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Written by: Laura Fitzgerald

Head of Brand and Digital Experience

An increasing number of contact centers and organizations that offer support are now relying on voice authentication software to reduce their cyber threat surface. Fraud is rife amongst contact centers, with bad actors relying on numerous techniques to try and fool agents. Companies that don’t use voice authentication software are exposed to many types of attacks. One of these is a replay attack, also known as a playback attack. 

What Is a Replay Attack?

Simply put, a replay attack is a cybersecurity threat where an attacker intercepts and records legitimate information to use maliciously at a later time. 

The purpose of retransmitting this data is to reproduce the effects of the original, authorized transmission without the genuine sender’s intent or knowledge.

Broadly speaking, replay attacks have two phases: the capture phase and the replay phase. During the capture phase, the attacker eavesdrops on the network to capture information that they can reuse later on.

This might be something as simple as recording a person’s voice. Next, you have the replay phase, where the attacker uses the collected information to try and gain access to the victim’s accounts. 

How Replay Attacks Work – An Example

Imagine a contact center that provides phone-based customer support for a banking institution. Customers call in to perform various transactions such as checking balances, transferring money, or changing account details. 

To authenticate the customer, the contact center’s automated system might ask for the customer’s account number followed by a voice-based PIN. 

Now, let’s assume that a customer calls to to transfer a sum of money, and provides the necessary voice-based PIN. However, a malicious actor manages to intercept the PIN and record the voice transmission and the customer’s account number. 

That malicious actor can now replay the customer’s recorded voice to provide the account details and the voice-based PIN, thus gaining access to the system and being capable of making unauthorized transactions.

How Voice Authentication Mitigates the Risks Posed by Replay Attacks

Voice authentication, commonly referred to as voice biometrics, has emerged as a robust solution to enhance security measures, especially in contexts like contact centers, mobile applications, and smart devices. 

Voice biometrics software analyzes unique characteristics of an individual’s voice to confirm their identity, offering a dynamic method of authentication beyond traditional static passwords or PINs.

Voice authentication systems analyze hundreds of voice characteristics, such as pitch, tone, cadence, and even the shape and size of one’s vocal tract. These attributes make each person’s voice unique, much like a fingerprint. 

Voice authentication is extremely effective against the risks posed by replay attacks. Firstly, advanced voice authentication systems can detect the difference between a live voice and a recorded one. 

They accomplish this through biometric liveness detection, where the system analyzes numerous vectors to determine if the voice is coming from an actual person or just being played back. 

Importantly, voice biometrics evaluates a voiceprint in great detail, based not on what’s said, but the way it’s said. Even if an attacker perfectly replicates the content of a user’s response, matching the unique vocal nuances of the original speaker is exceedingly challenging. 

This means that merely replaying someone’s voice, even if the content matches the authentication challenge, would not guarantee successful impersonation.

Additionally, voice authentication can be combined with other authentication factors, such as something the user knows (passwords) or something the user has (a physical token or a smartphone). 

This multi-factor authentication approach further complicates the attacker’s efforts. Even if they possess a voice recording, without the additional factors, they cannot gain unauthorized access.

How Replay Attacks Harm Contact Centers

Contact centers serve as pivotal communication hubs between organizations and their customers, facilitating a wide range of services from technical support to financial transactions. 

As such, the integrity and security of these centers are paramount. As you can probably tell, successful replay attacks can cause serious harm to not just the contact center, but any affiliated organizations.

Fraudulent Activity

The most obvious impact for contact centers is the fraudulent activity that occurs in case of a successful replay attack. Fraudulent transactions, stealing sensitive information, and data breaches are just some of the effects of a successful replay attack. 

This can result in significant fiscal losses for the organization, and can also result in customer data being leaked, which exposes the organization to a litany of lawsuits. 

Negatively Affects Operational Efficiency

Replay attacks place a considerable operational burden on contact centers. There is an immediate need for a comprehensive security review and potential service interruptions post-breach. 

The call center might also have to make substantial investments in upgraded security infrastructure, retrain staff on newer security protocols, and address any compensation claims from affected customers. 

These challenges not only impose financial costs but also divert essential resources from primary operational activities.

Legal Implications

Because replay attacks often result in confidential information being leaked, they can give rise to serious legal implications. 

Many jurisdictions have stringent data protection and privacy regulations that mandate organizations, including contact centers, to ensure the confidentiality, integrity, and availability of customer data.

Such breaches can lead to legal penalties, fines, or even lawsuits from affected individuals. Additionally, regulatory bodies might subject the center to increased scrutiny, possibly demanding regular audits or imposing stricter compliance measures.

Reputational Damage

As you can imagine, a successful replay attack is likely to damage the reputation of not just the contact center, but the bank or any other entity that’s using its services. 

If customers feel that their money or personal information isn’t secure, they are likely to take their business elsewhere. 

Negative publicity caused by a replay attack, especially if it hits the news, can spread like wildfire, resulting in a massive PR storm. A recent example of this includes the MGM data breach.

The fallout from damaged reputation is not just immediate; regaining lost trust can be a lengthy, uphill battle, requiring substantial time, effort, and resources. 

Deepfakes – A Rising Concern

As deepfakes become increasingly popular, security centers are looking at different kinds of IVR/IVA authentication methods to reduce the risks. 

As deepfake frauds become more and more common, many organizations are looking towards the future. Contact centers are already looking at evaluating their defense strategies against deepfakes, focusing on the attack vectors and fortifying their businesses against the risks posed by generative AI. 

At Pindrop, we understand how deeply concerned our clients are about their current deepfake preparedness. With our upcoming deepfake detection module, clients will be able to run pilot tests and include deepfake detection as part of their security infrastructure. 

Deepfakes and generative AI pose a significant threat to voice biometrics and cybersecurity in general. Pindrop’s deepfake detection module will be built into both Protect and Passport, thus helping businesses improve their response to such attacks. 

Concerned About Replay Attacks? Protect Yourself with Pindrop!

Deceptive technology continues to be a growing threat, and the time for businesses to act is now. Pindrop’s proprietary technology is used by some of the country’s leading business organizations. Request a demo to learn more about how Pindrop can help protect you against bad actors and cybersecurity threats!