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In Privacy and Security Last updated: September 14, 2023
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Smishing and phishing are social engineering attacks that trick victims into revealing sensitive information. 

Phishing involves sending emails with malicious links or attachments. On the other hand, smishing, which is a combination of SMS and phishing, involves sending text messages will malicious links or a phone number which the victim is urged to click or call respectively.

In both smishing and phishing attacks, the criminals threaten their potential victims with severe consequences unless they respond immediately. Victims responding to the threats may end up revealing sensitive information such as passwords or bank account details.

Smishing vs. phishing attacks data theft Image Pixabay
Phishing attacks data theft Image Pixabay

Before we look at the smishing vs. phishing attacks similarities and differences, let us learn what each term means.

What is Smishing

Smishing is an attack in which criminals send text messages with malicious links or fake telephone numbers to potential mobile phone users. It includes the use of manipulative text messages in compelling language to trick the phone user into responding.

The attacker may use urgency, such as the need to promptly pay for a package in transit or confirm a financial transaction, urgently pay for a pending invoice, etc.

What is Phishing

Phishing is the sending of fraudulent emails containing malicious links or attachments that direct the user to the attacker-controlled server or install malware that can steal sensitive information.

In phishing, the attacker’s site may look similar to a legitimate website but will have a misspelled domain name. However, it may contain a login field that allows them to steal the username and passwords as the victim types them, believing that they are accessing a safe website.

Smishing vs. Phishing Attacks: Similarities

Smishing and phishing attacks use social engineering tactics to trick unsuspecting users into revealing sensitive or confidential information. The two attack methods have the following similarities.

  • Each uses persuasive language to warn their victims of potential dangers if they do not respond immediately. For example, they warn that the bank account or credit card will be terminated, electricity or telephone service will be cut off, and other threats unless the victim takes the requested action, such as clicking a provided link.
  • Contains malicious links controlled by the attackers and with the potential to steal login credentials or other sensitive information, install malware or viruses, or compromise the user’s device.
Smishing vs. phishing attacks Image Pixabay
  • Urgency: Each of the attacks creates a sense of urgency and may use threats or warn the potential victim about negative consequences if they do not act or respond immediately. 
  • Deceiving: Both attacks use social engineering practices to trick and manipulate their victims. The smishing and phishing attackers often impersonate known and legitimate companies such as Microsoft, Amazon, Google, and other known brands. This makes the potential victims gain trust, respond, or provide requested information, believing that they are dealing with the said organization or authority.
  • Same goal: The main purpose of launching smishing or phishing attacks is to trick the victim into divulging sensitive company or individual information such as login credentials, credit card or banking details, and more.

Smishing vs. Phishing Attacks: Differences

The table below highlights the major smishing vs. phishing attack differences.

Attack Vector Uses SMS text messages with shortened malicious URLs or a fake phone number.Uses email with malicious links or attachments.
MediumPhone or mobile deviceComputer or mobile device that accesses email.
Reach and Impact  An average of 2,65 billion spam texts messages were sent and received per week April in 2022. The click rate of links in text messages is higher than those in emails. More users are likely to get compromised using smishing compared to phishingAbout 3.4 billion phishing email messages are sent every day. However, the click rate is lower than that of smishing.  

Delivery Mechanism  Text messages to a mobile phoneEmail messages to computing devices
User Awareness  An average of 2,65 billion spam text messages were sent and received per week April in 2022. The click rate of links in text messages is higher than those in emails. More users are likely to get compromised using smishing compared to phishingMost email users are aware of phishing attacks
LinksShortened malicious links and fake numbersMalicious links and attachments
Exploitation of Device  About 60% of mobile phone users are unaware of smishing attacks and are likely to fall victim.

May steal confidential information from a computer. The attackers may also use the compromised device to distribute malware or viruses to computers on the same network.
Urgency  Using a more urgent and compelling message requesting immediate response.  Urgent email but less than the smishing.

How to Protect Yourself?

Below are some of the practices to protect against smishing and phishing.

  • Use of strong email security solution: Install effective security solutions, such as anti-virus software, strong firewalls, spam filters, link analysis utilities, anti-phishing software, and other tools. These help to detect and prevent the delivery of phishing email messages to users. 
  • Use multi-factor authentication (MFA): Deploying an MFA adds an extra protection layer by requiring the user to provide another authentication besides the password. Typical MFA solutions require the user to provide the username and password as well as another form of authentication, such as a code sent to a device such as a mobile phone.
  • Regularly update and patch operating systems and software applications: Updating the operating system, applications, and security solutions ensures that they have they are up-to-date and running recent patches that address most of the vulnerabilities and flaws that criminals may exploit.
  • Observe safe security practices: While installing an antivirus and other security solutions on your computer or mobile device helps to detect and protect you against potential attacks, you still need to practice safe online activities. Learning about existing and new tricks attackers use helps to keep you safe. Also, learn how to check for social engineering red flags such as spelling errors, urgency, wrong domain names, unknown senders, etc. 
Protect against smishing and phishing attacks
Stop phishing attacks Image: Pixabay
  • Create security awareness: Organizations should provide their staff with adequate and regular awareness training about phishing, smishing, and other cyber-attacks. Additionally, they should use phishing simulation tools to test the awareness and identify and address gaps. Individual users should also educate their family and friends about spam messages and how to act and remain safe. 
  • Report the attempted attack: Report the case to an entity such as a bank or other institution so that they can secure the account. Additionally, you may inform the fraud prevention institution in your country so that they can investigate further.
  • Test awareness using simulated phishing attempts: The simulated tests enable admins to determine employee awareness and how they would respond to actual phishing attempts. The simulation software usually sends phishing emails similar to what attackers would send but without harmful links or attachments. It enables the organization to establish if the awareness training is working and if there are gaps that need addressing.
  • Protect sensitive information: Besides using antivirus and encryption to protect sensitive data, it is good practice to limit who has access to the data and what they can do with it. Ideally, grant the users the least privilege that allows them to access only the data and resources they require to perform their tasks. Even if an attacker gains unauthorized access, they cannot cause a lot of damage. 
  • Ignore or delete any suspicious text or email. Avoid clicking suspicious messages, attachments, or links. Additionally, do not respond to messages that require you to send personal information such as credit card or bank account details. 

What to do after an Attack?

Despite efforts to detect and block smishing and phishing messages from reaching their intended victims, millions of fake messages still manage to bypass spam and other security filters every day.


Unfortunately, most users, even those who are aware of the scams, may still get tricked and click on the malicious links. While the best strategy is to ignore and avoid responding to fake SMS and email messages, it is also good to know what to do when an attack occurs.

#1. Establish how the attack happened

Find out why the attack occurred and whether your security solution requires improvement to prevent similar attacks in the future.

#2. Check the effect of the attack

Investigate the phishing email to find out its intention, data the attacker was targeting, and purpose. You can also use the firewall or similar logs to look for suspicious IP addresses and URLs. Check the accounts and data that could have been compromised. Additionally, closely monitor your online and bank accounts or transactions for any suspicious activities, such as attempted login attempts from unusual locations, transfer of funds, etc.

#3. Inform the implicated organization

It is best practice to contact the legitimate company implicated and let them know that attackers are using the company’s name to trick users. The information allows the organization to warn their customers about the scams.

#4. Isolate the device from the network

If your phone or computer is infected, disconnect it from the network to prevent the malware or other installed software from uploading your sensitive data. It also helps to protect other machines on the network.

Besides preventing the malware from spreading to other machines on the network, disconnecting ensures that the device does not steal and upload sensitive data to the internet or the attacker’s machine.

#5. Clean the Device

Use a reliable tool to clean the infected device and ensure you only connect it back when it cannot cause any damage. You may consider restoring the system to a previous good state, such as a week before the attack. Also, change passwords and PINs for the compromised accounts.


Every individual and organization that uses mobile devices and computers is vulnerable to smishing and phishing attacks. Smishing attacks often target mobile phone users, while phishing focuses on email users. 

Either way, the spammers use social engineering techniques to trick users into revealing passwords, banking details, and other sensitive information. Most phishing and smishing emails and SMS texts can bypass spam filters and other security solutions. Consequently, these may make the users think the messages are legitimate and clean.

Being vigilant and knowing the cybersecurity best practices can help in the prevention of data and identity theft. The best way to prevent attacks is for users to learn how to look for smishing vs. phishing attack signs, such as urgency, unknown senders, requests to reveal sensitive information, and more. Once you suspect an attack, ignore the message and confirm if the mentioned organization sent you the message.

Next up, what are spooling attacks, and how to keep yourself safe from them?

  • Amos Kingatua
    Amos Kingatua is an ICT consultant and technical writer who assists businesses to set up, secure, and efficiently run a wide range of in-house and virtual data centers, IT systems and networks.
  • Joy R Bhamre

    Joy R Bhamre is a multifaceted professional, holding the title of Editor at Geekflare. She is a Google-certified Digital Marketing Specialist, a seasoned Editor and writer, and a Cambridge-certified English Language Trainer, boasting… read more

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