Smishing and Phishing: What Is The Difference?

Smishing and Phishing: What Is The Difference?
Image by Freepik

When it comes to smishing and phishing, the foremost thing to remember is each attack could compromise your personal information. Scammers often use seemingly legitimate email addresses and phone numbers to gain trust and infiltrate your network, banking, and personal information.

The key differences boil down to how scammers obtain the information. 

With advances in technology and online storefronts, it can be difficult to spot a scam before becoming a victim. When it comes to cybersecurity and protecting your sensitive information online or over the phone, it’s important to know the latest tricks criminals use. Understanding the key differences between smishing and phishing can save you from accidentally sharing sensitive information with scammers.

What is phishing?

Phishing is one of the most common forms of fraud. Scammers use a seemingly real email address with a link that urges you to input information like your full name, social security number, and credit card number.

Phishing is a type of cyber attack where criminals attempt to deceive individuals into providing sensitive information by posing as a trustworthy entity. This information can then be used for identity theft, unauthorized access to accounts, or other malicious activities.

Phishing attacks typically occur through electronic communication channels, such as email, social media messages, or instant messaging. It commonly occurs through email, where the attacker sends a fraudulent message designed to trick the recipient into taking specific actions.

These actions may include clicking a malicious link, opening a dangerous attachment, or entering sensitive information into a fake website that looks like a legitimate one.

Types of phishing attacks

There are a wide variety of phishing attacks, including: 

Email phishing

Email is the most prevalent form of phishing. Attackers send deceptive emails masquerading as legitimate communications from reputable sources, such as banks, social media platforms, or government agencies. 

These emails often contain alarming messages that create a sense of urgency. They compel recipients to provide personal information, click on malicious links, or download infected attachments.

Spear phishing

This targeted attack focuses on specific individuals or organizations, tailoring the phishing messages to appear even more legitimate. Attackers gather personal information about their targets to craft personalized emails that deceive recipients into revealing sensitive data or taking malicious actions.


This form of phishing specifically targets high-profile individuals, such as CEOs or top-level executives. By impersonating trusted contacts or colleagues, hackers aim to deceive these individuals into divulging confidential business information or performing financial transactions.


Vishing, or voice phishing, involves attackers using voice calls to deceive individuals. They impersonate legitimate entities, such as banks or customer service representatives, and manipulate victims into revealing sensitive information over the phone. These attacks often exploit fear and urgency, creating a sense of immediate action required to deceive the target.

Objectives of Phishing attacks

A clear objective often drives phishing attacks—attackers seek to exploit sensitive information for personal gain. Let’s take a closer look at some of the primary goals of these attacks:

  • Personal Identifiable Information (PII). Includes addresses, names, social security numbers, phone numbers, and other personal information that can be used for identity theft or fraud.
  • Financial Credentials. Hackers aim to gain access to banking details, credit card information, and login credentials to carry out unauthorized transactions or commit financial fraud.
  • Corporate Data. In targeted attacks on organizations, hackers seek confidential business information, intellectual property, or trade secrets that can be exploited or sold on the black market.
  • Credentials for Account Takeover. Some phishing attacks use links or fake login pages to acquire login credentials for various online accounts, including email, social media, e-commerce, or cloud storage platforms. By gaining access to these accounts, attackers can exploit personal information, send fraudulent emails or messages on behalf of the victim, or conduct further phishing attacks.

What is smishing?

Smishing, on the other hand, uses text messages or common messaging apps, like Slack, to contact unsuspecting individuals. A link or website URL where scammers will ask for your personal and banking information is usually attached to the messages.

Smishing is a portmanteau of “SMS” and “phishing”. It is a type of cyber attack that uses text messages (SMS) to deceive victims into providing sensitive information, such as passwords, financial information, or personal details. 

The attacker usually masquerades as a legitimate entity, such as a bank, government agency, or popular service, and sends a text message that prompts the recipient to take immediate action, like clicking a link, replying to the message, or calling a phone number.

These messages often create a sense of urgency, using tactics like threats of account closures, fines, or other negative consequences if the recipient does not act quickly. The aim is to manipulate the victim into revealing their information, which can then be used for identity theft, unauthorized access to accounts, or other malicious activities.

Types of smishing attacks

There are many types of smishing attacks, including:

In this type of smishing attack, attackers include a shortened URL in the text message. When recipients click the link, they are redirected to a fake website designed to infect their devices with malware or steal their personal information.

Prize or lottery scams

Fraudsters send smishing messages claiming the recipient has won a prize or lottery. They entice the victims to respond with personal information or pay a fee to claim the prize, leading to potential financial loss or identity theft.

Financial scams

Attackers impersonate financial institutions or payment service providers, sending smishing messages that appear authentic. They aim to trick recipients into revealing sensitive banking details, login credentials, or one-time passcodes, which can lead to unauthorized access to accounts and financial fraud.

Urgent or emergency messages

This smishing attack preys on people’s emotions by creating a sense of urgency or emergency. The messages might claim that immediate action is required, such as making a payment or revealing personal information to avoid consequences or threats.

Objectives of smishing attacks

Similar to phishing attacks, smishing attacks have clear objectives that hackers seek to achieve:

  • Financial Gain. Attackers attempt to gain unauthorized access to victims’ bank accounts, credit cards, or other financial information. They may use the obtained data for fraudulent transactions or sell it on the dark web.
  • Identity Theft. By tricking individuals into revealing personal information, smishing attacks enable cybercriminals to steal identities and carry out further fraudulent activities.
  • Malware Distribution. Clicking on malicious links sent via smishing messages can lead to malware being installed on victims’ devices. Once infected, the hackers can gain control over the device, access personal data, and exploit it for malicious purposes.

Smishing and Phishing: Similarities and differences 

Smishing and phishing are both forms of cyber attacks that aim to deceive victims into revealing sensitive information. However, they differ in the methods used for communication and the specific tactics employed. 

Here are the main similarities and differences between smishing and phishing:

  • Purpose. The primary goal of smishing and phishing attacks is to obtain sensitive information, such as login credentials, financial information, or personal details. These can be used for identity theft, unauthorized access, or other malicious activities.
  • Sense of urgency. In both types of attacks, the messages often create a sense of urgency. They use threats or negative consequences to prompt immediate action from the victim.
  • Deceptive techniques. Both smishing and phishing use social engineering to manipulate victims into providing personal or sensitive information. Attackers often impersonate legitimate organizations or authorities to gain the victim’s trust.
  • Communication method. Smishing attacks use text messages (SMS) as the primary method of communication. Phishing attacks typically occur through email.
  • Target device. Smishing attacks target mobile devices, while phishing attacks are generally aimed at computers or any device with access to email. However, phishing attacks can also be conducted through mobile email clients.
  • Links and attachments. Phishing emails often contain malicious links or attachments. When you click or open them, they can lead to malware installation or redirect the victim to a fake website. In contrast, smishing attacks usually include a link or phone number that directs the victim to a fraudulent website or an attacker-operated phone line.

How to prevent phishing and smishing attacks

To avoid becoming a victim of phishing orsmishing, there are a few rules you can follow. These can protect you directly from scams and reduce the likelihood you will be targeted in the first place.

  • Never click on links from someone you don’t know. Go directly to the real website for the organization the communication purports to be from and check to see if the notification indicated in the email or text message is real.
  • Never give out personal information to someone who contacts you out of the blue. If they claim to represent a bank, government organization or company you already do business with, hang up and tell them you will call right back. Then go to the official website of the organization and call them at their official phone number to find out what’s really going on.
  • Don’t answer calls or texts from numbers you don’t recognize. Even if you answer only intending to ask to be taken off the list, the scammers will note that you interacted with the call. This will likely increase the number of calls you get from scammers in general.
  • Create a communication protocol. Establish a clear protocol for how the organization communicates with employees, partners, and customers, especially regarding sensitive information. Make sure all parties are aware that the organization will never request personal or financial information through text messages or emails.
  • Encourage reporting of phishing and smishing attempts. Create a culture where employees feel comfortable reporting suspected phishing emails and smashing texts. Quick reporting can help minimize the damage caused by successful attacks. It also provides valuable information to improve the organization’s security measures.

How to protect yourself after falling victim

Scams are increasingly common, and many people become targets before they’ve even heard of smishing or phishing. In addition to the preventative steps above, it’s important to be familiar with resources that can help you if you lose your personal information.

  • Credit freeze. You can freeze your credit for free with all three national credit bureaus — Experian, TransUnion and Equifax. If you know a scammer has your private information, freezing your credit can prevent them from opening credit accounts in your name.
  • Personal privacy scan. You can find out if your personal info is out on the web with a personal privacy scan. This checks for your information online. It can help protect you from robocalls and other phishing attempts by showing you where your info is exposed.
  • Identity theft protection: For complete identity theft protection after you’ve been victimized by a scammer, these suites of tools will help you keep tabs on your identity after a run-in with a scammer. Some of these tools include:
  • Dark web surveillance
  • Three-bureau credit monitoring
  • Payday & non-credit loan alerts
  • Change of address alerts
  • SSN monitoring
  • Financial account activity monitoring

While smishing and phishing scams are not likely to go away anytime soon, these are simple steps you can take to help protect yourself.

Summary on phishing and smishing

Smishing and phishing are dangerous scams that obtain sensitive information and often lead to identity fraud or theft. They’re increasingly popular and could lead to major personal and financial setbacks.

With such a large percentage of individuals utilizing emails, text messaging, and phone calls to conduct personal and professional business, it’s imperative to have a protection plan in place. Remember to always double-check with specific firms or companies if you receive a phone call, email, or text from someone claiming to be an employee.

A follow-up call can save you from a dangerous cyber attack and only takes a few minutes. After receiving any kind of suspicious messaging or phone calls, keep an eye on your bank statements for unusual activity. If you see any transactions you don’t recognize, immediately call your banking institution to resolve potentially fraudulent charges and avoid future fraud on the same account or card.

Although educating yourself on the warning signs and recognizing these attacks can save you from scams, the best way to avoid attacks is with proper hardware and software. Features such as privacy mode, two-factor authentication, and early detection software keep your phones and computers safe from potentially dangerous scams.

Arming yourself with these products and security programs can prevent thousands of dollars in theft or even identity fraud, giving you one less thing to worry about.


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

You May Also Like