Dialing Back Abuse on Phone Verified Accounts
In the past decade the increase of for-profit cybercrime has given rise to an entire underground ecosystem supporting large-scale abuse, a facet of which encompasses the bulk registration of fraudulent accounts. In this paper, we present a 10 month longitudinal study of the underlying technical and financial capabilities of criminals who register phone verified accounts (PVA). To carry out our study, we purchase 4,695 Google PVA as well as acquire a random sample of 300,000 Google PVA through a collaboration with Google. We find that miscreants rampantly abuse free VOIP services to circumvent the intended cost of acquiring phone numbers, in effect undermining phone verification. Combined with short lived phone numbers from India and Indonesia that we suspect are tied to human verification farms, this confluence of factors correlates with a market-wide price drop of 30--40% for Google PVA until Google penalized verifications from frequently abused carriers. We distill our findings into a set of recommendations for any services performing phone verification as well as highlight open challenges related to PVA abuse moving forward.