Hey, Rachel. The FTC is going DEF CON

Washington, DC - Hey, Rachel the Robocaller.  Every month we get 150,000 complaints about you and your robocalling besties.  We’ve sued dozens of them.  We’ve sponsored a national challenge to make your life harder.  But this time, Rach, the gloves are off.  We’re going DEF CON on you and we’re launching a particularly powerful surface-to-robocall missile with your name on it.

Make no mistake:  Illegal robocalls are more than just a nuisance. They invade our privacy, peddle costly scams, and in some cases, threaten critical infrastructure by enabling telephone denial of service attacks.  Why should businesses care?  Every dollar in the wallet of a robocalling scammer is a buck less for legitimate companies like yours.  And let’s face it: You find them incredibly annoying, too.

The uptick in robocalls can be traced to advances in technology that have made it cheap and easy for criminals to send out thousands of calls every minute – and to spoof caller ID information.  The convergence of the internet and the phone system has brought benefits, but it's also created the perfect environment for telephone spam.

That’s where the new secret weapon comes in.  Because technology is at the crux of the problem, the FTC is tapping one of the world’s largest hacking conferences for some high-caliber support.  We’re holding a contest at DEF CON 22 in Las Vegas between August 7th and 10th to inspire the next-generation solution in the fight against illegal robocalls.

The FTC and our law enforcement partners are particularly interested in the development of robust, cutting-edge robocall honeypots – an information system designed to attract robocallers – which can help experts and enforcers combat illegal calls.

Information security specialists use honeypots a lot, but until now, there hasn’t been much cross-pollination between their expertise and efforts to fight telephone spam.  We hope to change that by inspiring DEF CON experts to apply their knowledge and creativity on behalf of the millions of people frustrated by these calls.

We’ll continue to fight illegal robocallers in court and we’re encouraged by the success of other strategies we’ve used. In October 2012, we announced the FTC’s first public challenge, offering $50,000 to the innovator who could design the best solution to illegal robocalls. Less than six months after we announced the winners, one of them launched a ground-breaking new product, which has already blocked more than four million robocalls for U.S. consumers. While the FTC doesn’t endorse any product or service, we’re thrilled that the Robocall Challenge stimulated the marketplace just as we hoped it would.

So with new products on the market to help consumers block calls, our next goal is to spur the development of tools to help catch bad guys faster – and stop them from calling in the first place.

Watch for more information about the contest and we look forward to seeing you at DEF CON.  As for you, Rachel, we hope these honeypots will make you history.  Because Honey, we can’t wait to hang up on you once and for all.

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