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The Rising Threat of Mobile Phishing Attacks: Why Your Organization Needs to Prepare

Shigraf Aijaz
Cybersecurity Writer and Journalist  

The growth of mobile devices in the workplace has turned mobile phishing into a significant opportunity for malicious actors, and it’s therefore a growing concern for organizations.

With mobile phishing, the attacker sends links to phishing websites via SMS messages, where they ask for your credentials. One study estimates that 75% of phishing websites specifically target mobile devices. As employees now have sensitive business information on their mobile devices and can easily access it from anywhere, bad actors use these methods to target them and gain access to sensitive information.

Read on to find out why these mobile phishing attacks are increasing and what strategies organizations need to adopt to prevent them.

How Are Mobile Phishing Attacks Increasing?

Organizations across all industries have moved to hybrid work environments. Employees access work-related information on their personal smartphones, which makes it difficult to track, verify and secure each connected device.

As a result, malicious threat actors have also evolved their phishing attacks and are now focusing on employees’ mobile devices. The bad actors have found great success with the mobile device approach, as 51% of organizations allow employees to access corporate apps and data on their mobile devices, making them easy to target.

What makes things worse is the evident lack of phishing awareness training. While technology can go a long way towards preventing phishing, humans are the final line of defense, and it’s only through continuous education that teams can learn to recognize the latest threats.

There are many tactics that cybercriminals use for a successful mobile phishing attack. Below is a brief description of different tactics employed by cybercriminals.

Smishing

Smishing is a popular phishing method in which hackers use text messages to target the victims. These attacks are on the rise, having increased by over 700% in the first two quarters of 2021. In this method, the potential target receives a text message that appears to be from a legitimate source (the organization where you work, or a service you use) and asks for your credentials to access files. Since the message received from a phone number also looks legitimate, the user provides the details and falls into the trap.

Vishing

Vishing or voice mail phishing is another tactic cybercriminals often use to launch a successful mobile phishing attack. They use Voice over IP services to reach out and obtain users’ identities or financial information. Some scammers often call and use deepfake technology to lure the organization’s employees into providing credentials. The Hong Kong bank manager incident is one such example of vishing.

Partial Display of URLs

Companies often keep their mobile websites sparse and simple, so there is no efficiency or loading issues. Sometimes, organizations even avoid publishing their business logos because of limited screen size. Thus, users are not aware if they are browsing the official website or not. Bad actors take advantage of this and send fake site URLs via text messages. Due to the small screen size and URL bar, it can be hard to spot the difference. When users access the fake site, it’s usually a phishing site that asks to enter your credentials or click on a link that installs malicious software on your device.

Consequences of Mobile Phishing Attacks

Businesses of every size have been known to experience the effects of mobile phishing attacks. Once phishers breach the organization’s network, they can easily access sensitive business data, including customer data, industry research, and other essential files and documents. This can cause the organization to lose millions of dollars.

Besides financial loss, a successful phishing attack has several negative effects on a company, including the following:

Reputational Damage

A successful phishing attack on mobile devices is a significant threat to an organization’s reputation. By sending fake messages and bogus links in the SMS, the cybercriminals access the victim employee’s account and use it to send spam and malicious messages to other customers and vendors. Consequently, customers and business partners start viewing the organization as risky and even withdraw their association with them.

System Outages

Phishing attacks can also result in system downtime, either because attackers crash the organization’s servers or because internal security teams pull the plug to stop breaches from spreading. When an organization learns about the phishing attack, they often stop system workflows, disrupting apps and services, bringing all its digital activities to a halt.

Compliance Issues

Another unpleasant result of mobile phishing attacks is compliance issues associated with business data theft. Those organizations that keep sensitive business data and don’t comply with data protection regulations like GDPR or HIPPA bear adverse consequences. Since they violate the law, they experience legal and financial outcomes like lawsuits, penalties, and hefty fines. 

Loss of Trust and Business

According to one report, it takes up to 287 days to fully contain a data breach. Once the organization spots a mobile phishing attack, it’s usually too late and the damage has already been done. When business partners and customers find out that the organization they trusted with their data has failed to protect it, they lose trust and stop doing business with them in the future.

Mitigation Techniques to Prevent Mobile Phishing Attacks

Nowadays, the vast majority of cybersecurity breaches are a result of human error. Also, mobile users are far more likely to become victims of phishing attacks than desktop users. Organizations need to implement a few tools and tactics to protect them from mobile phishing attacks.

Below are the measures that can help organizations to reduce and prevent the damage caused by mobile phishing attacks:

  • Start using mobile device management tools. These tools enforce policies that stop employees from doing any inappropriate activity, such as replying to messages from unknown/suspicious sources or clicking on links sent through SMS. Moreover, these tools push out automatic settings on devices with business data and block messages from any unknown source.

  • Organizations can also consider using mobile security tools that provide an immediate defense. Start investing in Mobile Threat Defense (MTD) and mobile threat detection tools that help identify phishing threats and attempts.  

  •  The zero trust security model must be a crucial element of every company’s cybersecurity strategy. Organizations can’t provide unrestricted access to anyone or devices as the data moves easily and freely from the endpoints to the cloud apps. Instead, they need to know about their users and endpoints and provide limited access to the apps and data. This is possible with the implementation of the zero trust security model.

  • Start using tools that train employees to detect and report phishing attacks automatically.

  • A strong security culture is another absolute way and the first line of defense to prevent mobile phishing attacks. Educate the end-user about mobile phishing by conducting various awareness training sessions. Teach your team about the red flags that indicate phishing attacks and encourage them to report suspicious messages whenever they arrive.

Final Thoughts

The modern threat landscape has evolved and has introduced new opportunities for launching phishing attacks. Mobile phishing is trending. Though it is hard to detect, organizations can certainly follow tactics like increasing awareness of attacks through micro-learning experiences, using mobile security, or implementing mobile management tools to prevent these attacks.

Employees work in a hybrid culture and use devices and networks that organizations don’t control. By deploying the zero trust security model, an organization can further reduce the threat of mobile phishing attacks.

No matter which tactic an organization uses, educating and training the employees on various forms of phishing remains a top priority.


Shigraf Aijaz

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