Preventing Smishing Attacks: What You Need to Know

smishing attack

With the advent of mobile devices and apps, patching onto the internet and communicating with customers, colleagues, and others has never been easier. Much of this back-and-forth occurs via cellular phone SMS messaging and messaging apps. Cybercriminals know this and use SMS messaging to launch a form of phishing known as smishing.

If the cyberattack is successful, the attackers can drain a bank account, shut down a business, or steal credit card information. This guide to the dangers of smishing discusses what you need to know to protect yourself.

Understanding Smishing Attacks

More and more employees are bringing their cell phones to work, making smishing attacks a legitimate, growing threat to individuals and organizations. The trend even has a name: “Bring your own device” or BYOD. As such, it’s not surprising that smishing is now the top source of malicious text messages.

Smishing Meaning and Definition

Smishing combines short message service (SMS) and phishing. It’s often called SMS phishing. Cybercriminals use these attacks to target their victims through fake messages on mobile phones. In addition to conventional text messaging, these attacks can be delivered through non-SMS messaging apps like Snapchat, WhatsApp, or Viber.

Smishing Works Through Social Engineering

How does smishing work? A smishing attack uses social engineering tactics to get around a person’s defenses, including playing on emotions or instilling a sense of urgency in SMS messages. For instance, scammers often urge users to act hastily before a bank account closure takes place. Of course, the call to action is a ruse. Sadly, it’s a pretty effective way to build trust and get victims to “give up the goods” by clicking on links in suspicious messages.

Relevancy Often Comes Into Play

These fraudsters aim to trick individuals into revealing sensitive information or compromising workplace security through relevancy. That means scammers who use SMS phishing pretend to be relevant to the victim to trick them into surrendering sensitive information or opening a malicious link in the text message.

Unfortunately, the design of these malicious links makes them appear legitimate enough to dupe many into sharing critical personal details. When the unwary person clicks on the deceptive link, they’re transferred to a fraudulent website or app designed to steal sensitive data such as social security numbers, passwords, and credit card information.

Common Types of Smishing Attacks

Here are a few real-world smishing examples:

Tech Support Scams

These are very common, and Reddit is littered with comments by people who have seen this scam or know someone who fell for it. Fraudsters send text messages pretending they are technical support agents at a software company. The scammer wants you to pay them to repair the non-existent computer issue and will abscond with the money.

Gift Smishing

Another of the more common smishing scams involves text messages offering irresistible rewards or free gifts. One well-known scam involved Early Access to the Apple iPhone 12. The scammer claimed to be part of a campaign offering the device as part of an early access trial. The fraudsters then asked for credit card details for shipping costs.

Financial Services Smishing

This one is in the category of urgent messages. You get an urgent banking alert to quickly act on a fake account issue at your financial institution. For example, a text might alert you to suspicious activity at your bank. Clicking on a link leads you to a fake website that steals your financial information.

Invoice or Order Confirmation Smishing

Fake alerts are sent to customers about logistics orders or services. Since many people order online now, these alerts are designed to trick consumers and generate concern over shipping charges. Text messages claim you have a missed or incorrect USPS, FedEx, or USPS package delivery. If customers click the link, a phishing tool can prompt them to disclose private information.

Recognizing Smishing Attempts: Helpful Tips

what is smishing

It helps to see an attempted smishing attack for the nasty bit of business it is. That way, you can avoid interacting or clicking on a URL from someone with malicious intent.

Here are some helpful tips, including some advanced social engineering warning signs, to watch out for and avoid:

Unusual Phone Numbers

Be super cautious of text messages from phone numbers that aren’t on your contact list. That’s especially true if they don’t adhere to the 10-digit format. An irregular phone number like “5000” is a sure sign of smishing. Also, you can verify who unknown callers are through a reverse phone number lookup service.

Random Character Links

Be cautious about an SMS containing random characters. An example of a random character URL is used in a “claim your reward” scam. You’ll be asked to click a URL with random characters such as [4yesxo.yunnnkkzzzz]. A fake website awaits once you click on the malicious URL.

Suspicious Links

Shortened URLs are another type of suspicious link that directs you to a phishing site that steals your data. Usually, it’s a URL that is parading around as an official company web page. The abbreviated link is supposed to take you somewhere, like an official Microsoft web page. Instead, you’re directed to a fake website.

Unsolicited Company Messages

According to SMS compliance laws, unsolicited company messages are considered SPAM and are against the law. Because of this, organizations need permission before sending you texts.

Requests for Payment

Government agencies and legitimate businesses rarely text and ask for your account details. If someone claiming to be from these places is texting you asking for sensitive information, contact the organization to see if the messages truly came from them.

Poor English Skills and No Name Greetings

A firm grasp of English is not required if victims are gullible. For this unsophisticated phishing scam, look for warning signs you’re dealing with someone with a shaky grasp of English. Signs include poor spelling, odd word usage, and bad grammar and formatting in the text. Also, look for odd greetings with no name. The greeting will say something like “Hi sirs” or something similar.

Preventing Smishing Attacks

Now that you know how smishing attacks work and can recognize them, it’s time to learn how to prevent them. Here are essential practices to consider for stopping smishing attacks in their tracks:

Just Ignore Them. They’ll Go Away

You know the game. You get an opt-out request from the sender saying to reply “Stop” or something similar to let them know not to send you text messages anymore. How polite, right? Wrong! Replying to smishing messages signals the scammer that your phone number is active and fair game for future reference. To protect your security, don’t reply to a text message from someone you don’t know or who isn’t in your contacts.

Verify All Sender Identities

If you receive a text from someone claiming to represent the police, the government, the tax department, your bank, etc., you need to verify their identity before you reply or call anyone with the number they provide. You can ensure their message is authentic by contacting the organization they say they represent through the organization’s contact details.

Filter Spam Calls and Text Messages

You can filter spam calls and text messages using your phone’s built-in features and third-party apps. Major carriers offer anti-spam relief; you can report spammy text messages to them. Also, apps that deliver anti-spam tools, reporting, and statistics can protect your business.

Never Give Out Personal Information

Legitimate organizations don’t request your sensitive information via text message. So, when that new text message dings on your device, don’t text back and provide personal details such as passwords, financial information, or PINs. Don’t let them take you to malicious websites, or any website for that matter, either. Scammers can be pretty convincing.

Beef Up Your Cellular Phone Security

Use cybersecurity tools like antivirus software and VPN services to add extra layers to your cellphone security. Good-quality antivirus software scans files and apps for malware and other malicious elements and alerts you if something is affected. A VPN routes your connection to the web via an encrypted tunnel to a remote server.

You Clicked That Link. Now What?

smishing meaning

So, the worst has happened, and you’re a victim of a smishing attack. The good news is that there are precautions you can take to initiate damage control, including:

Step 1: Disconnect Your Mobile Device From the Web

Once you’ve clicked on a link from the smishing text message, disconnect your device from mobile data and Wi-Fi. This action keeps the attacker from accessing your device and spreading malware and other types of digital intrusions.

Step 2: Use Antivirus Software to Scan for Malware

Thoroughly scan your cell phone with high-quality, reputable antivirus software to remove any malicious software installed. Also, remove any new apps you didn’t download intentionally.

Step 3: Update Accounts With New Passwords

Immediately change your passwords to compromised accounts after a smishing attack. This step is crucial if you entered your login credentials after clicking the smishing text link. Use strong, unique passwords for each account.

Step 4: Protect Your Resources With an MFA

Multi-factor authentication (MFA) stops cyber vandals from accessing resources such as an online account, an app, or a VPN. Instead of requiring just a username and password, MFA requires one or more verification factors. This MFA decreases the chance of a successful cyberattack and protects personal data such as health records, social media accounts, and bank accounts.

Step 5: Consider a Credit Freeze or Lock

Identity theft is a huge problem. To prevent digital thieves from using sensitive data from your accounts after a suspected text message scam, consider contacting a credit reporting agency and freezing or locking your credit. Monitor your internet, credit accounts, and finances for strange login locations and suspicious activities.

Step 6: Contact Your Financial Institutions

If you realize you’ve divulged personal or financial information, contact your bank and any credit card companies immediately. Inform them that a breach from a smishing attack might have occurred. Then, they can monitor your accounts for suspicious activity and take necessary precautions to protect your finances.

Step 7: Report the Smishing Scam to the Authorities

Smishing attackers use email-to-text services to hide the phone number used, making it difficult to contact them to complain. You can report the phishing text message to the Federal Trade Commission at ReportFraud.ftc.gov. Forward the text message to SPAM (7726). You can also report the attack to your mobile carrier.

Avoiding Short Message Service Scams

Cybersecurity experts predict that smishing will become more widespread in the coming years. Since mobile device use continues to rise, that’s likely the case. That said, following the steps to prevent smishing attacks may seem challenging. The information contained in this guide helps keep people from answering suspicious texts or going down the rabbit hole to click malicious links.

Lastly, continually learning about the nature of evolving cyber threats and staying informed about new smishing tactics can greatly reduce the risk of falling victim to these attacks.

FAQ

What is smishing?

Smishing uses social engineering to trick people into giving up valuable information. A cyberattack is launched via a fake text message.

How common is smishing?

Smishing has become the most common form of phishing attacks. In 2022, more than 30% of cellphone users received a smishing text.

How can I stop smishing in its tracks?

The most effective way to stop deceptive text messages is to never click on a text hyperlink unless you’re absolutely certain you know who sent you the text.

Is my iPhone protected from smishing attacks?

No, your iPhone or Android device can be targeted by smishing attacks. In fact, cybercriminals can also target any mobile device that can text.

What are the most common red flags of smishing?

Unusual or unfamiliar senders, threatening language, sense of urgency, grammar or spelling mistakes, call to action, and a personal request for information and/or money are smishing attack signs.

Eugene Kirdzei
Eugene Kirdzei

Chief Technical Officer at Nuwber
With nearly two decades of experience in the IT industry, Eugene possesses comprehensive knowledge across his professional field, including in data management, data protection, and information search. Through his writing, he aims to provide valuable insights and practical advice on how to safely explore the online environment and leverage digital tools to enhance people’s lives.