What Is SMS Authentication And Is It Safe?

1 week ago | Judah Crist

What Is SMS Authentication And Is It Safe?

SMS authentication, also known as SMS-based two-factor authentication (2FA) and SMS one-time password, is a type of two-factor authentication. (OTP), allows users to authenticate their identities by texting a code to themselves. It is a type of two-factor authentication that frequently functions as a second verifier for users to get access to a network, system, or application and is a solid initial step toward improved security.

It should be emphasized, however, that SMS authentication is usually seen as a weak method of verification... We'll go into why, but first, let's go through how SMS authentication works and the benefits and drawbacks of using it.

What is the SMS authentication procedure?

This authentication process is actually fairly straightforward. Following sign-in, the user receives a text message containing an SMS authentication code. To acquire access, individuals simply type the code into the app or website in question. You've most likely seen this when using Amazon, Facebook, Google, Twitter, and other services.

SMS authentication, as a possession-based factor, verifies a user's identification based on something they own (i.e., a mobile phone). In order to acquire illegal access to an account, bad actors would have to make a user's password as well as their phone.

Pros of SMS authentication

While SMS authentication is generally discouraged, there are a few reasons why people and organizations continue to utilize it:

Passwords are intrinsically weak because users tend to forget them, recycle them across several accounts, or have them stolen owing to poor storage methods (e.g., affixing them on a post-it note). SMS authentication reduces our reliance on passwords while also making it more difficult for bad actors to get access to and hijack accounts.

Convenience: One of the reasons users recycle passwords is the sheer volume of online accounts they create and manage: according to our research, consumers must remember 10 passwords every day. SMS authentication reduces this hassle by delivering users unique numbers that they may easily enter on a website or app to verify their identities.

Better than no 2FA: Confirming one's identity with multiple pieces of information is always more secure than confirming it with only one piece of information. As a result, SMS authentication is a more secure choice.

Cons of SMS authentication

Despite its convenience and ease of use, SMS authentication has significant drawbacks, and firms must consider whether it is adequate to protect their corporate, employee, and customer data.

Here are a few dangers to be aware of:

SIM swapping: While sending an authentication code to a personal mobile phone may appear secure, unscrupulous actors have discovered ways to intercept SMS communications. For example, they can contact a phone company and request that a number be changed to another phone (using personal information they have gathered on a target, such as an SSN). This allows them to view any SMS authentication code delivered to that phone number.

SIM card hacking and other SMS or text message interceptions pose a concern as well. Malicious actors, for example, can spoof cell phone tower signals and SS7 protocols (used to permit data roaming) in order to view the information included in private communications. Smartphones that have been lost or stolen: Relying on SMS authentication is risky given the rate at which devices are lost and stolen—and it's considerably riskier when those devices are logged into social media accounts and financial apps. Because text messages and other data may be accessed from many cellphones, laptops, tablets, and wearables, synced devices provide a chance for bad actors. Taking control of an online account: Many cellular service providers allow customers to read text messages via online accounts on their web portals. Bad actors may acquire access to these accounts and attempt to monitor them for SMS authentication codes if they are not secured with a trusted second factor.

Social engineering attacks, such as phishing, are as common today as they were in the past. They are the same on mobile devices as they are on desktop and laptop computers. They occur when hostile actors pose as a reputable institution in order to persuade targets to hand over personal information and passwords, including SMS codes, which they can then use to gain illegal access.

Expense: In addition to the security issues outlined above, businesses should think about the expense of SMS authentication deployment. The cost of sending SMS texts varies widely between carriers and might alter based on the number of messages sent. Furthermore, the expense of an assault made possible by inadequate SMS authentication can be terrible for businesses.

Is SMS verification safe?

With all of these SMS attacks and security concerns in mind, it is evident that hackers are becoming more adept by the day; even small quantities of information can be utilized to hijack mobile phones, fake user identities, and get access to accounts. To address your question, SMS authentication is not entirely secure.The National Institute of Standards and Technology, for example, In 2016, the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) issued an official warning against using SMS authentication. While they have now modified their position, SMS authentication remains a big vulnerability.

Why is SMS-based two-factor authentication still so popular?

The aforementioned SMS security flaws have been widely and publicly discussed for many years. Despite this, many businesses continue to rely on SMS for 2FA. Why?

To begin, SMS authentication is simple to configure and use. Furthermore, both customers and workers have gotten accustomed to using it to access their numerous apps. whether they're using Slack, exchanging money, or playing Guild Wars 2End users want quick, seamless login experiences and see SMS as the best solution, ignoring the security consequences.

If businesses decide to forego SMS authentication, they must discover alternatives that are just as simple to use.


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