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What is smishing and how do you prevent it?

Read our guide to find out what smishing is, different types, why it’s a problem for organizations and how to prevent it.


Technology is deeply embedded in our day-to-day lives. Our reliance on mobile phones for communication, conducting business, managing finances, and online shopping is undeniable.

Hackers are aware of this dependency, and they exploit it to their advantage. They execute smishing attacks – a deceptive technique that manipulates individuals into divulging sensitive information or performing detrimental actions.

In this blog, we’ll cover everything you need to know, including:

  • What is smishing and how does it work?
  • What’s the difference between smishing, phishing, vishing, and pharming?
  • A brief history of smishing
  • Different types of smishing
  • Why is smishing a problem for organizations?
  • A real-life example of a smishing attack
  • How to detect smishing
  • How to respond to smishing attacks
  • How to prevent smishing attacks
  • Final thoughts

What is smishing and how does it work?

Smishing, a portmanteau of SMS and “phishing,” is a cyber attack technique that utilizes text messages to deceive and manipulate individuals into revealing sensitive information or performing harmful actions. It works by exploiting the trust people place in text messages and the ubiquity of mobile devices.

Here’s how smishing typically unfolds:

Initial contact 

  • The attacker initiates the attack by sending a text message to the target. 
  • The message often appears to come from a trusted source, such as a well-known company, financial institution, or government agency. 
  • The message may claim to offer an enticing reward, warn of a security issue, or request urgent action.

Urgency and emotional manipulation

  • Smishing messages often employ tactics to evoke a sense of urgency, fear, or curiosity. 
  • They may claim that immediate action is required to avoid dire consequences, such as account suspension, financial loss, or legal trouble. 
  • Smishers hope to provoke impulsive responses without careful consideration.

Deceptive content

  • Smishing messages are carefully crafted to appear legitimate and trustworthy. 
  • They may include familiar logos, official language, or personal details to make the message seem genuine. 
  • The goal is to convince the recipient that the message is from a credible source and that compliance is necessary.

Request for information or action

  • Attackers often include a request for sensitive information or prompt the recipient to take a specific action. 
  • For example, the message might ask the recipient to provide account credentials, credit card details, or Personal Identification Numbers (PINs). 
  • Alternatively, it may direct the recipient to click on a link or download an attachment that leads to a malicious website or initiates a malware download.

Consequences of falling victim

  • If individuals comply with the smishing message’s requests, the consequences can be severe. 
  • It may result in financial loss, identity theft, unauthorized account access, or the installation of malware

What’s the difference between smishing, phishing, vishing, and pharming?

Smishing, phishing, vishing, and pharming sound similar because they all involve deceptive social engineering tactics to exploit individuals or organizations. The difference lies in the channel through which these attacks are carried out.

Let’s explore each form of attack in greater detail. 


  • Short for SMS phishing and targets individuals through text messages. 
  • Attackers leverage the perceived intimacy of text messages to increase success rates.
  • Aims to create a sense of urgency or offer enticing rewards to deceive victims.


  • Uses email as the primary communication channel. 
  • Cyber criminals send deceptive emails that mimic legitimate organizations or individuals.
  • Aims to trick recipients into disclosing confidential information by directing them to fake websites or enticing them to download malicious attachments.


  • Vishing uses a combination of “voice” and “phishing”. 
  • Attackers use phone calls or voice messages to deceive individuals. 
  • Aims to exploit human trust, urgency, or fear, by relying on voice communication.


  • Targets the Domain Name System (DNS).  
  • Attackers compromise DNS servers or modify host files to redirect users from legitimate websites to malicious ones. 
  • Victims are unknowingly directed to fraudulent websites that mimic legitimate ones, where their confidential data is harvested.
  • Aims to collect sensitive information without relying on deceptive emails or messages. 

A brief history of smishing

Smishing emerged as a cyber attack technique with the rise of mobile devices in the early 2000s. It targets individuals through text messages and is an adaptation of traditional phishing.

As mobile phones gained popularity, cybercriminals saw an opportunity to exploit the trust associated with text messages. Initially, smishing attacks involved sending deceptive texts to trick recipients into revealing sensitive information like passwords or financial details. Attackers often posed as legitimate organizations, enticing victims to click on malicious links or provide personal data.

Over time, smishing techniques have evolved, incorporating more sophisticated tactics. Attackers now use advanced social engineering techniques, such as creating urgency or fear, to increase the likelihood of success.

They may employ SMS spoofing or utilize malicious apps to deceive users. With the widespread adoption of mobile banking, online shopping, and various other services, smishing remains a prevalent threat. 

Different types of smishing

Smishing can manifest in various forms. Here are some common types of smishing attacks:

Account verification smishing

Individuals receive text messages claiming to be from a legitimate organization, such as a bank or an online service provider. The message requests them to verify or update their account information by clicking on a link that leads to a fraudulent website designed to collect personal and financial details.

Prize or reward smishing

Cyber criminals send text messages notifying recipients that they have won a prize, gift card, or lucrative offer. The message urges them to claim the reward by following a link or replying with personal information.

This type of smishing preys on individuals’ desire for rewards or financial gain, tricking them into providing sensitive information or falling into other fraudulent schemes.

Delivery/package smishing 

Attackers send messages pretending to be shipping companies or delivery services, informing recipients about an undelivered package or a failed delivery attempt.

The text message includes a link or a phone number for the recipient to reschedule the delivery or provide additional information. Clicking the link or contacting the given number may lead to scams or attempts to extract personal information.

Financial smishing

This type of smishing targets banking or financial institution customers. Victims receive messages that appear to be from their bank, alerting them to suspicious account activity, a blocked card, or a pending transaction.

The text often prompts recipients to click on a link or call a specified number to resolve the issue. By doing so, victims may unwittingly disclose their account details, enabling the attackers to gain unauthorized access or conduct fraudulent transactions.

Charity smishing

Exploiting individuals’ compassion, attackers send text messages soliciting donations for charitable causes or disaster relief efforts. The message may contain a link to an illegitimate donation page or a phone number to call for contributing.

Unsuspecting individuals who engage with these messages may end up providing their financial information to scammers or supporting fake charities.

Why is smishing a problem for organizations?

Smishing goes further than betraying the trust and compromising the security of individuals; it poses significant risks and consequences for organizations as well.

Here are the main risks and challenges: 

Data breaches and financial loss: 

Data breaches put sensitive customer or employee information at risk. If attackers gain access to login credentials, financial details, or other confidential data, they can exploit it for financial gain or sell it on the dark web.

Organizations may also face financial loss due to unauthorized transactions, fraudulent activities, or legal consequences.

Damage to reputation

If customers perceive that their personal information is not adequately protected, they may lose confidence in the organization’s ability to safeguard their data. Negative publicity, loss of customers, and a damaged brand image can have long-term implications for an organization’s success and viability.

Regulatory compliance

Many industries have strict regulations regarding the protection of personal and financial data, such as the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) in the European Union. In the event of a successful attack, organizations may face legal consequences, fines, or other regulatory actions.

Disruption of operations

Smishing attacks can disrupt an organization’s operations, particularly if they involve the distribution of malware.

Malicious software can compromise systems, networks, or IT infrastructure, leading to service interruptions, data loss, or even a complete halt in operations. Recovering from such disruptions can be time-consuming and costly.

Cost of incident response

Responding to incidents requires dedicated resources, including cybersecurity experts, incident response teams, and digital forensic analysis. Organizations must invest in incident response services, planning, investigation, mitigation, and recovery efforts to minimize the impact of smishing attacks. 

A real-life example of a smishing attack

During the “Netflix Account Suspension” scam, attackers sent text messages to Netflix subscribers, posing as the streaming service.

They claimed imminent account suspension due to payment or verification issues. The messages included a link or phone number for recipients to resolve the problem.

Clicking the link or contacting the number directed victims to a fake Netflix login page or customer support representative. Unsuspecting individuals provided their login credentials, payment information, or even Social Security numbers.

Attackers then harvested this sensitive data for identity theft, fraudulent transactions, or unauthorized account access. This smishing attack exploited trust and urgency, deceiving users into revealing personal and financial details.

How to detect smishing

Detecting smishing attacks can be challenging since attackers often employ tactics to make their messages appear genuine. However, here are some tips to help individuals detect smishing attempts:

  1. Be skeptical of unsolicited messages: pay attention to unsolicited text messages, especially if they request personal information.
  2. Look for signs of impersonation: watch for messages pretending to be from trusted organizations or individuals.
  3. Check for urgency or unusual requests: be cautious of messages creating a sense of urgency or requesting immediate action.
  4. Verify the message content: cross-reference the information provided in the message with official channels or directly contact the organization to confirm its legitimacy.
  5. Trust your instincts: if something feels off or suspicious, trust your gut instinct and proceed with caution.
  6. Monitor for unusual account activity: regularly review your financial statements and account activity for any unauthorized transactions or suspicious behavior.
  7. Stay updated on current smishing trends: stay informed about the latest smishing techniques and stay alert to new attack patterns.
  8. Report suspicious messages: report any smishing attempts to your mobile service provider and relevant authorities to help combat these attacks and protect others.
  9. Download mobile security apps: consider installing reputable mobile security applications that detect and block smishing messages, malicious links, and other potential threats.

How to respond to smishing attacks

Prevention is the best defense against smishing attacks. To minimize potential risks, a swift response is essential. Here’s what you should do: 

  1. Do not respond or click links: avoid responding to smishing messages or clicking on any links or attachments as it may validate your phone number and lead to targeted attacks.
  2. Report the attack: report the smishing attack to your mobile service provider and relevant authorities to help combat future incidents.
  3. Delete the message: remove the smishing message from your inbox or messaging app to prevent accidental interaction. 
  4. Notify the legitimate organization: inform the legitimate organization if the smishing message impersonates them, providing details of the attack to help them take appropriate measures. 
  5. Educate others: share your experience to raise awareness and educate others about smishing attacks.
  6. Strengthen security measures: update your device, use reputable security software, and enable Multi-Factor Authentication (MFA) for enhanced protection against smishing attacks and other cyber threats.

How to prevent smishing attacks

Preventing smishing attacks requires a combination of proactive measures and robust security practices. Here are some essential steps to help you prevent smishing attacks:

  1. Be cautious of sharing personal information: avoid sharing sensitive information like passwords, Social Security numbers, or financial details through text messages or insecure channels.
  2. Enable Multi-Factor Authentication (MFA): use MFA to add an extra layer of security to your online accounts.
  3. Verify the source: independently verify the authenticity of the sender before responding or providing any information.
  4. Avoid clicking on suspicious links: refrain from clicking on links from unknown or suspicious sources.
  5. Keep software updated: regularly update your mobile device’s operating system, applications, and security software to protect against known vulnerabilities.
  6. Install mobile security apps: install reputable mobile security applications that can detect and block smishing messages and other threats.
  7. Educate yourself and others: stay informed about smishing techniques and share knowledge to raise awareness and prevent attacks.
  8. Be cautious of public Wi-Fi networks: avoid accessing personal or sensitive information through insecure Wi-Fi networks and consider using a trusted VPN for added security.

Final thoughts

An unexpected notification can spark excitement, invoke fear, or raise curiosity, but it can also be a red flag for a smishing attack. Individuals and organizations must understand the tactics hackers use and maintain a constant state of vigilance against manipulative behaviors. 

Adopting a proactive approach is the best way to mitigate the possible risks of a smishing attack. And what better way to do so than with an experienced team of cybersecurity experts by your side? To learn more about smishing or our phishing attack simulation service, contact a member of our team.