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The Complete Guide to Smishing (SMS Phishing)

It’s unfortunately become an all-to-common scenario: you’re waiting for a package to be delivered—but then you receive an SMS text message that seems to be from the carrier, demanding payment before delivery can be completed. If you follow the link in the message, a look-alike website will be reached where you can enter your credit card information—and promptly have it stolen, along with your money. You’ve just become the latest victim of smishing.

Smishing is the name given to phishing scams run through SMS texting (the name being a portmanteau of SMS and phishing). This exact scenario played out for many Canadian customers awaiting package delivery from UPS during 2022 and 2023. Cybercriminals cracked an online package lookup tool and gained access to recipients’ data, including phone numbers, and began sending fraudulent SMS messages to the unaware victims.

One of the most recently prevalent forms of phishing attack, smishing exploded during the pandemic years and has become the bane of mobile phone owners everywhere. In this complete guide to smishing, we’ll dive deep into the murky waters of phishing and explain smishing in detail. We’ll identify smishing attacks, their risks and consequences, and learn how to prevent both phishing and smishing attacks.

What You Need to Know About Phishing

First, let’s briefly discuss phishing. A catch-all for a variety of deceptive cyber attacks, phishing manipulates individuals into divulging sensitive information or compromising their security. By mimicking trustworthy organizations or individuals, criminals earn the trust of unsuspecting victims and get them to click on malicious links or willingly provide personal or business information to a fake website or person.

What You Need to Know About Phishing

Exploring Different Types of Phishing Attacks

The most common types of phishing are:

Email Phishing

Attackers send emails, the most common phishing attack, posing as legitimate communications from well-known sources such as banks or government agencies. These emails often create a sense of urgency for recipients to provide personal information, click on malware-installing links, or download infected attachments.

Spear Phishing

This attack employs customized messages that appear even more legitimate because they include personal information about their intended victims. The UPS case discussed above might be described as “spear smishing.” 


This attack specifically targets high-profile individuals such as CEOs or top-level executives. It employs impersonation tactics to trick them into revealing confidential business information or to get them to perform financial transactions. 

Vishing (or voice phishing)

In an attack that’s become easier due to voice-duplicating AI technology, phone calls are used to deceive individuals by impersonating reputable entities like banks or customer service representatives. The goal is to manipulate victims into revealing sensitive information over the phone.

4 Objectives Behind Phishing Attacks

Phishing attacks typically have a clear objective to obtain one or more of these four kinds of information:

  1. Personal Identifiable Information (PII)Names, addresses, Social Security Numbers, and phone numbers are sought after to be exploited for identity theft or fraud.
  2. Financial Credentials Banking details, credit card information, and login credentials are needed to carry out unauthorized transactions or financial fraud.
  3. Corporate Data – Information such as confidential business information, intellectual property, or trade secrets can be monetized or used for nefarious purposes by attackers.
  4. Login Credentials for Online Accounts   Logins for email, social media, e-commerce, or cloud storage platforms help criminals gain control over the victim’s accounts and conduct further fraud.

Now that we understand the basics of phishing, we can discuss the latest version of phishing attacks—smishing.

Learn more at: The Ultimate Guide to Phishing Protection

What is Smishing, and how does it work?

Smishing, or SMS phishing, is a sneaky cyber attack that targets people through text messages on their mobile phones. It’s like phishing but specifically designed for mobile phones. The goal of smishing is to trick unsuspecting individuals into giving away their personal information or doing something that puts their security at risk.

Here’s how it works: hackers send text messages that look like they’re coming from trustworthy sources such as banks, government agencies, or popular brands (such as UPS in our previous example). These messages often contain urgent or tempting content that makes recipients feel they need to act immediately. The text messages might ask for sensitive details like passwords, credit card details, or Social Security Numbers. Or, they might include links that lead to malicious websites or downloads which infect devices with malware or steal personal data.

The sneaky part is that these text messages seem legitimate, and victims often trust them without question. After all, who wouldn’t believe a message from the post office saying there’s a problem with their parcel?

What is Smishing, and how does it work?

3 Objectives Behind Smishing Attacks

Smishing attacks typically have one or more of three objectives: 

  1. Identity Theft – Stealing individuals’ identities by tricking them into divulging personal information
  2. Financial Gain – The primary goal of smishing attacks is obtaining unauthorized access to victims’ financial information, such as bank accounts and credit card numbers, then either use it to carry out fraudulent transactions or sell it on illicit platforms. 
  3. Malware Distribution – Malicious links install malware on victims’ devices when clicked, so hackers can control the compromised devices, access personal data, and exploit it for various purposes.

Smishing vs. Phishing: The Similarities

While smishing attacks leverage text messages and mobile devices due to their ubiquity and immediacy, phishing attacks primarily occur through email or fraudulent websites. But smishing and phishing share similar goals and strategies despite their different delivery methods. 

Smishing and phishing attacks both:

  • Exploit human vulnerabilities by capitalizing on trust and creating a sense of urgency. Attackers impersonate trusted entities, such as banks or government agencies, and manipulate victims into revealing sensitive data or clicking on malicious links.
  • Can target individuals and organizations, with individuals typically targeted through their personal devices, while organizations may face more sophisticated and targeted campaigns
  • Seek to gain unauthorized access to personal or confidential data, including login credentials, financial information, personally identifiable information (PII), or corporate data.

Ultimately, both smishing and phishing attacks employ social engineering tactics to deceive and manipulate victims, with the goal of accessing sensitive information for malicious purposes. 

Learn more at: Smishing vs. Phishing: What’s the Difference?

What You Need to Know About Smishing

Smishing attacks have been on the rise, particularly throughout the pandemic, prompting official warnings from government authorities. As these attacks continue to escalate, it becomes essential for professionals across industries, particularly in finance, pharmaceuticals, and manufacturing, to be aware of the types, risks, and consequences of smishing.

Both individuals and organizations face significant risks from smishing attacks because these attacks exploit our trust in communication channels and try to trick us into divulging personal information or unwittingly installing malware. It is crucial for everyone to stay vigilant and take preventive measures to safeguard against the growing threat of smishing.

The Different Types of Smishing Attacks

Smishing attacks take on various forms, each with distinct strategies and objectives. Here are some common types:

Financial Scams

Attackers impersonate financial institutions, sending convincing messages to trick recipients into sharing sensitive banking details or login credentials.

Government Agency Impersonation

Messages pretend to be from government agencies or law enforcement entities, sending seemingly official texts that demand immediate action or personal information.

What You Need to Know About Smishing

Malicious Link Messages

These texts contain shortened URLs that, once clicked, lead to fraudulent websites that steal personal information or distribute malware.

Prize or Lottery Scams

Scammers send messages claiming the recipient has won a prize or lottery and ask for personal information or a fee to claim the supposed reward.

Urgent or Emergency Messages

Exploiting people’s emotions, these messages create a sense of urgency, pressuring recipients to take immediate actions like making payments or revealing personal information.

What are the risks and consequences of smishing attacks?

Smishing attacks carry a range of risks with significant implications. It’s crucial to understand the following primary risks:

  • Compromised Security – Falling victim to smishing undermines overall security, making individuals and organizations more vulnerable to future cyber threats.
  • Data Breaches – Smishing attacks can result in data breaches, exposing sensitive information of individuals or organizations and leading to legal and financial consequences.
  • Financial Loss – Succumbing to a smishing attack can grant unauthorized access to your bank accounts, leading to credit card fraud or unauthorized fund transfers.
  • Identity Theft – Smishing tricks individuals into revealing personal information like passwords or Social Security numbers, enabling cybercriminals to steal identities and commit further fraudulent activities.
  • Legal and Regulatory Compliance – Inadequate protection against smishing attacks can result in non-compliance with data protection regulations like GDPR or CCPA, leading to legal penalties and financial liabilities.
  • Malware Infections – Clicking on malicious links in smishing messages can infect your device with malware, compromising personal data and providing unauthorized access to hackers.
  • Reputation Damage – If personal or sensitive information is exposed in a smishing attack, it can harm your personal and professional reputation, potentially affecting relationships.

Understanding and addressing these risks is essential to safeguard personal and organizational security, protect sensitive data, and comply with relevant regulations.

Learn more at: Why are COVID-related Phishing Scams so Effective?

What are the risks and consequences of smishing attacks?

How to Prevent Smishing and Phishing Attacks

To protect yourself and your organization from smishing and phishing attacks, you can take several important steps. With the similarities we’ve noted between the two cyberattacks, you’ll find invaluable overlap in these preventative measures:

1. Exercise Vigilance and Skepticism

When receiving SMS messages or emails, exercising caution is crucial, especially when they request personal information or urge immediate action. It’s important to verify the sender’s identity before responding or clicking on any links. 

Be wary of any unsolicited text messages, particularly those offering unexpected prizes, discounts, or urgent requests, because they could be smishing attacks to deceive you into sharing information or downloading harmful content. 

Even if the sender appears familiar, remain skeptical of text messages that request personal information since legitimate organizations typically do not ask for sensitive information through text messages.

2. Activate 2FA (Two-Factor Authentication) on All Devices

Activating 2FA on your personal and business online accounts is a critical measure to safeguard against smishing and phishing. Accessing your accounts requires a second verification step, usually a unique code sent to your mobile phone. Even if attackers managed to get your password, they would still need that additional code to gain entry. The extra step dramatically decreases the risk of unauthorized access, enhances the security of your accounts, and makes it significantly more challenging for them to be compromised.

3. Don’t Share Sensitive Information in Unsecured Messages

Never share sensitive data via unsecured SMS text messages or email—and this applies to both personal and corporate data. Legitimate individuals or organizations will never ask you to provide this kind of information through either channel. Even if you have a secure email account, be sure to verify the sender before providing sensitive data.

4. Use Up-to-Date Security Software

Your mobile phone, personal computer, and work computer should all have up-to-date versions of robust anti-virus and anti-malware software. These will protect your device and its data in the event of malware or virus installation through a smishing or phishing attack. The best solutions also offer detecting, filtering, and reporting suspicious SMS and email messages.

5. Prevent Smishing and Phishing with Awareness

One of the best ways to stop smishing and phishing cold in its tracks is through employee cybersecurity education and training that helps create a culture of awareness. A strong security culture can lower risks from cyber threats by motivating personnel to take security seriously, training them on best practices, and instilling a feeling of accountability for securing sensitive data.

Learn more at: 6 Steps to Prevent Smishing Attacks

Prevent Smishing and Phishing with Awareness

The need to remain watchful and employ proactive measures to protect your business and yourself against cyber threats like smishing and phishing cannot be overstated. You can significantly strengthen your defenses against these attacks by being aware of the dangers involved, taking preventative action, and promoting a culture of cybersecurity awareness.

CybeReady provides training and educational solutions that strengthen the security posture of your business. To add an additional layer of cybersecurity to your defenses and keep one step ahead of the smishers and phishers.

Contact CybeReady today to discuss how our programs can help your organization stay safe.