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What is smishing?

What is smishing?

Concerns are growing over the threat of smishing and how it could impact numerous businesses and individuals alike.

As an offshoot of phishing attacks, smishing is an increasingly common form of cyberattack that can leave many vulnerable to identity theft, fraud, and other malicious activities. 

Unfortunately, it's not always easy to avoid smishing attacks. It takes a combination of understanding what smishing is, being aware of how it works, and taking proactive steps to remain safe from it.

What is smishing?

Smishing, a combination of the terms “SMS” (short message service) and “phishing,” is a growing cybercrime targeting mobile phone users. 

It involves cybercriminals sending text messages that appear to be from legitimate sources, such as banks or popular online retailers, in order to trick people into revealing their sensitive information. 

According to Statista, 76 percent of organizations worldwide were targeted by smishing attacks in 2022.

Similar to phishing attacks, these messages often use psychological tricks, like creating a sense of urgency or appealing to emotions, to convince individuals to provide sensitive information or other personal data. 

Smishing attempts may also contain malicious links that download malware onto devices, potentially leading to identity theft and financial loss.

To avoid falling victim to smishing attacks, it's crucial to stay vigilant and exercise caution when receiving voice calls or texts from unknown sources. Always verify the legitimacy of any request and avoid clicking on suspicious links or providing personal information without proper verification.

How does smishing work?

Smishing, or SMS phishing, works by taking advantage of mobile phone users' trust and vulnerability. 

Cybercriminals send text messages that appear to come from legitimate sources, such as banks or popular online retailers. 

These messages are carefully crafted to create a sense of urgency or appeal to people's emotions, enticing them to respond with their sensitive information.

One common tactic used in smishing is the inclusion of malicious links. 

When a recipient clicks on these links in a smishing SMS, the malicious link can install malware on their device. This gives hackers unauthorized access to sensitive data and banking information, leading to identity theft and financial loss.

Another way smishing works is through the spoofing of phone numbers. 

Scammers manipulate the display name or phone number to make the text appear to be from a trusted source. This is to trick victims into believing the smishing scam message is legitimate, increasing the likelihood of them providing their personal information.

Overall, smishing attacks rely on social engineering and hacking to manipulate victims into revealing sensitive information. 

Types of smishing attacks

Smishing attacks come in various forms, each with its own unique tactics and goals. 

Understanding the different types of smishing attacks can help make them easier to recognize and defend against. Here are some common types of smishing to watch out for:

Package delivery scams

Cybercriminals take advantage of the growing popularity of online shopping and send smishing messages claiming there's a problem with package delivery. 

They may ask for private information or payment details to resolve the issue. Always verify with the legitimate retailer or delivery service directly before sharing any information.

Fake banking alerts

In this type of smishing attack, scammers pose as a bank or financial institution and send text messages claiming there is suspicious activity on the recipient's account. 

The message will typically include a link that directs the victim to a fake website, where they will be prompted to enter their login credentials. 

By doing so, the victim unknowingly provides their sensitive account information to the scammer.

Spoofed numbers

Spoofed number smishing attempts involve scammers manipulating the display name or phone number to make the text message appear to be from a trusted source. This can include banks, online retailers, or government organizations. 

The goal is to deceive individuals into believing the message comes from a legitimate phone number and increase the likelihood of them providing their personal information.

Fake prize or lottery scams

These smishing attacks promise exciting rewards, such as winning a free vacation or a large sum of money. 

The message will instruct users to provide their information or credit card details to claim the prize. 

Remember, legitimate organizations do not ask for banking information or require payment for claiming prizes.

Account verification requests

In this type of smishing attack, scammers impersonate a legitimate organization, from financial institutions to electronic messaging services, and send text messages claiming that a user’s account needs to be verified or updated. 

The message may include a link that directs users to a fake website designed to collect the user’s login credentials and other sensitive information.

Charity scams

Exploiting people's generosity, scammers send smishing messages claiming to represent charitable organizations. 

They ask for donations or financial assistance, providing links or instructions on how to make a payment. 

These scams take advantage of people's willingness to help others, but in reality, the money goes straight into the scammer's pockets.

Recognize the warning signs of a smishing text

Recognizing a smishing text message is crucial for defending against cyber attacks. Here are some signs to look out for:

  • Urgency: Smishing scams often create a sense of urgency, pressuring the receiver to take immediate action.
  • Suspicious Links: Be cautious of any message containing a link, especially if it seems suspicious or unexpected.
  • Grammatical Errors: Poor grammar and spelling mistakes can indicate a fraudulent message.
  • Requests for Personal Information: Legitimate organizations will never ask for sensitive information via text message. Most financial institutions will never contact account holders via text to ask for personal information
  • Unknown Sender: Receiving a seemingly random text from an unknown sender or unfamiliar number is always a strong warning sign of a scam. 

Examples of smishing text messages

Smishing tests are often suspicious text messages asking to provide personal or financial information and often share the same elements. 

Here are some strong examples of smishing text messages:

  • "URGENT: Your bank account has been compromised. Click on this link to verify your account details and prevent further unauthorized access."
  • "Congratulations! You've won a free vacation package. To claim your prize, reply with your credit card information for processing fees."
  • "Your package delivery is delayed. Click on this link to provide your address and reschedule the delivery."
  • "Important: Your Apple ID has been locked due to suspicious activity. Please click on this link to verify your account."

Keep an eye out for text messages with similar elements and themes, and be sure to delete any as soon as you notice them. Cybercriminals are not only attempting to scam information but also to confirm if the number they sent their message to is working and legitimate. 

Smishing vs. phishing attacks: Similarities and differences

When it comes to cyber attacks, two terms that often get confused are smishing and phishing. 

While they both involve fraudulent attempts to obtain personal details and financial information, there are some key differences between them.

Phishing attacks typically refer to email-based attacks, where attackers send out deceptive emails that appear to be from legitimate sources. The goal is to trick recipients into clicking on a malicious link or to provide personal details.

On the other hand, smishing specifically targets mobile phone users through texts or SMS. This means that smishing attacks are sent directly to mobile devices rather than to a user’s email inbox.

Another difference between smishing scams and phishing attacks lies in the techniques used. 

Phishing emails often include links to fake websites that imitate legitimate ones, while smishing messages may contain links or prompts to reply with personal information directly in the text.

Despite these differences, both smishing and phishing attacks rely on the same principle of social engineering

These and other forms of social engineering fraud aim to exploit human trust and vulnerability to deceive individuals into revealing sensitive data. 

Therefore, it's important for businesses and individuals to be aware of the tactics used in both types of social engineering attacks and take appropriate measures to protect themselves and their private information.

Note: Vishing (voice phishing) is another common type of cyber-attack to watch out for.

How to prevent smishing attacks

To protect against smishing attacks, it's important to take proactive steps and stay vigilant. Here are some key actions to take to prevent smishing attacks:

Be skeptical of unexpected or suspicious messages

If you receive a text message from an unknown sender or a number you don't recognize, approach it with caution, as it may be a smishing message. 

Also avoid clicking on any links or providing personal information without proper verification.

Verify the source of suspicious messages

Always verify the legitimacy of any text message claiming to be from a government agency or trusted organization. 

Contact them directly using their official website or customer service number to confirm the message's authenticity.

Never immediately provide sensitive information

Legitimate organizations will never ask through text messages for personal details or financial information, such as credit card numbers or social security numbers. 

Avoid responding to any text that requests one to begin divulging sensitive information.

Update every mobile devices' security

Ensure that a phone or tablet’s operating system, apps, and security software are up to date. 

Regularly install updates to patch any vulnerabilities that cybercriminals could exploit. Also, employ security tools like multi-factor authentication on mobile devices when possible.

Install anti-malware software

Consider installing reputable anti-malware software on mobile devices. 

This can help detect and block malicious links, malicious websites, or malicious software that may be present in smishing messages or phishing attempts.

Stay educated & up-to-date

Stay informed about the latest smishing tactics and share this knowledge across a business or organization. 

By raising awareness, businesses can collectively protect themselves and their customers from falling victim to smishing attacks and deceptive text messages.

Report smishing attacks

Upon receiving and recognizing a smishing text message, report it to the FTC (Federal Trade Commission) using their online reporting tool at https://reportfraud.ftc.gov

By reporting these scams, individuals can collectively help authorities take action against the cybercriminals responsible.

Keep your data safe

Remember, prevention is key when it comes to smishing. By implementing these steps and staying alert, you can minimize the risk of becoming victims.

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