A SIM card is nothing new to our readers. With the beginning of the 21st century, mobile phones have made steady headway into our lives. And as an integral part of the tech, so have the SIM. However, users do not generally pay heed to this tech. As such, no one really worries or ponders the security implications of a misplaced SIM card. But recently, we have seen steady growth in cases related to SIM hijacking for fraud and other crimes. Yes, even a SIM card, being such a basic piece of tech is not infallible. And as smartphones keep on becoming more and more powerful, SIM cards remain a glaring weakness that is quite easy to breach. The following article will highlight SIM security, and relevant issues and suggests steps to overcome them.
What is a SIM card?
SIM stands for Subscriber Identity Module and is an integral part of any mobile phone. It is a tiny chip that stores data that the phone carriers use to identify users. The SIM is used to send and receive data through their network provider by using a unique number. The card also retains a 17-digit code that records the country of origin, service provider, and unique user ID. But the card also offers security features such as a PIN and PUK.
Are there threats to your SIM card?
As we have stated in the beginning, many users are still unaware of the security risks posed by their SIM cards. Nowadays, users should never remain ignorant regarding cybersecurity threats. Such threats are real. Yes, SIM cards can be hacked using various means. And it can result in severe situations including physical and financial loss.
While we are aware that a typical SIM can only contain 256 KB of data, such data is crucial to the identity of the user. The SIM equals the mobile phone number. And a mobile number can be linked with social security, bank accounts, social media, etc. Thus, hacking a SIM can essentially hijack someone’s life.
Types of attacks:
Since we have already established that a SIM can be a point of attack, we should also learn about these attacks to better equip ourselves against such intrusion. Although there are only three types of attacks, all of them are several enough to derail a person’s daily life.
1. Sim Swapping
SIM swapping is at the center of the latest cyber epidemics plaguing the globe. It directly targets network providers to access new SIM cards on an assumed ID. The scammers call the phone company pretending to be the owner of the SIM and asking for a replacement as a result of some excuse. Doing so will deactivate the original SIM, and the hacker will gain access to the new one. And after that, he can intercept incoming calls and SMSs, some of which might contain 2FA authentication codes pertaining to financial transactions. Hence, it is also advised to not use the SIM for 2FA but use some other app like Google Authenticator.
2. Sim Cloning
Although not as widespread, SIM cloning is yet another persistent threat. In such attacks, the hacker first gains access to your physical SIM card and uses a smart card copying software to duplicate it. It is far more dangerous than SIM swapping as the user would remain ignorant regarding the breach, as the original SIM won’t cease functioning. Afterward, the hacker can use the duplicate SIM for anything, and the user would have to face the repercussions.
3. Sim Jacking
SIM jacking is the last but equally dangerous type of attack on this list. It was only recently discovered in 2019 when hackers spread spyware to random devices en-mass via text to get hold of sensitive information of them. Such attacks allow hackers to gain access to your calls and texts. Which in turn might leave you exposed to financial fraud.
How can you know if your SIM card was hacked?
There are some telltale signs that a user can utilize to learn whether the SIM is hacked or not. These are:
- No calls or texts for a prolonged period of time – If your SIM was duplicated/cloned/swapped, then the original one in your possession would cease to function. A deactivated SIM would then stop receiving any data.
- A request to restart your device out of the blue – Another point to note is no matter which method, the hackers require users to restart their device to activate the fake SIM. Thus, if you are suddenly presented with a restart request, DO NOT act on it and first call your network provider and check whether any of the SIM ports were used recently.
- The GPS test – Your phone’s current location is linked to your SIM card. Thus, if you’re shown the wrong location of your device, then chances are your SIM has been duplicated.
- Locked out of accounts – If you are unable to access your online accounts, or any accounts linked to your phone number, then beware, as the hacker might have already changed the passwords on these accounts.
Ways to protect your SIM card
SIM hacking is a new truth, and as soon as users equip themselves with countermeasures the better. Hence, there are a few guidelines one can follow to protect not only themselves but also their data.
- First and foremost, never provide personal information on the internet voluntarily.
- Always avoid clicking on suspicious links.
- Never open messages from or engage strange numbers.
- Try to limit access to your personal phone number online.
- Never leave your phone unattended in public.
- Always create a PIN for your SIM card.
- Instead of your phone, use an app for authentication.
Learn more about Phishing
Phishing is an attack where hackers pry out information from the user himself under the guise of a quiz or something. As long as the user is aware of phishing, he will stop responding to suspicious threads or links. From an organization’s point of view, it is necessary to spend some time educating the workforce regarding phishing scams, how they are done, and what to do to avoid them. As long as the user is alert and aware, phishing attacks can no longer harm them.
Be prudent while sharing data online
Always be critical when sharing any PII. It’s better to be prudent than to be a victim of a cybercrime. Furthermore, it is equally beneficial for the user to stop giving out any personal data online. When using any social media platform, be aware of their security policies and always take advantage of the security settings in place to safeguard yourself. Data is the next big thing. As long as you can secure or limit your digital exposure, the fewer chances are of your falling victim to any scams.
Use a SIM lock
Finally, use a SIM lock to prevent theft or misuse. Every SIM comes with a PUK and PIN. Utilize these features to prevent any SIM jacking or swapping attempts. Often a secured PIN would render the attack useless in its infancy, and that too without incurring any substantial loss.
As we delve more and more into the benefits of advanced technology, we should also equally prepare ourselves for the inevitable drawbacks. As tech has boosted our comprehension, it has also opened newer avenues for exploitation. SIM hijacking is merely a part of this phenomenon which can be easily countered with enough vigilance and good cybersecurity habits.