What is Smishing? Everything You Need to Know (2023)

By Tibor Moes / Updated: June 2023

What is Smishing? Everything You Need to Know (2023)

What is Smishing?

Have you ever received a suspicious text message urging you to click on a link or provide personal information? You might have been targeted by a “smishing” attack. But what is smishing? In this digital age, where almost everyone has a smartphone, scammers have adapted their tactics to exploit our reliance on mobile devices. Ready to learn how to protect yourself against smishing attacks in 2023? Let’s dive in.

Summary

  • Smishing is a form of phishing attack where an attacker uses SMS texts to send malicious links to unsuspecting users. They use automation to send out bulk messages with the aim of tricking people into clicking malicious links.

  • Clicking on a smishing link can have serious consequences. Not only could it result in your personal data being stolen, but it could also install malicious software on your device that puts you at risk of identity theft.

  • Watch out for smishing red flags such as suspicious sender email addresses, links that don’t go to official websites, and spelling or grammar errors. If you see any of these signs, it’s best to exercise caution and not take the bait!

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Understanding Smishing: Definition and Tactics

Smishing, a combination of “SMS” (short message service) and “phishing,” is a type of phishing attack that occurs through text messages. These cybercriminals aim to trick unsuspecting victims into giving away sensitive data, such as passwords, social insurance numbers, and credit card information. A staggering 74% of organizations have experienced smishing attacks, demonstrating their widespread nature.

To deceive their targets, smishers often use tactics like sending urgent requests, using shortened links, and impersonating legitimate companies. The combination of using mobile devices on the go and having a false sense of security makes people easy targets for smishing attacks, regardless of the platform they’re using.

Smishing vs. Phishing

Though smishing and phishing attacks share similarities, they target victims through different channels. While phishing attacks typically come through emails, smishing attacks are delivered via text messages or messaging apps, such as WhatsApp or Facebook Messenger. These smishing messages usually appear to be from a bank or other financial institution, asking for personal information like passwords or credit card numbers.

To stay safe from smishing attacks, it’s crucial to set up spam filters and blocking tools, be mindful of your personal security habits, and report any smishing incidents you come across.

By understanding the differences between smishing and phishing, you’ll be better equipped to recognize and avoid both types of attacks.

Common Smishing Scenarios

There are countless smishing scenarios, as attackers continuously reinvent their strategies. Some common smishing schemes include fake bank alerts, COVID-19-related scams, and gift offers. These attackers may impersonate customer support representatives, delivery services like USPS or FedEx, or even use the promise of early access to new products, like the Apple iPhone 12.

Despite the variety of smishing attacks, they often share similar warning signs, such as issues with billing, account access, unusual activity, or resolving a recent customer complaint. By familiarizing yourself with these scenarios, you can better recognize and avoid falling victim to smishing attacks.

The Anatomy of a Smishing Attack

A smishing attack consists of several stages: sending fraudulent text messages, convincing the victim to reveal sensitive information, and collecting that information. The messages usually have a sense of urgency and ask the recipient to click on a link or reply with personal information, often impersonating a legitimate source like a bank or social media site.

The repercussions of falling for a smishing attack can be severe, including identity theft, financial loss, and damage to one’s reputation. Understanding the anatomy of a smishing attack is crucial to recognizing and avoiding these threats.

Attack Initiation

Smishing attacks usually begin when hackers obtain a person’s phone number and send them a text with a malicious link or request for personal information. They can initiate contact using various methods, such as spoofed numbers, burner phones, or even email-to-text services.

By being aware of how smishers initiate contact, you can be more vigilant when receiving unexpected text messages and avoid falling for their tricks.

Social Engineering Techniques

Smishers employ psychological manipulation and social engineering techniques to deceive their victims. They take advantage of the target’s weaknesses, such as fear, greed, or a sense of urgency, to convince them to take quick action, download malware, visit a malicious website, or give away confidential information.

Some of the social engineering techniques used in smishing attacks include gaining trust, creating a sense of urgency, and impersonating a legitimate source. Recognizing these tactics can help you stay safe from smishing attacks and other social engineering threats.

Harvesting Sensitive Data

Once a smisher has convinced their victim to take action, they can collect personal and financial data through phishing links, bogus websites, and malicious software. This sensitive data can then be used for identity theft, fraud, or other malicious purposes.

To guard against smishing attacks, it’s crucial to be cautious when clicking on links or providing personal information, especially if the message seems suspicious or urgent.

Identifying Smishing Texts

Learning to recognize smishing texts is essential in protecting yourself from these attacks. By becoming familiar with the red flags often present in smishing messages and understanding how to verify the authenticity of a message, you can minimize your risk of falling victim to a smishing attack.

Red Flags in Smishing Messages

There are several warning signs to look out for when identifying smishing messages. Some common red flags include urgent requests, spelling errors, suspicious links or phone numbers. These messages often come from unknown or hidden numbers and may contain bad grammar, weird spacing, or short messages with malicious links.

Being aware of these red flags can help you recognize smishing messages and avoid falling for their tricks. Trust your instincts and think twice before clicking on any links or providing personal information in a text message.

Verifying Message Authenticity

To verify the legitimacy of a message, you can use digital signatures, which employ public key cryptography and cryptographic hash functions to confirm the identity of the sender and ensure that the signature is connected to the message. If you’re unsure about a message’s authenticity, it’s a good idea to contact the supposed sender using the contact information they provided or by searching for their official communication channels, such as their website or social media accounts.

By taking the time to verify the authenticity of a message, you can protect yourself from smishing attacks and ensure that you’re only responding to legitimate communications.

Steps to Safeguard Against Smishing

To prevent smishing attacks and protect your personal information, it’s essential to implement spam filters and blocking tools, as well as strengthen your personal security habits.

By taking these proactive measures, you can minimize your exposure to smishing attacks and keep your sensitive data safe.

Implementing Spam Filters and Blocking Tools

Using spam filters and blocking features on your smartphone and carrier services can help keep unwanted calls and texts from reaching your phone. Many carriers offer services like Verizon Call Filter, AT&T Call Protector, T-Mobile Scam ID, Scam Block, Name ID, and U.S. Cellular Call Guardian to help protect you from smishing attacks.

If your Android phone does not have built-in filtering, you can install an app like Nomorobo or RoboKiller. By implementing spam filters and blocking tools, you can reduce your risk of receiving smishing texts and safeguard your personal information.

Strengthening Personal Security Habits

In addition to using spam filters and blocking tools, it’s crucial to maintain strong personal security habits, such as using strong passwords, enabling two-factor authentication, and being cautious when sharing personal information online. These practices can help protect your accounts from smishing attacks and make it harder for attackers to gain access.

Remember, staying vigilant and being mindful of your online presence can greatly reduce your risk of falling victim to smishing attacks and other forms of cybercrime.

What to Do if You Fall Victim to Smishing

If you find yourself a victim of a smishing attack, it’s important to take action to report the incident and minimize any potential damage.

By monitoring your financial accounts, credit reports, and online presence, you can identify and address any issues that may result from the attack.

Reporting Smishing Incidents

To report a smishing incident, you can forward the message to SPAM (7726), report it to the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) at ReportFraud.ftc.gov, or forward it to the Anti-Phishing Working Group (APWG) at reportphishing@apwg.org. These organizations work to combat smishing and other types of online fraud, and your report can help them in their efforts.

By reporting smishing incidents, you can contribute to the fight against these cybercriminals and help protect others from falling victim to similar attacks.

Monitoring and Mitigating Damage

After falling victim to a smishing attack, it’s crucial to closely monitor your financial accounts, credit reports, and online presence to identify and address potential issues stemming from the attack. Look out for any signs of identity theft, unusual account activity, or malware on your device.

Taking these steps can help you mitigate the damage caused by a smishing attack and regain control of your personal and financial information.

Summary

In a world where mobile devices are an integral part of our lives, smishing attacks pose a significant threat to our personal and financial security. By understanding the tactics and techniques used by smishers, recognizing the warning signs, implementing preventive measures, and taking appropriate action if we fall victim, we can stay one step ahead of these cybercriminals and protect ourselves from smishing attacks. Stay vigilant, stay safe, and keep your sensitive information out of the hands of scammers.

How to stay safe online:

  • Practice Strong Password Hygiene: Use a unique and complex password for each account. A password manager can help generate and store them. In addition, enable two-factor authentication (2FA) whenever available.
  • Invest in Your Safety: Buying the best antivirus for Windows 11 is key for your online security. A high-quality antivirus like Norton, McAfee, or Bitdefender will safeguard your PC from various online threats, including malware, ransomware, and spyware.
  • Be Wary of Phishing Attempts: Be cautious when receiving suspicious communications that ask for personal information. Legitimate businesses will never ask for sensitive details via email or text. Before clicking on any links, ensure the sender's authenticity.
  • Stay Informed. We cover a wide range of cybersecurity topics on our blog. And there are several credible sources offering threat reports and recommendations, such as NIST, CISA, FBI, ENISA, Symantec, Verizon, Cisco, Crowdstrike, and many more.

Happy surfing!

Frequently Asked Questions

Below are the most frequently asked questions.

What is an example of smishing?

Smishing is a form of phishing attack where an attacker uses SMS texts to send malicious links to unsuspecting users. They use automation to send out bulk messages with the aim of tricking people into clicking malicious links. Often, the number listed in the caller ID will not be traceable back to the attacker.

What's the difference between smishing vs phishing?

Smishing is a type of fraud attack that involves sending malicious text messages, while phishing is an attack via email. The goal of both attacks is to extract personal information from the victim by luring them into clicking on a link or opening an attachment. In short, smishing and phishing are two types of cyber scams with different approaches but the same goal.

What happens if you click on a smishing text?

Clicking on a smishing link can have serious consequences. Not only could it result in your personal data being stolen, but it could also install malicious software on your device that puts you at risk of identity theft. Protect yourself by never clicking on suspicious links.

What are the red flags for smishing?

Watch out for smishing red flags such as suspicious sender email addresses, links that don’t go to official websites, and spelling or grammar errors. If you see any of these signs, it’s best to exercise caution and not take the bait!

Author: Tibor Moes

Author: Tibor Moes

Founder & Chief Editor at SoftwareLab

Tibor has tested 39 antivirus programs and 30 VPN services, and holds a Cybersecurity Graduate Certificate from Stanford University.

He uses Norton to protect his devices, CyberGhost for his privacy, and Dashlane for his passwords.

You can find him on LinkedIn or contact him here.