We may not have met before, but I can confidently tell you that you have been a victim of a smishing attack. You just didn’t know that it was called smishing. But by the time you are done reading this article, you will already understand what smishing is, how it works, and the types of smishing attacks. You will also learn some basic tips to safeguard yourself from smishing. Without much ado, let us answer the burning question: What is a smishing attack?
What is Smishing in Cybersecurity?
Many people have come to me with one question- “what does smishing mean?” Whereas smishing is a serious issue in the cybersecurity realm, most people still do not understand what it means. The 2020 Proofpoint State of the Phish Report shows that only 23% of users know what smishing is.
You probably have heard of phishing and spear phishing attacks. The two are the most popular social engineering attacks. Smishing is yet another form of social engineering attack that uses mobile gadgets as the attack platform. The attackers use the short message service (SMS) to deliver a malicious message to the target. The message poses to be genuine but with ill motives. Smishing attackers intend to extort information and money from unsuspecting mobile phone users.
How Do Smishing Attacks Work?
Have you ever received an SMS telling you that you have won a lottery and must click a link, download an attachment, or pay money to claim the lottery? Or your shipping (you know nothing about) has arrived at the port, and you must pay a certain sum for clearance? Cases of smishing attacks are many.
Most smishing attackers use automation to send SMS to users. The SMS asks users to click on a link or download an attachment. Those who click on the link will be redirected to a phishing website. The website will ask victims to share their confidential information. Attackers can then use such details for malicious details such as identity theft. Also, they could also sell the data on the dark web.
The perfect example of a smishing attack as you notice, the attacker is posing as an IRS. The attacker threatens the victim with arrest and financial damages unless they call the number given. If the victim does that, they get scammed into sending money.
Another example of a smishing attack is that smishing attackers are fond of using famous brand names to look legit. The attacker poses as FEDEX and tries to convince the victim that the package/shipping is ready. A link that can lead you astray is attached to the message.
The smishing examples illustrated above tell you how sophisticated smishing attacks can be. Indeed, smishing attackers continue to run riot and cause havoc to unsuspecting victims. The European Payments Council report reveals that smishing attacks generated $26 billion in losses between 2016 and 2019. Companies and regular users should remain alert and install adequate measures to help mitigate the nightmare of smishing attacks.
Before discussing some of the security measures to safeguard against smishing attacks, let us briefly explore the different types of smishing attacks.
Types of Smishing Attacks
Smishing attackers can deploy their message using various forms. The following four are the most popular types of smishing attacks you will likely bump into.
1. The “Urgent” Message About Your Bank or Credit Accounts
Smishing attackers where attackers pose as financial institutions are perhaps the most common. Attackers leverage the fact that banks and other financial institutions usually send text messages from time to time. Legitimate messages from such financial institutions are usually sent from specific phone numbers. They also do not have a sense of urgency.
But hackers always convey a sense of urgency in their messages. They might tell you that your bank account has been suspended or hacked. They will then offer a link or request you to send a fee to rectify the message. Their messages carry a lot of urgencies because they want you to act fast and fall into their trap before you can realize what is going on.
2. The Fake Message from a Popular Brand
People tend to trust popular brands more easily than strangers. But what if it is a stranger masquerading as a trusted brand? Attackers can send messages to potential victims posing as legitimate brands. They will craft their message to look like that of the brand and try to convince victims to take certain actions.
3. Fake Survey Links
Fake survey links are another tactic hackers use to go about their smishing attacks. An attacker will send a survey link that promises you a token of appreciation upon filling in the survey. However, the survey will end up asking for a lot of sensitive data. Before you realize it, you would have given out a lot of personal information, which could be detrimental.
4. “Congratulations…You are the Winner…” Messages
We all love winning things. Smishers know that and will try to convince you that you have won money, a voucher, or material things. But you will have to part with your details or pay a token to claim your reward. You will never hear from the sender after you have paid the price or shared your information.
Tips and Methods Your Company Can Use to Prevent Smishing Attacks
As you notice, smishing attacks can be so devastating. But that does not mean that they cannot be dealt with. This section will explore some proven tips to safeguard yourself and your company against smishing attacks.
1. Increase Cybersecurity Awareness
Ignorance can be a disease in cybersecurity. We must agree that part of the reasons why companies fall victim to cyberattacks is that they do not have sufficient employee awareness. Hackers leverage ignorance to get into your company data using smishing attacks. They will target new employees, send them enticing messages, and lure them into downloading an attachment or clicking on a link.
To minimize this, you must conduct regular cybersecurity awareness throughout the company. The awareness should touch on different aspects. For instance, the program should be used to enlighten employees on what smishing attacks are, how to detect them, and the action to take once they notice a smishing attack.
2. Never Trust Messages that Convey a Sense of Urgency
Smishing attackers want things done quickly and fast before victims can realize what is going on. Such messages that come with urgency should be treated with utmost keenness. For instance, whenever you meet a message with a deadline, don’t rush to take action or click on the link. Rather, verify the source of the message before proceeding further.
3. Check the Link before proceeding to visit the page
Smishing attackers always intend to direct their victims to unsafe websites. From there, they can exploit unsuspecting victims into giving out their sensitive details. Before you click on a link, it would be best to countercheck its authenticity.
One perfect determinant of whether or not you should click on a link is the HTTP/HTTPS factor. As a rule of thumb, never click on a link whose URL starts with HTTP. The simple explanation is that HTTP websites are insecure. On the other hand, HTTPS websites are considered more secure. The reason is that HTTPS websites have an SSL certificate (a digital certificate) that initiates encrypted sessions. These certificates are issued by specialized organizations referred to as certificate authorities.
Before a Certificate Authority issues an SSL certificate, it must first validate the website/ company requesting the certificate to ascertain its legitimacy. Different certificates will then be issued depending on the level of validation. There are three types of certificates depending on the validation level. They are Organization Validation (OV), Extended Validation (EV), and Domain Validated certificates (DV).
4. Use Message Blocking Tools
All hail king technology! You no longer must deal with smishing attacks by yourself. Message blocking tools and applications such as Truecaller have mastered the art of detecting smishing messages. Ever seen those applications that tell you, “This message could be spam/scam?” I am sure you have. They are popular on the internet and can play a crucial role in filtering out smishing messages from reaching your end. Smishing attackers fear such tools because they expose them. You better find a message-blocking tool if you intend to safeguard yourself or your company from smishing attackers.
5. Never Give Out Confidential Information Via SMS
This is a bit obvious, but I should mention it. The most decisive method you can use to protect yourself from scams is to avoid providing your personal data requested in unsolicited messages. The major goal of a smishing attacker is to capture your sensitive details. So, if you can avoid giving out your information via SMS, you can be assured of the safety of your data.
Smishing attacks are too common these days. Yet, most people do not understand what smishing is, how it happens, and how best to prevent it from happening. The best way to protect yourself against smishing is first to understand what it is and how it happens. This article has provided all the fine details about smishing. It has explained what smishing is, how it happens, the types of smishing, and some of the best defensive strategies to protect your company against smishing.