Beware of smishing! SMS fraud, a headache for telecom operators


SMS fraud, or “smishing,” is on the rise in many countries, fueled by the growing use of smartphones. It’s a challenge for telecom operators who gather this week at Mobile World Congress (MWC), the sector’s largest annual gathering, in Barcelona.

What is smishing?

Smishing is a cybersecurity attack carried out via mobile text messaging, also known as SMS phishing, that targets both individuals and businesses.

The name is a play on the term “phishing”, the fraudulent practice of sending emails pretending to be from reputable companies in order to trick individuals into revealing personal information, such as passwords and card numbers. credit.

“In a smishing attack, cybercriminals send deceptive messages to trick victims into sharing personal or financial information, clicking on malicious links or downloading harmful software or applications,” Stuart Jones told AFP. , from the American cybersecurity company Proofpoint.

How widespread is the phenomenon?

It has developed rapidly in recent years, particularly during the Covid-19 pandemic due to the explosion in the use of smartphones for administrative procedures and purchases on the Internet.

According to a study carried out in ten countries by the Mobile Ecosystem Forum (MEF), a trade association for the telecommunications sector, 39% of consumers encountered at least one attempted SMS scam in the last year.

“This is a very serious problem globally,” Janet Lin, chief development officer of Taiwanese cybersecurity company PINTrust, said during a panel discussion on the topic at MWC on Monday, the first day of Congress.

According to cybersecurity company Proofpoint, between 300,000 and 400,000 SMS attacks take place on average every day, and this figure is expected to increase.

In the United States alone, smishing cost consumers $330 million in 2022, more than double the losses reported the previous year and nearly five times the amount lost in 2019, according to the Federal Trade Commission (FTC).

Why is this so worrying?

Smishing is considered more dangerous than email scams because it is more difficult to identify perpetrators and because victims tend to think their number can only be used by known people or organizations.

“Many people still have a lot of confidence in the security of mobile communications,” Jones said.

“Click-through rates on URLs sent by mobile email are up to eight times higher than those sent by email,” he added.

Authorities also point to the growing sophistication of SMS attacks, with fraudsters using companies specializing in the sale of personal data or devices reserved for the army or police.

Smishing networks are known to use IMSI catchers, also known as “stingrays,” which mimic cell towers to intercept smartphone communications within a 500-meter radius.

How can we fight it?

Many countries have set up reporting platforms where citizens can forward suspicious text messages, leaving it up to authorities to block the numbers.

Telephone operators concerned about their image have also set up teams capable of filtering certain fraudulent SMS messages, helped by the reporting tools of operating systems like Android and iOS and messaging systems like WhatsApp.

However, this task often turns into a game of cat and mouse, with scammers constantly changing numbers. Fraudsters also take advantage of differences in laws around the world to carry out their attacks with impunity.

“While regulators in Europe, the United States and China are tightening rules, other regions, such as Africa and Latin America, are left with limited regulatory frameworks,” wrote ITW Global Leaders ‘ Forum, a network of telecommunications executives. in a report.

According to experts, one of the keys to combating smishing is prevention.

“Consumers should be very skeptical of mobile messages from unknown sources. And it’s important to never click on links in text messages, no matter how realistic they may be,” Jones said.

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