What Is SMS Spoofing & How Can You Prevent It?


Do you think spoofed text messages are a modern-day issue? Currently, they date from almost a millennium ago…

SMS spoofing may be a concern in the 21st century, but you’d be shocked to hear that it is assumed that its origins go back centuries. Sultan Baybars, an Egyptian general, successfully captured the formidable Krak des Chevaliers in 1271 by handing a forged message, reportedly from their commander, to the besieged knights, which ordered them to surrender. In the end, the knights surrendered, and the letter turned out to be bogus.

Intriguing? Yes, maybe. But as thrilling as it can seem, when used with harmful intentions, this capability is undeniably destructive in nature. That takes me to the subject that brought you here, “SMS spoofing.”

Spoofing via SMS: What is it?

We get a decent sense of words just by looking at them, thanks to the individuals who call these terms. If you assume that “SMS spoofing” is some sort of tool for defrauding people using SMS, then you are totally right.

SMS spoofing is a technique that helps one to alter the details of the sender on a text sent via the mechanism of short message services (SMS). Cell phones, personal digital assistants, and related systems use SMS text messaging and are commonly recognized only as text messages.

They overwrite the source mobile number (Sender ID) with alphanumeric text when you send a spoof text. In simpler language, SMS spoofing helps you to adjust the show number of the sender. It is also known as “SMS originator spoofing,” as it helps you to alter the originator information.

SMS Spoofing vs Smishing

Many individuals equate spoofing of SMS with another “smishing” strategy. Some also assume that they are the same. However, though both are related to phishing, both are somewhat distinct. Smishing, the short term of SMS phishing, is a security threat in which the recipient is fooled into using a text message to download a Trojan horse, virus or other malware. And SMS spoofing, as you now know, has to do with making a message appear like it’s originating from another gadget or machine.

Both of them are entirely different, right? So, why do people equate them with each other, even when they are totally different? Ok, that’s because both of them are commonly used to trick consumers in tandem. A scammer, for instance, can fake the name of the text message sender, convert it into a name that looks like a bank name, and add a phishing message that fools users into clicking on a connection. SMS spoofing and smishing are widely used to trick users in this manner.

How Does SMS Spoofing Work?

SMS spoofing, as we have seen, enables you to send SMS impersonating another party. This is achieved by altering the identity, phone number, or both of the sender. Surprisingly, it is not difficult to implement this at all.

There is an SMS spoofing attack provider tool in the Social Engineer Tool Kit in BackTrack and several other versions of Kali Linux. All it takes is this app and using the identity of whatever phone number/sender name you choose, you can send a text message to anyone.

Aside from using SET in Kali Linux, using an online service is an even easier way to perform SMS spoofing. Yeah, you read it correctly; on the internet, there are “businesses” selling you SMS spoofing services (we’ll chat more about their legality). These sites are extremely user-friendly; spoofed messages can be sent by someone with simple programming skills. Everything you need to do is spend some money (very inexpensive, btw), add the name you want to reveal and give the SMS to the individuals you want to send. Scary, aren’t they?

Ways SMS Spoofing Is Misused

SMS spoofing, though it’s a technology, has become a trick used by advertisers, hackers, and fraudsters to deceive users with bogus sender details shown. It’s a tool that can be used and changed to produce the desired effect in several respects. Let’s see some of the aspects that SMS spoofing is misused more commonly.

False Sender Company Name

We have all received an SMS claiming to be from a well-known company, but it turns out to be a false one in the end. Oh, for you, that’s SMS spoofing. SMSes that claim to be from a well-known organization are submitted by several advertisers and fraudsters. A fraudster, for instance, could change the name of the sender to Vodafone and inform you that your contract is due for renewal. Not everyone is going to believe that, but what about those whose deal is about to expire? They are extremely likely to respond to it if they see this SMS. And that is what the scamsters want, exactly. Aren’t they?

Fake Money Transfers

Offline shopping is one of the smartest ways for fraudsters to use SMS spoofing. The fraudster enters a department shop (such as high-end electrical devices, jewelry, branded goods, etc.) in this trick and buys numerous items. The fraudster asks for the store’s bank information for payment, so that they can move the money electronically.

Today, if the fraudster knows about the phone number of the shop outlet where the bank sends SMS for alerts, they (the fraudster) will use a platform for SMS spoofing and use it to send a fake SMS. The message is distorted such that it seems to come from the bank as it will include the account number of the shop (hashing all but the last four digits), the amount exchanged, and the date of the transaction. This dupes the receiver of the SMS into thinking that the payment was received by the “buyer” and helps them to complete the order.

Personal Agenda

As SMS spoofing allows you the authority to build your identity (and impersonate others), it can be used against an individual to carry out a personal agenda. This may be a form of hoax, stalking, tricking, or violence.

Extract Sensitive Information

SMSes that urge users to take urgent action are what fraudsters and scamsters also do. Not long ago, I got an SMS from a supposed e-wallet service saying they’re going to disable my account in 24 hours, and that if I don’t upload my papers, I’m going to lose all my money. A connection that I was supposed to click on was included in the message that would guide me to log in and provide information.

Unsurprisingly, the web page directed by the connection looked almost the same as the real wallet provider’s website, but it was not. I would have given my credentials to the fraudsters behind this scam if I had signed in without looking at the URL, and they might have taken all my money away. This day, such scams are getting more widespread.

Legitimate Uses of SMS Spoofing

Legitimate SMS Spoofing Uses? Really? Really? If, after reading the header, this was your reaction, then we can’t blame you. It seems like a trick, after all, to defraud innocent persons. Aren’t they? It definitely does, but SMS spoofing has more to do than it hits the eye. SMS spoofing has its privileges, and in many places, it is used. Let’s look at some of them here.

    • Bulk Messaging Services: Bulk SMS services are those that carry out SMS messages from a network of computers. They have to spoof their numbers so that they can be recognized by people.
    • Official communications: If companies including banks, social media sites, email services, providers of mobile networks, etc. wish to give their clients official messages, they must do so in a manner where they can be detected by consumers. So, they substitute their business name for their number.
    • Identity Protection: Securing the identity of the sender is of utmost importance in certain situations. The perfect example of this is whistle-blowers, since they may choose to communicate in a manner that would not disclose their identities.

How Users Can Protect Themselves Against SMS Spoofing

There’s a bit of schooling as to emails and blogs when it comes to protecting information security. SMS defense, though, is one such environment that has not gotten the attention it deserves. That’s why you have to understand, as a customer, how you can defend yourself from getting scammed. Here are few ideas that are going to support you:

    • You should stop clicking as much as possible on links you get via SMS. You can access the website directly and not click on the SMS icon if the SMS asks you to take immediate action.
    • Do not get distracted by deals or news such as winning a lottery or divine discounts that are “too good to be true.” Although this free burrito deal from Chipotle may be genuine, it may also be a scam. Cautionary practice.
    • “Do not click on the URLs listed in the SMS messages “password reset.
      When you receive a fund transfer update via SMS, by logging in to your banking website or smartphone app directly, you can always focus on checking your bank/wallet balance. Again, don’t click on a connection you get via SMS automatically!
    • Beware of SMS verification codes, particularly if you have not requested a reset of your password or signed up for a two-factor authentication program.
    • In urgent cases only, share your phone number.
      Banks, service providers, and telecommunication firms never query you via SMS for your personal information. So, by SMS, don’t ever give your information!
    • If you get a fake text message, call law enforcement and your network provider.

How Organizations Can Protect Their Brands Against SMS Spoofing

Not only should clients need to be mindful of spoof text messages, but for two reasons, companies often need to be wary of SMS spoofing. Six, it’s pretty easy to fall for these scams. You could suffer a heavy financial loss if you were scammed, and that’s not something you want, right? And the second explanation is that it will have a huge effect on your image if the name and brand of your company are used by cybercriminals in SMS spoofing attacks.

Here are some of the steps you might take to keep the fraudsters a step ahead:

    • You should still focus on verifying your bank/wallet balance by logging in if you get a fund transfer update by SMS.
    • Rely on traditional methods of payment (i.e., cash, debit, or credit card).
      If you get a fake SMS, contact law enforcement and your network provider.
    • Submit it to the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) and to the police if anyone uses the name or details of the company in SMS spoofing scams.
    • For SMS notifications, stop using your own phone number and keep a different phone number for the same thing. And don’t discuss this number with the outside world, of course.
    • Increase awareness among your customers about SMS spoofing so that they don’t fall for spoofing attacks that target your company.

Last Word

One of my closest friends was so terrified to do something online that she would sit in a bank for half an hour to make a transaction that could be done quickly online in minutes. She has lately begun to do several things online, albeit with the eye of a cat who needs to defend herself from dogs, too.

Yes, my friend happens to be a bit of a freak, and I like to make fun of her for it. There’s something we should all learn from her, though. We could easily steer away from SMS spoofing and spoofed text messages if we exercised even a quarter of her sensitivity. The entire thing is about the eyes, my mate!

Melina Richardson
Melina Richardson is a Cyber Security Enthusiast, Security Blogger, Technical Editor, Certified Ethical Hacker, Author at Cybers Guards. Previously, he worked as a security news reporter.