The Evolution of Phishing: SMS and Voice-Based Attacks

In the ever-evolving landscape of cybersecurity threats, phishing remains one of the most prevalent and effective threats we face. Cybercriminals use it to infiltrate systems and steal sensitive information. However, as organizations build their defenses against traditional email-based phishing attacks, cybercriminals are adapting their tactics. The emergence of a new phishing kit that leverages SMS and voice communication channels has companies scrambling.

The Emergence of SMS and Voice-Based Phishing

Recent reports have highlighted the development of a sophisticated phishing kit designed to exploit SMS and voice communication channels. Unlike traditional phishing emails that often encounter email filters and well trained users, SMS and voice-based phishing attacks present a new avenue for cybercriminals to bypass existing security measures.

This new phishing kit allows attackers to craft convincing messages and automated voice calls. Hackers impersonate legitimate organizations, such as financial institutions, government agencies, or service providers. By using familiar communication channels, attackers can more easily deceive unsuspecting individuals.  They convince them  to click on website links in SMS messages and divulge sensitive information, such as login credentials, Non-public Personal Information(NPPI), and financial data.

Worrisome is that these new phishing kits hide from automated defenses.  Hackers create pages where the counterfeit login screen emerges only after the victim successfully completes a CAPTCHA test.  They utilize hCaptcha (something 15% of all websites use for protection today). This fools automated cybersecurity defense tools, enabling hacking sites to remain unflagged by malware detection services.

Anatomy of SMS and Voice Phishing Attacks

SMS and voice phishing attacks typically follow a multi-stage process:

  1. Initial Contact: Cybercriminals initiate the attack by sending a phishing SMS or placing a voice call to the target individual. The message or call often contains urgent or enticing prompts, such as warnings of account compromise, prize notifications, or requests for verification.
  2. Social Engineering Tactics: To maximize the likelihood of success, attackers employ social engineering tactics to manipulate the target’s emotions and behavior. These tactics may include creating a sense of urgency, instilling fear of consequences, or promising rewards for compliance.
  3. Deceptive Content: The SMS messages or voice calls are carefully crafted to mimic legitimate communications from trusted sources. Attackers may spoof phone numbers, logos, and language to make their communications appear genuine, increasing the likelihood of victim engagement.
  4. Call-to-Action: Victims are prompted to take immediate action, such as clicking on a link, calling a specified number, or providing sensitive information over the phone. This call-to-action is designed to exploit the target’s trust, urging a quick reaction, and thus bypass their critical thinking faculties.
  5. Data Harvesting: Once the target interacts with the SMS phishing message or call, the best case scenario is their sensitive information is harvested by the attackers. This may include login credentials, credit card numbers, social security numbers, or other personally identifiable information (PII).
  6. Account Take-Over: In the worst case, the user is enticed to visit a malicious website or link on their computer and ‘session stealing malware‘, enables the hacker to log into your email account or bank account bypassing both password and MFA protections. Hackers are now in these accounts in real-time. From here they do a lot of damage!

Mitigating SMS and Voice Phishing Risks

To combat the growing threat of SMS and voice phishing attacks, organizations and individuals can implement several proactive measures:

  1. User Education: Educate employees and individuals about the risks of SMS and voice phishing attacks, including common tactics used by cybercriminals. Encourage skepticism and vigilance when interacting with unsolicited messages or calls, especially those requesting sensitive information or immediate action.
  2. Verification Procedures: Establish clear procedures for verifying the legitimacy of unexpected communications, particularly those involving sensitive information or financial transactions. Encourage individuals to independently verify the identity of the sender or caller through official channels before responding or providing information.
  3. Security Awareness Training: Provide comprehensive security awareness training to employees and individuals, emphasizing the importance of cybersecurity best practices and the consequences of falling victim to phishing attacks. Regular training sessions can help reinforce awareness and promote a security-conscious culture.
  4. Multi-Factor Authentication (MFA): Implement multi-factor authentication (MFA) mechanisms to add an additional layer of security beyond passwords. By requiring multiple forms of verification, such as SMS codes or biometric authentication, MFA helps mitigate the risk of unauthorized access resulting from phishing attacks.
  5. Domain Keys (aka Passkeys) Authentication: Domain keys are an advanced authentication protocol from the FIDO (Fast Identity Online) which eliminate passwords and MFA requirements with a cryptographically signed authentication between source and destination that is somewhat resistant to these session stealing pieces of malware.
  6. Advanced Threat Detection: Deploy advanced threat detection solutions to mobile devices that are capable of identifying and mitigating SMS and voice phishing attempts in real-time. These solutions leverage machine learning algorithms and behavioral analytics to detect suspicious patterns and anomalies indicative of phishing activity. Think of them as antivirus on steroids for your mobile phone.


The evolution of phishing attacks to include SMS and voice-based tactics represents a significant challenge for organizations and individuals alike. By exploiting familiar communication channels and leveraging social engineering tactics, cybercriminals continue to find new ways to deceive and defraud unsuspecting victims.

To effectively combat SMS and voice phishing threats, a multi-faceted approach is required, encompassing user education, security awareness training, technical safeguards, and proactive risk mitigation strategies. By staying informed, remaining vigilant, and implementing robust cybersecurity measures, organizations and individuals can reduce their susceptibility to phishing attacks and safeguard sensitive information from exploitation.

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