Billions of fake SMS messages were sent last year — here's why it's a growing problem for all of us

Close up of a business person using a smartphone.
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Between 19.8 and 35.7 billion fraudulent SMS messages were sent around the world in 2023 as part of different scam campaigns, new research has claimed.

Besides a tarnished image, businesses whose identities were abused in these messages lost $1.16 billion as a result of these campaigns, the report from Enea found.

The company discovered fraudulent SMS messages now make up almost 5% of the entire international SMS traffic, eroding trust and reliability in SMS services. Consequently, businesses are also moving away from SMS and into other communications channels that can’t be tainted that easily.

Six different AIT abuses

To best combat this plague, the two companies agree that the industry should first identify the problem and its different nuances. For example, SMS fraud is part of what it calls “Artificial Inflation of Traffic”, or AIT, “the generation of fraudulent A2P (Application-to-Person) SMS traffic through various deceptive methods, such as bots and counterfeit messaging.” The duo says the lack of “consistent or comprehensive definition” poses a major obstacle to understanding and combating AIT. 

That being said, Enea identified six different AIT abuses, including AIT injected into the message path at brands, CPaaS providers, and aggregators. The three attack types with the greatest impact on the market are Counterfeit Fabrication AIT (traffic injected in transit by an aggregator), Amplification bot Generation of AIT (traffic created by triggering one-time passwords and other message-generating triggers at brand websites and services), and Masquerade Parasite Generation of AIT (traffic injected through accounts created at a CPaaS provider).

"The Pandemic accelerated brand adoption of SMS, but the rise of AIT, and the abuse of brand-spend relating to authentication and one-time passwords in particular, will set the A2P SMS industry back years, if indeed it will ever recover from the turbulence it has experienced over the last 12 months,” commented Nick Lane, chief messaging officer at Mobilesquared, which assisted Enea with the research. 

“This should not be the case as brands continually tell us that SMS remains the best channel. As an industry, we just need to find improved and enhanced methods of protecting it."

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Sead is a seasoned freelance journalist based in Sarajevo, Bosnia and Herzegovina. He writes about IT (cloud, IoT, 5G, VPN) and cybersecurity (ransomware, data breaches, laws and regulations). In his career, spanning more than a decade, he’s written for numerous media outlets, including Al Jazeera Balkans. He’s also held several modules on content writing for Represent Communications.