Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Smishing = Masochistic Sadism

Three quarters of all cellphone users send text messages via the Short Message Service provided in their cellphones. That's over two billion users every day. That's a lot of texting. That's where the minds of roughly one third of the population of the planet are currently. You guys love your cellphones. I say you guys, cuz I don't own one. Nor would I want to. Follow:

I learn something new every day. I already knew about spam, beyond the edible meatish stuff in a can, or the Monty Python reference. I already knew about phishing, where annoying and desperate people use computers to trick people into giving away sensitive personal information that can lead to getting robbed in a cold heartless digital way. Now there's Smishing. Will wonders ever cease? Smishing is so new of a phrase, that the spellchecker which lets me use thinks it's misspelled.

Rather than using email, as in phishing, the process of Smishing utilizes SMS text messages sent to people's cellphones. The message pretends to be some legitimate sounding company like a bank or a dating service, informs the Mark that they will be charged fees for NOT responding to the message, and gives a fake website or phone number. The Mark then responds and learns they must give up their bank account or credit card info in order to have the charges canceled. Of course, there were no charges in the first place because the original message is phony. However, once the Mark gives up their confidential bank info, the Smisher robs them blind. I think that's called a "Sting" in the biz of being an asshole for money.

Currently the standard response to this behavior is to ignore it. Really, there's nothing more you can do. If you respond, you risk the bad guys gleaning some kind of info from you. It's possible if you click on the phony site link, the second you do that server will be able to determine who you are, what ISP you use, your IP address, and other info you probably wouldn't want them to know. Some hackers are able to set it up so the second you click on a website, malicious software or "malware" might infect your computer through the website. You might have that on your computer now and are unaware of it. Most of the time keeping anti-virus software running in the background can help deter that, but there's no such thing as an unhackable program. And since the info provided by the smisher is purposefully fake, it's impossible to use that info to trace back to the source. You can't learn the identity of the person trying to get your identity, so you can't respond by driving to their house and TPing their front lawn.

The sad truth is that simply ignoring them is not the answer either, and I'll tell you why. The reason spam and phishing and now smishing continues to proliferate is because spammers and hacks can continue repeating this behavior with little to no fear of retaliation. Arguably there are laws on the books against this sort of thing, but it's difficult to police and the penalties even if convicted are not a big deal compared to the possible profit one can get if one succeeds. Same reason why thieves rob banks. Sure you'll go to jail, IF you get caught, and thieves always think on the outset that they're smart enough to get away with it. Sometimes they are.

It takes little to no effort or resources on the part of a spammer or Smisher, and because there's hardly any investment on their part, it only takes one fool responding for them to eke out a profit. A spammer or Smisher can spam tens of thousands in minutes or seconds, and if only one person falls for it, they profit. Ignoring them may save you in the short term, but it does not improve the situation for the long term, and there's a sucker born every minute.

As for being charged per text message, I don't own a cellphone so can't speak to that. However, I'm shocked that anyone would sign up with a cellphone company that would charge them per message sent to them. That's absurd. I wouldn't even want a plan where I'm charged per msg I send out. That's crazy too. I'd want a monthly fee and that'd be the end of it. Can't get that, so I live without a cellphone just fine. One of the many reasons why I don't have a cellphone is because I've yet to hear a plan that doesn't sound like I'd get nickeled and dimed to death by the phone company. If they started charging me by the webpage, I'd drop my ISP in a heartbeat! Why do you put up with that on your cell?

If those of you with cellphones would demand more respectable plans from the phone companies, maybe then I could get one, once phone companies are forced to use common sense instead of scamming tactics to rob people of their money. Use your brains, cellphone users! Furthermore this entire issue should not be your problem. The phone companies should be stopping spam and malicious messages BEFORE they get to your phones. What ARE you paying them for, anyway? If you wanna pay someone to randomly annoy you every day, there's homeless people out there who would do that for half the cost of a cellphone. Come to think of it, I'm unemployed currently. I'd love to get into a business where I can annoy people for money. I'd charge twelve dollars an hour - minimum of two hours a day. That'd be like $120 per person per week - I just struck the mother lode!

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