Most people have heard of phishing; however, although vishing attack, it is in the same classification as phishing and has common objectives. Vishers (as the perpetrators of these vishing techniques are known) use fraudulent phone numbers, voice modification software, text messages, and social engineering to convince users to divulge sensitive information. In vishing, voice is generally used to deceive users. (Smishing, another form of phishing that uses SMS text messages to trick users, is often used in parallel with voice calls depending on the attacker’s methods.)
What is the difference between vishing and phishing?
Phishing and vishing have the same goal: to obtain sensitive user information that could be used for identity theft, financial gain, or account takeover. The main difference between phishing and vishing is the means used to identify potential victims. While phishing is primarily an email-based attack, vishing uses voice, typically through calls to a user’s mobile.
Both vishers and phishers send messages to their potential victims, typically in bulk. Phishing attackers send a large number of email messages to a list of potential targets. If the attacker targets a specific organization, they may only use a list of email addresses of highly privileged users from the target company. Phishers (as the perpetrators of these attacks are called) often use very urgent email messages to convince users to reply with sensitive information, or to click on a link where the malware is hosted. Malicious attachments are also used in some phishing attacks.
The visher could first send out text messages to potential victims in bulk, based on a long list of phone numbers. The message could ask users to make a phone call to the attacker’s phone number. Another method of vishing creates an automated message and robotically dials the phone number of potential victims. They use computer generated voice messages to remove any accents and build trust. The voice message then tricks the user into connecting to a human agent who continues the scam, or it could prompt the user to open a web page controlled by the attacker.
While there are minor differences between vishing and phishing, the end goal is always the same: getting credentials, personally identifiable data, and financial information. Users familiar with phishing might not be familiar with vishing, so attackers use them to improve their chances of success.
What is the difference between vishing and smishing?
Smishing is a closely related attack that also uses mobile phone numbers. But instead of voicemail, smishing uses text messages to trick users. These messages may contain a phone number that the targeted user should call, or a link to an attacker-controlled website where malware is hosted, or a phishing page.
Smishing is primarily based on users trusting text messages. These messages often promise cash prizes, coupons, or threaten to terminate accounts if the user does not authenticate and reset their credentials. Since text messages are more informative, victims might trust text messages more than suspicious emails.
There is a large overlap between smishing and vishing. A vishing attack could also start with a text message and contain a phone number that users are asked to call, but vishing attack could also use automated messages and bot calls. Smishing can also include a phone number in a text message, but many attacks are primarily focused on convincing users to click on links and open a page on a malicious website.
How to avoid vishing
The best way to avoid being vished is to ignore the messages. Telecommunications companies have anti-fraud systems that display a “fraud risk” message (or something similar) on caller ID when a known malicious call is received. However, you cannot rely solely on telecommunications companies to catch malicious calls. Users should take their own precautions to avoid becoming a victim.
SIM swapping and social engineering leave your number vulnerable to attackers. SIM swapping involves impersonating, through social engineering, a representative of a telecommunications company to give the attacker access to your phone number. If you get a strange message about a multi-factor PIN or changes to your mobile phone account, always contact your telecommunications company to make sure you haven’t been the victim of a SIM swap or hijacking.
Here are some steps to avoid becoming a victim of vishing and related attacks:
- Be aware of vishing. For organizations, educating users about cybersecurity helps them identify vishing attack, so they can ignore and report them. For individuals: Never reveal your private information to a person contacting you via text message or voice call. A legitimate institution will give you a number to call so that you can verify that it is an official call.
- Identify pressure and intimidation tactics. Scammers will try to pressure targeted users to send them money right away, either using credit cards, bank transfers, or even gift cards. For example, a common way to get users to “hit” on the IRS scam is to threaten them with jail time if the money is not sent to them immediately.
- Ignore calls from unknown numbers. If you don’t recognize the number, let the call go to voicemail.
- Be skeptical of any interlocutor who wants to extract sensitive information from you. Never give sensitive information to anyone, no matter where they tell you they work.
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