Smashing attacks involve harmful text messages, leading individuals and businesses to lose money and data.
Cyber attackers exploit users’ inclination to trust text messages, using fear or excitement to manipulate them and compromise data in the blink of an eye without you even realizing it.
Picture this – you’re scrolling through your messages and suddenly receive a text claiming you’ve won a grand prize. It seems too good to be true, yet oddly convincing.
You are tempted to click on the link given in that text. Once done, next comes the shock of finding your bank account drained or your identity stolen, all from a seemingly harmless text.
Welcome to the world of smishing attacks – a growing threat is catching even the savviest individuals off guard.
In fact, in the first 6 months of 2021 alone, smishing attacks have seen a jaw-dropping 700% increase worldwide.
Thus, the urgency to defend yourself against these manipulative tactics has never been more pressing.
In this article, I’ll delve deeper into what smishing attacks are, their types, and how you can protect yourself from them.
Let’s get started!
What Is Smishing?
Smishing, short for “SMS phishing,” is a cyber threat that preys on your trust, fear, excitement, and bank account through harmful text messages that appear legitimate. But in reality, they are not.
These texts tempt people to click on harmful links or share confidential information.
The goal behind smishing attacks is to steal your personal info, money, or even your identity for fraudulent activities.
In this type of cyberattack, the victim receives a text indicating that they have won some kind of prize or they might need to update their account information urgently. It might include a malicious link. The text will prompt you to click on that link to perform the next step, like availing the prize or making changes to your account.
So beware, these are tricks that cyber criminals employ to fool people and carry out attacks.
In 2021 and 2022, a staggering 76% of organizations globally faced some kind of smishing attack, as reported by Statista. This unsettling truth underscores the widespread nature of this threat.
Staying safe begins with being careful. Don’t click on links or give out your personal information unless you’re sure the message is genuine. Look at who sent the message, and watch out for mistakes or strange requests. Remember, real companies like banks won’t ask for your passwords or sensitive details in text messages.
Increased Mobile Usage and Smishing: Is It Concerning?
As mobile devices have become an integral part of everyone’s life, the likelihood of smishing attacks taking place is more. This is undoubtedly highly concerning for everyone, whether you are an individual or a business.
With the increase in mobile usage, cybercriminals have discovered a lucrative opportunity to exploit information and money. In 2021, about 87.8 billion unwanted spam texts were sent to phone numbers in the US alone. This caused people to lose more than $10 billion in total.
Today, phones have become essential tools for tasks like banking and socializing. However, this ongoing reliance also exposes people to manipulative strategies that cybercriminals employ. These attackers send convincing messages that tempt people into taking impulsive actions without giving a second thought.
The consequences of smishing can be shocking, resulting in drained bank accounts and stolen data and identities. This is why it is crucial to understand that smishing is not just an annoyance but also a serious threat to your financial security and personal privacy.
It’s understandable that you can’t stop using your phone since it’s essential in both your personal and professional lives. But you can stay informed and cautious. By understanding the risks and remaining vigilant, you can safeguard yourself against the deceptive clutches of smishing attacks.
Types of Smishing Attacks
Educating yourself about the various types of smishing attacks equips you with the knowledge to recognize and avoid falling prey to these malicious tactics.
So, let’s explore the different types of smishing attacks.
This traditional form of smishing entices you to click on harmful links that direct you to fake websites. These sites may appear identical to legitimate ones, like your bank’s site. Here, you will be prompted to enter your sensitive details, which the attacker then captures and uses the data to deploy an attack.
This is a more personalized approach. Scammers use voice calls alongside text messages. They might leave voicemails or send SMSes warning you about compromised accounts or fraudulent activities, asking you to call a number or click on a link. Once you do, they extract personal information from you.
The thought of suddenly winning something can make anyone excited. Cybercriminals exploit this by sending messages like congratulating you on winning a prize. But you actually have not entered any such contest.
In this type of smishing attack, the attacker will ask for your personal details or a ‘small fee’ to claim the prize. Next, they are nowhere to be found, as they will eventually run off with your money and data.
These messages often mimic legitimate financial institutions, claiming suspicious activities on your account that need your immediate attention. Fearful of this, you may click the provided link and unknowingly provide access to your account.
Urgent Action Smishing
Capitalizing on a sense of urgency, these messages warn of a time-sensitive situation that requires immediate action. Whether updating your account, confirming a purchase, or verifying a transaction, these messages aim to make you act quickly without thinking.
Attackers might send you a text claiming to be from a popular app store, prompting you to download an update or a new app. However, the link leads to a fake site, downloading malware onto your device.
This particularly deceptive technique involves cybercriminals posing as friends or family members. They might ask for financial help or sensitive information from you, exploiting your trust in your relationships.
Capitalizing on wanderlust, scammers might send texts about exclusive travel deals or booking confirmations for trips you never planned. Clicking the links can lead to data theft or malware installation.
Cybercriminals prey on your goodwill by sending messages from fake charity organizations during a disaster or need. They request donations, but the money never goes to those in need.
Security Alert Smishing
These messages exploit concerns about security breaches, stating that your account has been compromised. They urge you to take immediate action or share sensitive information, like OTPs, with the attackers. And when you do that, they empty your bank accounts or gain unauthorized access to carry out a full-blown attack.
Real-Life Examples of Smishing Attacks and Their Consequences
Let’s delve into real-life examples of these attacks and their dreadful consequences.
#1. The “Bank Account Compromise”
Imagine receiving a text message from a number that seems to be your bank informing you about unauthorized activity on your account. The message urgently requests you to click a link to verify your details.
An unsuspecting victim clicks on this link and enters their personal information. Soon, the attackers gain access to their bank accounts. The result was – emptied bank account and financial turmoil.
Case: Deakin University Smishing Attack is a high-profile smishing incident at Australia’s Deakin University, putting nearly 47,000 current and past students’ identities and data at risk. The breach occurred after a single staff member’s credentials were compromised, allowing an unauthorized individual to access a bulk-SMS messaging service used by the university to communicate with students.
#2. The “Free Gift Card” Scam
Victims receive messages saying they’ve won a gift card or prize. All they need to do is provide their personal details or pay a small shipping fee in order to receive the prize or gift card. Once the recipient gives them the information or pays the fee, the attacker disappears, scamming the victim and compromising the personal information.
Case: Government agency impersonation is a real-life example of a gift card scam. Individuals received phone calls from scammers claiming to be from a government agency, such as the Social Security Administration.
This scam saw a significant rise in 2021, with nearly 40,000 consumers reporting a loss of $148 million in the first nine months of the year, as per the Federal Trade Commission (FTC). The median amount lost to such scams in 2018 was $700, which increased to $1,000 in 2021. Older individuals, especially those aged 50 and above, were found to be more susceptible to these scams.
#3. The “Fake App Update” Trick
You may receive a text message urging you to immediately update a popular app. Be cautious if that happens.
The link provided in the text leads to a fake app infected with malware. If you install this malicious app, your personal information, including banking details, could be stolen. Furthermore, your device might be compromised, allowing hackers to control it. As a result, your device might be compromised, and your data might get stolen.
Case: In a report by ZDNet, Android Trojan Malware Attack was discovered that posed as a system update. Users received a message urging them to update their system. However, upon downloading and installing this “update,” it acted as a remote access trojan, giving attackers full control over the victim’s device.
This allowed them to capture a wide range of data, including messages, photos, and even GPS data. The malware was sophisticated and could even record phone calls, making it one of the most invasive Android malware strains.
#4. The “IRS” Threat
People have received a text from the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) insisting on instant payment for overdue taxes or a warning of legal consequences. Fearing this, victims comply by sharing their financial information or making the requested payment. The result – is financial loss and exposed identity.
Case: In September 2022, the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) warned about a surge in IRS Text Scams. The scam texts often lured victims with claims of fake COVID relief, tax credits, or assistance in setting up an IRS online account.
One notable incident involved a taxpayer who received a message claiming they owed back taxes and needed to click on a provided link to clear their dues. Upon clicking, they were redirected to a phishing site that attempted to harvest their personal and banking details.
#5. The “Travel Confirmation” Scam
Victims have got a text claiming to be a travel confirmation for a trip they didn’t book. Being curious, they click on the link to cancel the booking, unknowingly downloading malware onto their device.
The malware can steal personal information, login credentials and even record keystrokes. This has compromised privacy and caused potential financial losses.
Case: Mevonnie Ferguson, a resident of Kent in the UK, is reported to be a victim of the Real Flight Reservation Scam. She was deceived by a scammer claiming to represent a travel agency named Infinity Global Travel. She was sold what appeared to be a legitimate British Airways ticket from London to Kingston, Jamaica.
After checking the reservation on BA’s website using the confirmation number, it seemed valid. However, about two weeks post-purchase and just days before her departure, the reservation vanished from BA’s site. Upon contacting the airline, she discovered there was no flight booked in her name. The scammer had exploited the difference between a “confirmed” and a “ticketed” reservation, making it appear to be a valid booking when, in reality, it was just a temporary hold.
#6. The “Romance Scam”
In some scenarios, cybercriminals build emotional connections with victims over texts, pretending to be interested in a romantic relationship. Once they successfully establish trust, they manipulate victims into sharing personal and financial information. This can cause heartache, betrayal, and financial ruin.
Case: A cybercriminal impersonated Gen. Paul Nakasone, the director of the National Security Agency and head of U.S. Cyber Command, in an attempt to lure women into a romance scam. The scammer initiated false email conversations with women on social media platforms, using the general’s identity. In one instance, the imposter claimed to be stationed in Syria and inundated a woman with religious messages, urging her to communicate via Google Hangouts.
Preventive Measures Against Smishing Attacks
The consequences of smishing attacks are more than just financial – they can shatter trust, compromise privacy, and leave victims emotionally scarred.
Let’s delve into some effective ways to prevent smishing attacks from happening in the first place.
#1. Awareness and Training
In today’s interconnected digital landscape, it is essential for your organization to arm its workforce with knowledge in order to protect sensitive information.
According to a report from ID Agent, businesses face an average cost of $15,000 from smishing attacks. The financial impact highlights the urgent need to educate your team.
To fortify your defenses against stealthy cyber threats, prioritize comprehensive training on smishing and spread awareness throughout the organization. This will help everyone to be prepared for these malicious attacks and respond to them intelligently.
Furthermore, attending regular workshops that provide insights into smishing attacks enables your employees to distinguish between legitimate messages and potential scams. By equipping them with the ability to identify suspicious links, urgent demands, or unexpected requests, your staff becomes an intimidating barrier against these malicious attempts.
#2. Verifying the Sender’s Identity
Practicing vigilance is your first line of defense in a world where fraudulent messages can blend seamlessly into your inbox. When you receive a text urging immediate action or requesting confidential data, take a moment to scrutinize the sender’s credentials.
Double-check the sender’s number or email address, ensuring it aligns with the official contact details of the purported institution. Legitimate entities won’t resort to text messages for soliciting sensitive information.
By confirming the sender’s identity, you significantly decrease the likelihood of becoming a target of smishing attacks.
#3. Being Cautious with Text Messages
Extending your cautious approach from emails to text messages is essential in safeguarding your digital assets. Cybercriminals frequently capitalize on the convenience and familiarity of text messages to manipulate their targets.
So, approach every text message cautiously, just like you would with emails from people you don’t know. Avoid immediately clicking on links or downloading content if the sender is unfamiliar to you. Take a closer look at the messages to see if they sound strange or ask for things unexpectedly.
#4. Securing Mobile Devices
In this digital age, where our mobile devices hold a wealth of personal and confidential information, it is crucial to prioritize their security.
A good measure to combat smishing attacks is by implementing advanced security features like biometric locks that utilize fingerprints, facial recognition, etc. These add an extra layer of defense and enhance overall data protection.
To ensure optimal security, staying updated with the latest security patches and updates is also crucial. By regularly updating your mobile devices, you create a strong defense against potential cyber threats. This proactive measure shields you from vulnerabilities that malicious individuals can exploit. Also, invest in security devices to establish a robust barrier against smishing threats.
#5. Utilize Multi-Factor Authentication
To fortify your digital data, implementing multi-factor authentication (MFA) is a powerful strategy. In addition to password-based security, MFA requires an extra layer of verification. This typically involves a code sent to another device or a fingerprint scan.
Incorporating this intricate security framework, you can increase the complexity of potential attackers attempting to breach your accounts. It will act as a protective shield to safeguard you from deceptive attempts.
#6. Use Strong Passwords
Your phone, computers, and other devices hold a lot of your private information. An easy yet effective way to keep the data safe is using a strong password for each device.
Create a strong password that combines letters, numbers, symbols, and uppercase and lowercase letters. This makes it harder for hackers to guess your password. This helps thwart potential smishing attackers and bolsters your overall digital security.
#7. Report Smishing Attacks
As an informed and responsible individual, your role in the battle against cybercriminals is pivotal. By reporting the incidents to the relevant authorities, you contribute to assisting the police and others in catching the criminals responsible for these attacks.
Additionally, making your friends, family, and colleagues aware of these incidents is crucial. Acting collectively enables us to prevent the distribution of harmful messages and ensure greater safety for everyone.
#8. Use Encrypted Messaging Apps
If you need to share sensitive information, utilizing encrypted messaging apps is a wise decision. These applications employ advanced techniques to transform your messages into an encrypted language that only the intended recipient can understand. This protects your messages.
Whether you’re talking about a monetary transaction or your personal details, encrypted messaging apps add an extra level of privacy. It will allow only the right person to unlock and read the message. Also, telling your friends and family to use these apps helps everyone stay safer when talking online.
Scammers employ text messages as a means to deceive individuals into divulging personal information or clicking on hazardous links. This is why staying vigilant against smishing attacks is crucial today.
To create a strong defense, train your team, verify sender details, exercise caution with texts, secure your devices, and implement strong security measures like multi-factor authentication and robust passwords.
In addition, report suspicious texts and use encrypted messaging apps to enhance security. Your efforts can make a significant difference by contributing to a safer digital world for everyone.
Next, check out common WhatsApp scams and how to be prepared for them.
Durga Prasad Acharya
Durga Prasad Acharya is a Freelance Technical Writer who loves writing on emerging technologies, such as AI & ML, Cybersecurity, Web Hosting, SaaS, Cloud Computing, and more. Besides writing, he’s a web designer and is passionate about… read more
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