.

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