What is Smishing?

What is Smishing?
Article by Sumana Ganguly
Last Updated: October 29, 2023

In this article, we will look into a particular brand of phishing: smishing. Besides answering the question of “what is smishing,” we will address how it works, the most common types of smishing and how to defend yourself against these attacks.

What Is Smishing?

Smishing is a phishing attack that employs social engineering to get a user’s personal information over a text message.

Smishing is a different term for "SMS phishing." It is a text-messaging-based phishing scheme. It is comprised of "SMS" (short messaging service, or "texting") and "phishing."

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How Does Smishing Attack Work?

Cybercriminals use smishing techniques to "phish" by sending bogus emails that trick the recipient into clicking on a fraudulent link. Smishing essentially uses SMS messages instead of emails.

Criminals want the recipient to click on a URL link within the text message, which takes them to a phishing tool that asks for personal information. This phishing tool frequently takes the shape of a website or app that also pretends to be someone or something else.

These individuals utilize one of these two approaches to steal user’s information:

  • Malware: The smishing URL link may deceive users into installing malware — malicious software — on your phone. This SMS spyware may pose as a genuine program, tricking users into entering and sending sensitive information and transmitting it to cyber criminals.
  • Malicious website: The URL in the smishing message may direct you to a bogus website that asks for sensitive personal information. Cybercriminals use custom-made harmful sites that seem legitimate, making it more straightforward for them to steal your information.

Scam SMS messages can appear to be sent by a user’s bank, requesting personal or financial information such as your account or ATM number. Giving the data is essentially giving burglars the keys to your bank account.

Because the attacker assumes identity users feel they can trust, the victims are more inclined to comply with their demands.

Smishing attackers can affect a victim's decision-making through social engineering methods. This is motivated by three factors:

  • Trust: Cybercriminals reduce their targets' suspicion by acting as respectable individuals and organizations. SMS texts weaken a user's defense against any threat as a personal communication channel.
  • Emotion: By playing on their target's emotions, attackers might overwhelm their critical thinking and prompt them to respond quickly.
  • Context: Using a circumstance relevant to the target allows an attacker to create an effective disguise. The message appears customized, which dispels any suspicions that it may be spam.

Using these tactics, attackers craft the messaging designed to elicit a response from the recipient.

Targets are chosen in various ways–primarily by association with an organization or a geographic area. Targets include employees or clients of a specific institution, mobile network subscribers, university students, and even residents of a particular area.

Types of Smishing Attack

Here are several often-used smishing attack premises:

  1. COVID-19 Smishing
  2. Financial Smishing
  3. Customer Service Smishing
  4. Invoice or Order Confirmation Smishing
  5. Gifts Smishing

1. COVID-19 Smishing

COVID-19 smishing scams are based on real aid programs developed by governments, healthcare organizations, and financial groups to aid with COVID-19 recovery.

Attackers utilize these tactics to exploit victims' health and financial concerns to conduct fraud. The warning indicators include:

  • Contact tracing that requests sensitive information (social security number, credit card number, etc.)
  • Tax-based financial assistance, such as stimulus cheques
  • Updates on public health safety

2. Financial Smishing

Finance smishing attacks are disguised as financial institution notifications. Banking and credit card services are used by nearly everyone, making them suitable for generic and institution-specific advertising.

An attacker poses as a bank or a financial organization to perpetrate financial fraud. A financial smishing scam may involve an urgent request to unlock your account, a request to verify suspicious account activity, and other features.

3. Customer Service Smishing

Customer support smishing attackers pretend to be a trustworthy company's support agent to assist users in resolving a problem. In this scenario, high-use tech and e-commerce corporations such as Apple, Google, and Amazon serve as effective disguises for attackers.

Typically, an attacker will pretend to have a problem with your account and instruct you on how to fix it. The request could be anything, from utilizing a bogus login page to providing a legitimate account recovery code in an attempt to reset your password.

An issue with billing, account access, strange activity, or resolving your recent customer complaint are all red flags of a customer service smishing attempt.

4. Invoice or Order Confirmation Smishing

Order confirmation smishing falsifies a recent purchase or billing invoice for a service.

A link to a follow-up may be supplied to pique your interest or compel immediate action to instill a fear of unexpected expenses. The absence of a business name or order confirmation texts could be evidence of this scam.

5. Gifts Smishing

The promise of free services or items, usually from a respected merchant or other company, is referred to as gift smishing.

These can include giveaway contests, shopping rewards, or any other type of free promotion. When an attacker increases your excitement by mentioning the word "free," this acts as a logic override to persuade you to respond faster. Limited-time offers or exclusive selection for a gift card can be signs of this attack.

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How to Protect Yourself From a Smishing Attack?

Remember that smishing, like email phishing, is a crime that relies on tricking the victim into collaborating by clicking a link or submitting information.

The most basic defense against these attacks is to do nothing at all. A malicious text cannot harm you if you do not reply.

These attacks can only cause harm if you take the bait and act in the way the scammer wants you to.

Remember that text messaging is a legitimate way for many companies and institutions to contact you. Not all messages should be ignored, but you should always act cautiously.

These are the enterprise cybersecurity essentials you should keep in mind to protect yourself from smishing attacks:

  • Don't respond: Prompts to reply, such as texting "STOP" to unsubscribe, can also be used to identify active phone numbers. Cybercriminals rely on your curiosity about the situation, but you should resist the urge to engage.
  • Contact your bank or merchant in case of doubt: Legitimate institutions do not send text messages requesting account changes or login information. Any urgent notices can be confirmed through your online accounts or an official phone helpline.
  • Be wary of urgent requests: Urgent account upgrades and limited-time offers should be regarded as warning indicators of imminent smishing.
  • Don't use links in the message: Avoid clicking on links or sending contact information in communications that make you feel uneasy. When possible, use formal contact methods.
  • Never save credit card information on your phone: The most straightforward approach to preventing financial information from being stolen from a digital wallet is to never store it there in the first place.
  • Use multi-factor authentication (MFA): If a compromised account requires a second "key" for verification, a revealed password may still be useless to a smishing attacker. The most common type of MFA is two-factor authentication (2FA), which frequently employs a text message verification code to provide greater network security.
  • Don’t send a password or account recovery code through text message: In the wrong hands, passwords and text message two-factor authentication (2FA) recovery codes might jeopardize your account. This information should never be shared with anybody and should only be used on official websites.
  • Examine the phone number: Unusual phone numbers, such as 4-digit ones, may indicate the use of email-to-text services. This is one of the methods a fraudster might use to conceal their genuine phone number.
  • Install an anti-malware program: These can defend against fraudulent apps and SMS phishing links.
  • Report SMS phishing attempts to the authorities.

Takeaways on What is Smishing

As an advanced and well-disguised form of phishing, smishing takes advantage of the victim’s lack of awareness via the most commonly used type of communication: phone texting.

It is crucial to have an incident response plan to rise to this security challenge. But the advised method of tackling smishing is simply to be alert and not take any action the scammer wants you to take.

Professional cybersecurity agencies can also help you with this process, so we advise looking for the right agency to partner with for your project.

Smishing FAQs

1. What is an example of Smishing?

Numerous attackers utilize automation to evade being detected to dispatch text messages to multiple users via an email address. Typically, the phone number on the recipient's caller ID is linked to an online Voice over Internet Protocol (VoIP) service like Google Voice, whose location cannot be traced through a number lookup. This is an example of Smishing.

2. What to do if you become a victim of Smishing?

As a victim of Smishing, inform the company that the phisher impersonated in the phishing scam, be it your email provider, utility company, or employer, and report the incident. Notify them that you have altered your password and adhered to their guidelines for securing your account and personal information. If you disclose any financial details, you might have to cancel your card and acquire a fresh one.

3. What is Smishing short for?

Smishing refers to a social engineering attack that employs fraudulent text messages to deceive individuals into sharing sensitive information, transferring funds to cybercriminals, or downloading malware. The term "smishing" originates from the combination of "SMS," which stands for short message service, the underlying technology of text messages, and "phishing."

4. What's the difference between Smishing vs. phishing?

Phishing is a prevalent form of fraudulent activity where scammers employ seemingly genuine email addresses that include a link urging the recipient to provide personal information, such as their full name, social security number, and credit card number.

In contrast, Smishing involves using text messages or popular messaging applications like Slack to target unsuspecting individuals. Typically, these messages contain a website URL or link that prompts the recipient to enter their banking and personal information, which the scammers can use to their advantage.

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