You are probably familiar with smishing, even if you aren’t quite sure what it’s called or the underlying details. We’ve all received strange SMS messages along the lines of:
- We’ve noticed suspicious activity on your account. Visit scamsiteabc.com/kkjdkjh if you did not make any recent purchases.
- Congratulations! You’ve won a $500 Best Buy gift card. Click the link to redeem your prize scamsitexyz.com/ljhkjsfds
Of course, both of these messages are really just scams. They are a type of phishing conducted over SMS, hence the name Smishing. These smishing messages can look real—that’s the point. They are designed to trick the recipients into thinking that they are legitimate. They lead the recipients through a number of steps that ultimately result in them handing over sensitive details, such as their login details or banking information.
How Does Smishing Work?
Scammers collect a bunch of phone numbers and send out smishing messages in bulk to unwitting victims. These messages often appear to come from respected organizations, such as the recipient’s bank, or a major retailer. The exact details of the messages vary, but they generally try to elicit a quick response before the recipient has a chance to question it.
Common examples include offering prizes that may excite recipients or a warning that someone has attacked their account. The message prompts the recipient to take some immediate action. These actions can include:
- Clicking a link – This is probably the most common example. These links will take you to a website that looks legitimate, but the details will be slightly wrong. For example, instead of the real URL, yourbank.com, the scam site may actually be yourbamk.com. At a glance it looks the same, but the scam site has no relation to your bank.
- Contact an email address – Much like in the above example, the address can seem real, but it may have subtle differences, such as firstname.lastname@example.org, instead of email@example.com.
- Call a phone number – The number will not actually belong to the company, but a scammer impersonating the organization’s call center.
When these messages succeed and trick the recipients into taking the next step, they will be funneled deeper along in the attack. The recipient may be pushed to download malware onto their device, which can end up spying on them and stealing their sensitive information.
The other main tactic is to manipulate recipients into handing over their login details or banking information. One technique is to fake a security breach and have users re-enter their password on a fake login page. Just like that, scammers can take control of your account.
Other tactics include asking the recipient to update their account details, or to confirm their security questions and answers. This can ultimately give attackers the information they need to take control of the account.
Smishing is used to directly target individuals, or as an attack vector for penetrating deeper into an organization. If a smishing attack fools an employee, it can give these scammers access to the company’s systems. From this foothold, they can escalate their privileges until they reach their ultimate goal. This could be stealing valuable data or even accessing the company’s finances.
How Can You Avoid Smishing?
Individuals can avoid smishing by always being skeptical of text messages that ask them to visit a link, to email someone, or to call a number. They should use caution if they do not know the sender, or if the message sounds too good to be true.
Recipients should always double check the URLs, email addresses, and phone numbers to make sure that they belong to the company. You can check your prior correspondence with the company, or do a web search of the details alongside the company name to confirm. Compare the details in the smishing message against the official ones from the company, making sure to look closely for misspellings.
You can also check potential phishing sites against this database to see if it has already been reported. If you can confirm it is a smishing message, all you have to do is ignore it to stay safe. Do not even click the link, because it could infect your device. If you aren’t sure, contact the company via its official channels to check whether or not it is a scam.
Many companies have a blanket policy that they will never contact you by text asking you to update your account. If this is the case and you receive such a message, you can easily disregard it as a scam.
How Can You Defend Your Customers From Smishing?
If your company would like to be able to send URLs in its text messages without also opening the door to scammers, you can use a service like LuxSci’s SecureText. You can alert your customers that the only text messages you send will take them to the SecureText portal. As long as they check that the URL for the portal is correct, they will be safe to click the link. They can disregard any other messages purporting to be from your organization, because these will be scams.
From the SecureText portal, the recipient can enter their details to gain access to the message. The protective features of LuxSci’s SecureText allow organizations to send sensitive information via SMS, all in a HIPAA-compliant manner. With SecureText and a proper warning strategy, you can help protect your recipients from being tricked by smishing scams that seem to come from your organization.