You may be aware of the cyber threats associated with emails, in which users are vulnerable to malicious attacks on personal data and must remain vigilant of the interactions they make. Text message users also face the same risks and should educate themselves on the dangers of SMS phishing: Smishing.

Whether it be an individual or a large-scale enterprise, cybercriminals are finding new and advanced ways to take advantage of unknowing victims for monetization purposes. And cyberattacks are only on the rise. In one season alone, almost 45 million people get scam communications via text or call from their mobile devices. Of those, a substantial 82% of adults receive a suspicious message via SMS.

That’s why it’s essential to remain vigilant, keep up-to-date with the latest practices and ensure you know what to do when faced with a dubious message. Let’s dive into what smishing is, how it works and how to safeguard against these attacks.

What Is Smishing?

Starting with the etymology: Smishing is a combination of SMS (short message service), also referred to as text message service, and phishing; the practice of actively manipulating, pressuring or deceiving online recipients into giving up sensitive information for their own gain. So, smishing is essentially sending fraudulent texts with malicious intent to gather personal data.

Cybercriminals, when all is boiled down, are typically motivated by money. Whether they’re aiming to access your accounts or sell your data online, many specifically target others for the sole purpose of monetization. When carrying out these attacks, they’re seeking out various aspects of your personal identity, including:

  • Names.
  • Addresses.
  • Usernames.
  • Passwords.
  • Credit card numbers.
  • Credit card codes.
  • Banking data.

How Does Smishing Work?

Text message attacks aren’t always generic. Some threat actors can target specific individuals and tailor a compelling attack for that individual. To craft a message that mobile users will engage with, cybercriminals rely on the following methods to obtain personal data from individuals and businesses alike:

  • Context: To present as genuine, smishing attackers may hone in on contextual factors of day-to-day life. For instance, posing as a widely trusted institution so users don’t think twice about the man behind the mask. A recent SMS scandal involving the IRS is a key example of this.
  • Target Selection: Cybercriminals can use additional data, such as demographics or local affiliations, to understand what institutions are popular in the area among certain groups for more targeted attacks.
  • Website links: Threat actors tend to include malicious links, malware or fraudulent websites in their texts to get people to engage before they’ve had a chance to consider the true sender.
  • Attachments: Appearing as a picture or video on the forefront, smishing texts may apply spyware, ransomware or a virus as an SMS attachment.
  • Social engineering: This more abstract approach involves manipulating the target user’s emotions like fear, anger or empathy to persuade them to engage. For example, pretending to be a loved one in need.

Types of Smishing

To comprehensively understand how threat actors carry out their attacks, it’s important to learn the various approaches they take to obtain personal data:

1. Institutional Services

As mentioned earlier, posing as an institution is one of the most common and successful ways cyber attackers target users and businesses. According to ForgeRock’s 2022 Consumer Identity Breach Report, hackers were quick to notice more healthcare organizations utilizing SMS notifications as a form of communication. With a sudden spike in fraudulent activity, nearly 450 phishing/smishing campaigns were taken down as a result.

Cybercriminals posing as financial services are another example that many have fallen victim to. Using falsified issues with a bank account, black-hat actors send texts to mobile phone users, requesting sensitive information to gain access to bank accounts. These are the key attacks to remain vigilant of as just a small moment of trust could lead to great data (and money) loss.

2. Gift Smishing

Another common method involves enticing vulnerable users with the promise of complimentary benefits. This could be a false 50% off discount code for a popular store in the area. Using this strategy, attackers are able to prey on those who aren’t aware of the rules businesses must comply with for promotional texting permissions and believe the organization is reaching out with exclusive offers.

3. Transactional Confirmation

Cyber attackers also send transactional messages to confuse mobile users that may be awaiting an order. Even individuals who aren’t expecting a delivery may interact with the smishing attempt to cancel the order or notify the courier. The following illustrates what a transactional smishing message could look like:

Hello, your UPS package, tracking code DC8-4CX-PH34, is almost ready! Please finalize your delivery preferences: [Link]

While this is an example, this type of smishing attack actually did take place recently, using FedEx as their scapegoat.

How To Protect Against Smishing Attacks

For mobile phone users to truly protect themselves from unexpected smishing attacks, it’s critical to understand what steps they need to take when faced with a confusing situation. Additionally, to prevent smishing attacks within organizations, businesses can help mitigate these risks by providing training programs for employees or offering educational resources for customers.

Here are some of the essential tokens of advice to safeguard against malicious smishing attempts:

1. Don’t Interact

The number one thing to keep in mind when it comes to evaluating texts is: Avoid responding to any prompts or clicking on links. Sometimes messages can try to catch you out by saying “Reply STOP to unsubscribe.”

However, it’s important to remain vigilant and refrain from any form of engagement, as attackers entirely depend on your curiosity or anxiety over the situation at hand. If you don’t interact with the message, the cybercriminal is left with nothing to work with.

2. Take a Moment to Evaluate

Creating urgency in messages can rush users to make decisions that haven’t been completely thought through. This can manifest in limited-time offers or urgent account updates. Ironically, attackers also tend to pretend there’s been a data breach to panic you into providing information that enables them to gain unauthorized access to your accounts.

Panic is the emotion they’re striving to initiate when attempting to scam you. When receiving a text that appears high-priority and makes you worry, stop to think:

  • Why would an institution reach out for my information via text?
  • Did I sign up for promotional SMS from this company in the first place?
  • Is there a way for me to address this internally?

That brings us to our next point.

3. Contact Institutions or Management Directly

Legitimate institutions should never request information or login info via text, or email for that matter. If you receive urgent notices from an institution, check whether this can be verified by using trusted applications or calling the official support line. This way, you’ll get direct confirmation from the company if they did make attempts to reach you. What’s most important is remaining skeptical and proceeding carefully.

4. Never Share Your Information

Say you’ve forgotten to apply the first rule and you replied to the suspicious number. It’s absolutely imperative to refrain from sending any information, let alone any personal or sensitive information. This includes passcodes for two-factor authentication (2FA) recovery codes, as this will compromise your account’s security.

5. Use Multi-Factor Authentication Passwords

If plans A and B don’t work out, you can implement additional measures to avoid unauthorized access to your private accounts. An exposed password could pose useless to a smishing attacker if the breached account requires a second verification code to gain admission.

Putting this practice in place gives you another layer of security to protect your data, ensuring only the individual with the assigned device can get the unique code needed for entry.

6. Report Suspicious Activity

To protect yourself and others, it’s crucial to report suspicious messages you receive. This way, carriers are made aware and can intervene, blocking malicious actors from sending fraudulent SMS communications in the future.

Stay Informed

For businesses, it’s also up to you to keep mobile users safe from smishing attacks. Your process shouldn’t involve gathering personal or financial information via SMS, nor should customers feel pressured to do so by your company. Instead, aim to educate users about malicious smishing practices and ensure they only hand over information on trusted applications. As more businesses apply these rules, customers will gain more consistency, protecting them from making unfortunate decisions.

At Swift SMS Gateway, we do not take smishing lightly and will not tolerate clients that attempt fraudulent behavior under our services. It’s a contract violation with clear grounds for immediate termination.

When we protect Swift SMS Gateway’s network from bad actors, we ensure the best throughput speeds possible, optimum reach and focus support on you, our valued and legitimate client.

Want access to a secure network with comprehensive support systems for your SMS campaign? Contact Swift SMS Gateway today!