India pauses blockchain-powered SMS spam-scrubber after it swallows people's one-time login codes

Tardiness by stakeholders, rather than over-optimistic blockheads, blamed


India’s Telecom Regulatory Authority has paused the rollout of a national SMS “scrubbing” service and blamed business for the delay.

The authority, aka TRAI, introduced the scrubbing service to curb text spam in India, where mobile phone users can expect a couple of unsolicited messages every day according to spam-blocking app Truecaller.

India’s solution to the scourge is a regime that requires senders of bulk messages register with carriers and TRAI, which operates a blockchain-based application that looks for unexpected messages in transit and scrubs them before they reach networks or users.

TRAI says it notified stakeholders of the application and its requirements in January 2020. But yesterday it suspended the scrubbing service after just a day of operations because legitimate text messages were being blocked.

The watchdog said the problem came because carriers and SMS issuers haven’t done their paperwork. Meanwhile, entities such as the State Bank of India are responding to complaints by suggesting that the carriers may be to blame.

Whatever the cause, the problem is affecting citizens in unpleasant ways: chiefly, people's one-time authentication codes to log into services aren't getting through, locking people out of online banking and so on.

India’s government is also hit as the national coronavirus contact-tracing app Arogya Setu requires a one-time code sent by text before it will activate.

The Register understands that the SMS scrubber is an extension of an Azure-blockchain-powered application developed by Tech Mahindra that has already been deployed, with decent success, to block spam calls.

TRAI has suspended the app’s operations for seven days. Given that the watchdog says [PDF] it has promoted the registration of SMS services for over a year, and the laws behind it came into force in 2018, it remains to be seen if an extra week will suffice to solve this mess. ®

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