Esevel - What is Smishing in Cybersecurity

What is Smishing in Cybersecurity and How to Protect Your Business

While filled with countless advantages, the digital age has introduced an array of cybersecurity threats for businesses and individuals alike. One such threat, particularly insidious because of its simplicity and efficacy, is ‘smishing’. It targets unsuspecting victims through a medium we trust the most – SMS messaging. 

As businesses, especially startups with hybrid or remote workforces, grow reliant on mobile devices and messaging apps, the need to understand and combat smishing has never been more crucial.

What is Smishing in cybersecurity?

Smishing is a term derived from SMS and Phishing attacks. Instead of the traditional email phishing approach, cybercriminals leverage SMS due to its immediacy and the general trust people place in text messages. A smishing message often prompts the user to either respond with personal information, click on a link, or call a phone number.

The attack vector isn’t limited to just SMS; it extends to any messaging apps on mobile devices, making it a broader threat than most anticipate. 

Its deceptive nature, combined with the widespread use of mobile devices, has placed smishing scams on the radar of many cybersecurity professionals.

5 common examples of smishing

Smishing relies on social engineering, tailored to capture the attention of their targets. These attackers prey on human emotions—fear, urgency, or even greed—to trap their victims. Here are some notable examples of smishing that have impacted businesses and individuals across the globe:

  • Banking alerts: A classic technique used in smishing scams involves impersonating financial institutions. The victim might receive a message suggesting suspicious activity on their account, urging them to click on a link to verify their login credentials or personal information. Such scams can not only result in personal financial losses but can also compromise company data if the victim uses the same login details across platforms.
  • One notable case from 2019 had victims receiving texts that appeared to be from Wells Fargo online banking. These messages alarmed users about suspicious activity on their accounts and prompted them to click on a link to verify their identity. Victims were taken to a convincing but fake Wells Fargo login page, designed to steal their credentials.
  • Tax scams: Especially prevalent during tax season, these smishing messages might claim to be from the tax department. They usually inform the recipient of a ‘tax refund’ awaiting them or signs of fraud in their tax filings. The lure of an unexpected refund or the fear of legal consequences can make employees reveal sensitive information.
  • In 2018, the UK’s HM Revenue and Customs (HMRC) detected an uptick in tax-related smishing attacks, where scammers sent messages claiming the recipient was eligible for a tax refund, and guided them to a fraudulent website to obtain their personal and credit card information.
  • Winning prize notifications: Messages congratulating recipients on winning a grand prize, followed by a prompt to click on a link to claim it, have duped many. Once on the fake website, victims are usually asked to provide personal data or even credit card information to receive their ‘prize’.
  • In India, several individuals received smishing messages informing them they’d won a substantial amount in the “BBC lottery”. To claim their prize, victims were directed to share their personal details and make a small ‘transaction fee’, resulting in both financial and personal data loss.
Esevel - Smishing scam
Example of a winning prize notification scam
  • Service suspensions: These smishing messages threaten the recipient with the suspension of a vital service, be it a streaming platform, software service, or even a utility bill. The message often contains a link directing the user to ‘rectify’ the situation, leading them straight into the cybercriminal’s trap.
  • In 2019, many Netflix users reported receiving texts warning them of account suspensions due to billing errors, accompanied by a link to update their billing details. The link led to a fake Netflix site, aiming to harvest credit card information.
  • Delivery notifications: Given the rise of online shopping, many have become victims of smishing attacks that mimic delivery notifications. The message might prompt the recipient to pay a small fee to release the package or to provide personal details to reschedule a delivery.
  • In the lead up to the 2020 holiday season, FedEx warned its customers of a smishing scam. Victims received text messages with a link, claiming it was to set delivery preferences for a pending package. The link led to a fraudulent survey, at the end of which users were asked for credit card details to claim a ‘reward’ for their participation.

How to protect your business from Smishing?

As smishing attacks evolve in complexity, businesses must be proactive in their approach to cybersecurity. Here are actionable steps to fortify your defenses against these threats:

  1. Educate employees: Make them aware of the nature of smishing attacks. Conduct regular training sessions to highlight the different types of smishing scams and ensure everyone knows the protocols to follow upon receiving suspicious messages.
  2. Encourage verification: If an employee receives a text message asking for any action, especially financial, encourage them to verify its authenticity. They should contact the respective department or individual directly using known contact details, not the ones provided in the questionable message.
  3. Implement two-factor authentication: This provides an additional layer of security. Even if login credentials are compromised, the attacker would still need a second form of identification to access the account.
  4. Invest in security software: Use comprehensive mobile security solutions that can identify and block malicious content. This not only safeguards against smishing but also other forms of malware.
  5. Regularly update mobile devices: Ensure that all company mobile devices run the latest software versions. Manufacturers often release updates to patch known security vulnerabilities.
Esevel - Mobile device management
  1. Avoid clicking on unknown links: Make it a policy to avoid clicking on links from unknown or unverified sources. If you need to access a website, it’s safer to type the URL directly into the browser and find it on Google.
  2. Regular backups: Ensure that all critical data is regularly backed up. This will safeguard your business in case of any security breaches, allowing for a swift recovery.
  3. Stay updated: Cyber threats, like smishing, are always evolving. Keeping abreast of the latest techniques and scams in the IT services industry can prepare your team better.

Staying up-to-date with evolving threats, and ensuring robust security measures can help safeguard your business from smishing. It’s not just about understanding the threats but also about having in mind a response plan when facing Smishing.

Responding to a Smishing attack

Even with the best prevention methods in place, no system is entirely invulnerable. If you or an employee suspects a smishing attempt or falls victim to one, swift and decisive action is essential. Here are some of the best tips to respond to a smishing attack:

  • Don’t respond or click any links:

If you’re unsure about the legitimacy of a message, never reply or engage. Clicking on links or downloading attachments might install malware on your device or lead to phishing websites designed to steal your personal information.

  • Document everything:

Before deleting the suspicious text, take a screenshot or write down the message content and sender’s phone number. This can be valuable evidence if you need to report the incident to law enforcement or other entities.

  • Alert your IT department:

The experts in your IT team can quickly assess the situation, guide affected employees, and take necessary protective actions. Platforms like Esevel provide comprehensive IT support to tackle such scenarios head-on.

  • Change all potentially compromised credentials:

If an employee believes they’ve disclosed sensitive information, they should immediately change passwords for any affected accounts, especially for financial institutions.

  • Monitor accounts for suspicious activity:

Encourage employees to regularly check their bank and credit card statements. If they notice unauthorized transactions, they should report them immediately.

  • Report the attack:

In many countries, smishing attacks can be reported to local law enforcement or dedicated cybercrime units. They might not always act on individual reports, but this data helps them understand and counteract wider trends.

  • Inform your staff and network:

Share the details of the smishing attempt with your entire team. It will heighten their awareness and can potentially protect others from falling for a similar scam.

  • Review and update security protocols:

Empowering a safer digital workspace

As the modern workspace evolves, so do the tactics of cybercriminals. Smishing, while not new, has become increasingly sophisticated, targeting unsuspecting individuals and businesses alike. It’s not just about stolen credit card numbers or personal data; it’s about the trust your customers and employees place in your brand. A single smishing incident can erode years of built trust.

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