DemLabs blog

Don't let hackers clog phone lines and block real callers. Use voicebots to guard against such attacks and streamline call handling.

"Trump supporters clogged Iowa caucus phone line with prank calls to try and hack results. They intentionally flooding the phone hotline used by Democratic precinct chairs with prank calls in an effort to hack the results." - Queerty.

How can hackers be prevented from flooding phone lines? How can large volumes of calls be handled cost effectively with a few operators? How can calls be quickly routed to the right expert?

Voicebots are programs that handle incoming calls, ask questions and collect information. They convert (transcribe) human speech into text and email them to operators or save them in a database. Human operators filter out the crank calls and focus on the real ones.

More bots spring into action to meet the demand so no caller is placed on hold with a 'busy' signal. Operators process calls more efficiently when they call back with the transcribed notes.

Voicebots can be designed to route callers who say a private code directly to a human operator. This makes sure that trusted individuals do not have to wait. Voicebots can also respond questions with pre-defined answers and lighten the workload for human operators so they can focus on important calls.

Hackers swamp hotlines

Voicebots secure hotlines from hackers

Denial of Service Attacks (DOS)
Hackers overload phone lines with denial of service (DOS) attacks. This overwhelms human operators and prevents real callers from getting through. Callers are put on hold with a busy signal.

Protecting agains DOS attacks by adding more phone lines or operators is an expensive response and can still be overwhelmed by hackers. Voicebots offer a better, more affordable defense and easily handle high volumes of calls.

Solution design
A request from a voting rights group led DemLabs to design a prototype to withstand such Denial Of Service (DOS) attacks against phone lines. The prototype uses voicebots built with Twilio to first accept and process calls before a human being is involved. Twilio is a flexible, affordable platform that easily handles thousands of simultaneous calls. This is how we applied it:
- The prototype voicebot asks the caller for their name and message.
- The call is automatically transcribed into text.
- The prototype sends a transcription of the message back to the caller.
- In a real system, the transcribed message would be emailed to operators to handle or stored in a database for processing.

This voicebot limits messages to one minute to prevent hackers from intentionally making long calls to clog the system. Calls from the same phone are limited to once every five minutes to prevent hackers from rapidly making repeat calls.

Try it out. Call 202-788-0550 to speak to our friendly voicebot!

Voicebot applications
Voicebots can be used for many voting and election applications including:
- Collect contact information from people to mail them pre-printed forms with their details. This is especially helpful for the elderly, disabled and others who cannot read or write.
- Handle calls asking for information such as the nearest polling location or to find out what form of Voting ID is required. The voicebot can understand the spoken request, look up the answer from a spreadsheet and respond to the caller verbally.
- Enable canvassers to quickly record meeting notes while it is fresh in their memory with just a phone call as they rush from one house to another.
- Conduct surveys by phone. Human operators can delegate data collection to the bot once they have established contact with a survey taker.
- Allow people in remote areas with just landline phones to request rides to polls. Their calls with ride details are transcribed and emailed to a ride planner.

Take Away
Use voicebots to protect phone lines and better serve voters. Learn more here.

Co-Founder, DemLabs

Please share this bulletin. DemLabs is a SF-based, progressive hub for ongoing technology and creative innovation with free and affordable apps. Donate here to support our work.

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DemLabs applies innovative technology and storytelling tools in service of democratic values. It lowers the barrier of funding for worthy candidates and non-profits by applying existing free/affordable solutions.