What Is a Smishing Attack?

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There are 5.27 billion mobile users in the world today, and this number is growing rapidly. In just the past 12 months, 97 million more people started using mobile devices. As these figures increase, so does the danger of various cyber attacks that can affect your device.

One of the risks every smartphone user should be aware of is a smishing attack. In this article, we’ll explain how to avoid such an attack and what to do in case you’ve already been affected.

What is smishing?

As you might have gathered from the name, smishing is short for SMS phishing. In this form of phishing, victims are tricked into giving out their personal and sensitive information to cybercriminals. Smishing can happen on different various platforms, not only via SMS; it can also take place via data-based mobile messaging apps.

The best way to define smishing is that it’s a form of social engineering attack designed to take advantage of human trust. It’s also much less understood than phishing. As phishing scams first appeared back in the 1990s, most people are already aware of the risks and know to avoid opening emails from unknown senders. Unfortunately, those same people aren’t always aware of danger coming in the form of text messages, meaning they’re more likely to open potentially harmful texts than emails.

The main goal of cybercriminals is to get a hold of your personal data and then use it for fraudulent activities and cybercrimes. Smishing scams are executed using two main approaches towards stealing data:

  • Malicious websites: The link you get in a malicious text message usually leads to a fake website that asks you to provide some sensitive personal information. The attackers often use custom-made sites that are specifically designed to look like a famous or reputable company’s site.
  • Malware: The URL from the message might try to trick you into downloading malware onto your device. This malware can also look as a legitimate app however do not let yourself be deceived.

How does smishing work?

Smishing attacks are actually very similar to the email attack you’ve probably heard all about. Attackers have several ways of tricking people into giving out their information. In most cases they send messages asking victims to click on a specific link or simply reply to them and provide some personal information. They are mostly interested in:

  • Financial data;
  • Online account credentials;
  • Private information for the purposes of identity theft.

To discover some basic information about the victim, attackers use public online tools that can help them find out the name and the address of their next target. With this information, they tend to address the potential victim of the smishing attack directly and deceive that person into thinking that the message actually comes from a trusted source. Scammers have a range of criteria for choosing who to target, the most important of which are usually the victim’s geographical location and the organization they work for.

Even though this type of malware is usually stopped by the security tools that come preinstalled on iOS and Android devices, some people still voluntarily respond to messages they receive from unknown numbers, which puts them at risk.

Types of smishing attacks

As the number of cyberattacks grows and protections get better, attackers need to come up with new and improved ways of seducing people. The list of smishing methods seems never-ending, but we’ve narrowed it down to some of the most common approaches to help you notice the danger in time and avoid becoming a victim.

1. COVID-19 smishing scams

You need to take these timely scams very seriously, as they’re designed to imitate legitimate aid programs launched by governments, financial institutions, and healthcare organizations to help people survive the pandemic and recover from it. And while these scams are often very sophisticated, there are some measures you can take to prevent a smishing attack.

You can recognize some of these smishing messages, as they usually:

  • look like an official message from the government or a famous medical organization;
  • sound urgent;
  • promise to disclose some important news;
  • ask you to click on specific links or attachments.

To avoid this trap, remember that legitimate institutions will never promise to provide information that you can’t find elsewhere.

2. Gift smishing

These types of scams include promises of free gifts from renowned retailers. Scammers tempt you with shopping rewards or giveaways, but what’s specific about these messages is that they include a strict time limit; that’s how you can recognize them. To pull off this type of smishing attack, attackers count on the target’s love of free stuff and the pressure generated by the time limit.

3. Invoice smishing

This form of scam involves sending people false billing invoices or confirmation of a recent purchase that they didn’t make. It usually contains a particular follow-up link that leads to a harmful site or initiates a malware download. If there’s no business name on the invoice or if you’re not sure you made the purchase, you should move the message to spam.

4. Financial services smishing

These typically come disguised as notifications from financial institutions. Nowadays, almost everyone in developed countries uses a mobile banking app or another online banking service, which makes them a perfect target for cybercriminals.

Bank smishing attacks can include an urgent request to unlock your account, and they generally don’t include a direct link to your bank’s website. If you get a message like this, you should immediately go to your browser or the banking app and check your account that way; don’t ever follow the links from the message itself. And if you’re still in doubt, contact your bank directly.

5. Customer support smishing

In cases like these, attackers pretend to be support representatives from a reputable company advising you that there has been some issue with your account. Messages typically provide you with some easy steps to follow in order to resolve the issue. These smishing attack cases can include a fraudulent login page or false account recovery codes.

types of smishing attacks

Smishing prevention

We’ve already talked about a variety of smishing methods, but there are some general tips you should keep in mind to protect yourself from cybercriminals:

  • Do not respond. If the message you have received comes from an unknown source, just disregard it, as attackers are counting on your curiosity.
  • Inspect the phone number. If the number looks strange or does not have enough digits, it could be an email-to-text service.
  • Use multi-factor authentication. This authentication often uses a verification code sent via text message or some specialized app for verification.
  • Try to keep your credit card numbers off your phone.  to mitigate a potential smishing attack.
  • Remember that the official Government Institutions don’t communicate via text messages. Social Security Administration and the IRS, for example.
  • Call your bank directly. If you have any suspicions, contact your bank right away and check if everything is okay with your account. Financial institutions don’t send any login requests or account updates over the phone.
  • Download an anti-malware app. There are many outstanding programs that can protect your device from phishing links and harmful websites and apps.
  • Don’t provide any recovery codes or passwords via SMS. If you need to do this, always go to the official website and do it directly there.

In case you didn’t find our article on time and have already fallen victim to a smishing attack, there are some important steps you should take to minimize the damage.

  • Report the attack to the authorities.
  • Freeze your accounts to prevent any future harm.
  • Change all your passwords and PINs.
  • Monitor your online accounts for any unusual activity.

All of these steps should help you boost your protection after the attack and recover your personal assets as soon as possible.

Final thoughts on smishing

Cybercriminals are everywhere. Even if you’ve never been personally affected by a smishing attack, you should remain cautious when using your mobile devices. We hope our article has taught you more about the different forms of smishing and, most importantly, how to protect your mobile device from a smishing attack. Just follow our advice and you should be able to identify and prevent harmful situations.

FAQ

What is an example of smishing?

The most common examples are fraudulent bank notifications or false alerts about updates to your accounts. Any text message you might receive from an unknown number containing an urgent warning or offering a deal with a specific time limit should raise a red flag.

Can you get hacked by responding to a text?

Unfortunately, you can. Those text message scams usually include malware, and by clicking on the link from the message, you initiate a download onto your mobile device. Smishing statistics show that out of all the text messages that get sent, 98% of them are read and 45% are responded to. Before you reply to a text from an unknown number, think twice about the possible outcome.

How does smishing occur?

Smishing happens when cybercriminals trick you into revealing your sensitive personal information to them via text message. Although smishing is a serious and growing issue, there are some steps you can take to recognize an attack on time and protect yourself. Make sure you always stay on guard and try to keep your card and bank account information off your phone.

What are examples of phishing attacks?

Phishing attacks are conducted via email, whereas a smishing attack uses a text message to trick the target. The signals are pretty much the same for both. If you receive an email supposedly coming from a legitimate company or bank but it has an urgent note or a time limit, you should probably contact the organization directly to sort it out.

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