The Korea Herald


Rapid surge in spam texts prompts police probe

170 million spam text messages reported and detected in Korea January-May 2024: data

By Lee Jung-joo

Published : June 23, 2024 - 15:27

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Spam text messages promoting stock investments, loans and shopping deals have surged rapidly in South Korea during the first half of this year, prompting a police investigation to determine the cause of the spike.

Between January and May 2024, around 170 million spam text messages were reported and detected by the Korea Communications Commission, according to data provided by Korea Communications Commission and released by Rep. Hwang Jung-a of the Democratic Party of Korea on Sunday. Additionally, from June 1 to June 17 alone, around 28 million spam text messages were reported and detected.

The number of spam texts reported to the KCC so far this year has already exceeded half of last year's total. In 2023, the KCC reported and detected a total of 295 million spam text messages.

As of Saturday, police officials have launched an investigation to determine the exact cause of the spike in spam texts.

On relevant local media reports on June 19 about a number of mass text messaging services having been hacked, leading to the leakage of personal information such as phone numbers, the police on Saturday also announced that they would investigate the services to ascertain how the data was leaked and assess the extent of the damage.

With the rise in spam messages, the civic organization People’s Solidarity for Participatory Democracy filed a request with the police and the KCC to investigate those responsible for sending the spam text messages in violation of the Personal Information Protection Act and the Promotion of Information and Communications Network Act.

“Most of the recent spam messages are being sent to mobile phone numbers starting with 010, and we have found that there were many cases of the numbers having been stolen,” said the organization in an official statement.

“It is imperative for an investigation to be conducted into the possibility of personal information being obtained through illegal means.”

With the recent rise in the number of spam text messages, several Koreans have voiced their concerns.

“I get at least two messages or more each day encouraging me to make investments or try to lure me to click on a gambling link,” Kim Jae-hyeon, a Seoul resident in his twenties, told The Korea Herald. “I got spam messages in the past, but it has never been this much. I’m worried that my number has been sold to some third party that distributes these messages.”

Kim added that he blocks and reports the numbers that send him spam texts, but that he continuously gets other spam messages from different numbers with similar content.

“It’s useless to block them, they just keep on coming,” Kim said.

The Korea Internet & Security Agency and the KCC have implemented a qualifications system for mass text messaging services from June 1. This system requires service providers to obtain a qualifications certification from mobile carriers based in Korea before sending text messages with advertisements.

The KCC and KISA have also begun inspections of mass text messaging services to see if they are sending any illegal spam texts. If they are found to be doing so during on-site inspections, the service organizers will be fined under the Promotion of Information and Communications Network Act or reported to the police.

However, experts expressed doubts about the government’s response to the flood of spam texts, as 14 percent are sent from overseas. Spam messages which are sent based on personal information databases run on the dark web with foreign IP addresses are difficult to track or deal with on a domestic level only.

“Government policies need to be strengthened to ensure that recipients only receive texts that they have consented to receive," Kim Myuhng-joo, professor in the Department of Information Security at Seoul Women’s University, told The Korea Herald.

“Mass text messaging services should also be required by law to specify where its users’ personal information goes and how it keeps them when users agree to receive advertisements through text," Kim added.