How can you be exploited by your phone number?

September 13, 2023 8 min read

how to protect your phone number

In the digital age, we often overlook the significant role of our phone numbers. They’re not merely a tool to stay connected but have transformed into vital components of our digital identity. Let's delve deeper into the unseen implications of your phone number ending up in the wrong hands, exploring the intricate modus operandi of hackers, most importantly, we'll equip you with the knowledge and tools to safeguard your mobile number and personal information from these attacks.

So, let's dive in and empower you with the essential know-how to protect yourself!

Data breaches represent one of the most frequent methods through which scammers gain unauthorized access to your phone number. However, there are numerous alternative techniques they can employ to pilfer your contact information as well.

Online platforms known as 'people search' websites gather and distribute your private information to telemarketers and cyber criminals.

Even if you're careful about the information you disclose on the internet, it may still be challenging to safeguard your phone number from potential criminals.

Let's explore some typical methods that thieves might employ in their quest to discover your telephone number.

Before we dive into the unnerving techniques that hackers deploy, let's understand why this concern is more prevalent than ever. In today’s online-centric world, we routinely input our phone numbers - be it for online shopping, signing up for services, or even ordering food.

We’ve conditioned ourselves to give out these digits without pondering the consequences. This habitual sharing, compounded with the perpetually evolving digital landscape where cybersecurity threats continually loom, has made phone numbers a prime target for hackers.

This valuable piece of data can easily be acquired through a variety of sources:

Social media and Professional Networking Sites often request or mandate users to provide their phone numbers as part of their account registration process.

Apps like WhatsApp, Discord, Twitter, Venmo and WeChat are prime examples where phone numbers aren't just an optional addition but a mandatory requirement for account creation. 

While this measure aims to enhance platform security, it also poses a potential threat to your identity protection. Disclosing your phone number on websites and social media networks can expose you to fraudulent activities, as it becomes effortless for malicious individuals to contact you and carry out their deceitful schemes.

To safeguard your privacy on social media, consider implementing the following suggestions.

App Permissions Many mobile applications ask for access to your contact information, including your phone number. Insecure apps or those with malicious intent can collect this data for misuse or sale.

Phishing scams are a common tactic used by criminals to deceive innocent individuals through fake emails or text messages, pretending to be legitimate entities.

These scammers aim to gain your trust and then redirect you to a fake website to extract personal information, such as your phone number. Shockingly, in just the first three months of 2021, experts identified more than 611,000 phishing websites.

Public Directories and Whois Information: Public directories, both online and offline, often list phone numbers. Similarly, domain registration details, unless privately registered, can reveal owner contact information which includes phone numbers.

Data Breaches can lead to vast databases of personal information, including phone numbers, being sold on illicit markets. Black hat Hackers often sell this stolen data online. These phone numbers, packaged with other personal data, may be purchased by other cybercriminals who can use them for a range of illegal activities, from identity theft and phishing scams to advanced persistent threats. This underlines the critical importance of adequate data protection measures to safeguard personal information.

Watch out for stolen mail! There are some unsavory characters out there who might go through your trash looking for valuable information. To safeguard your privacy, it's a good idea to shred any documents that have personal details like your phone number.

Transforming Phone Numbers into Digital Keys

From simple deception to advanced technological manipulations, these tactics are a testament to the innovativeness of the illicit minds at work in cybercrime. Let's now pivot to familiarize ourselves with the detailed tactics and techniques that hackers employ, transforming a mundane phone number into a weapon of digital disruption.

Intercepting Your Messages

Hackers reach out to your mobile service provider, posing as you, and utilize the personal information they have stolen from you to bypass security verifications.

In our other blog post on social engineering, we delve deeper into how hackers employ various tactics to exploit phone numbers. From simple deception to advanced technological manipulations, these tactics are a testament to the innovativeness of the illicit minds at work in cybercrime.

Here’s how it plays out:

  • Scammers request the company to redirect your phone calls and messages to their number. Once this redirection is done, they can intercept and access all the communications originally intended for you.
  • What's even more concerning is that they can gain access to your online accounts. They can simply select the "forgot password" option and utilize the password reset link that is sent to their phone. This gives them the power to take control of your accounts without your knowledge or consent.

 

Information Heist: Pillaging Personal Data

A phone number is often the hacker's first step in a carefully planned personal data heist. Coupled with freely available online tools and search engines, they can cross-link this single piece of information to discover a vast pool of your data: from basics like name and address to detailed profiles on social media platforms.

In the past, a hacker could do limited harm by having access to only your phone number.

Nowadays, our mobile devices have evolved beyond being mere address books. They have become repositories for a vast amount of personal information, such as photos, emails, and account passwords.

Our phone numbers often become closely linked to our personal information, as we rarely change them. This creates a potential risk, as scammers can leverage our phone numbers to access various other details about us, potentially leading to identity theft.

  • Crafty scammers scout out your phone number from social media platforms or employ reverse lookup services
  • Following this they deploy their techniques, scouring the Internet to link your number with additional information associated with it, including other online accounts, your residential address, and birthdate, among others.
  • Taking advantage of the personal information they've gathered, they move to embark on identity theft or strategically formulate social engineering attacks tailored to them, significantly increasing their chances of success.

SIM Swapping

The infamous trick in a hacker’s arsenal, the dreaded SIM swap scam, allows control over your phone number. It involves deceiving the mobile service provider into shifting your number to a new SIM card controlled by the hacker. Successful SIM swapping grants hackers comprehensive access to incoming and outgoing communication, paving the way for a series of sinister exploits.

  • The hacker contacts your phone service provider and pretends to be you, requesting them to transfer your phone number to another carrier.
  • The organization transfers your phone number to the hacker's SIM card.

When someone gains control of your phone number, they not only have the ability to receive messages pretending to be you, but they can also send messages, make calls, and even get access to your accounts. It's crucial to protect your phone number to safeguard your privacy and security. Remember, once someone has control of your number, they can exploit it in various ways, affecting your online presence and potentially causing harm.

Jack Dorsey, the ex-CEO of Twitter, fell prey to aSIM swap scam back in 2019*. This scam involved hackers manipulating his phone number to gain unauthorized access to his Twitter account. According to the FBI, there were 1,611 reported complaints related toSIM-swapping scams in 2021, resulting in victims collectively losing a staggering $68 million. It's crucial to stay informed about these scams to safeguard our privacy and financial well-being.

Text Attacks and Malware

Fake text message scams also referred to as smishing, have become more prevalent as a tactic to deceive individuals into divulging sensitive information or unwittingly installing malicious software onto their devices. These scams are on the rise and it is crucial to be aware of their existence to safeguard personal data and prevent potential harm.

  • Scammers utilize various platforms like SMS, texts, Telegram, and WhatsApp to send harmful messages, pretending to be well-known companies.

Personal Exposure through Doxxing: The Fraud Gateway

Doxxing is the practice of exposing an individual's details on the internet, making them public. The term originated in the 1990s hacker community, where competing hackers would expose someone's real identity by "dropping docs."

Today, the act of doxxing can result in various forms of privacy violations, such as harassment, fraudulent activities, and other abuses. It is crucial to be aware of the potential consequences and take necessary precautions to protect oneself.

The Leverage Game: Blackmailing with Sensitive Data

Extracted sensitive data not only enables hackers to assume your digital identity but, they can also use it as leverage for blackmail. By threatening to expose delicate information, hackers can demand ransom payments, creating a cycle of exploitation and extortion.

Be cautious of scammers who might exploit your phone number for blackmail purposes. If they manage to gain access to private files, such as photos and videos, they may blackmail you by threatening to expose the content unless you make a payment.

  • Scammers input your phone number into a website that specializes in searching for people, like Fast People Search, to uncover personal details about you.
  • If someone has your phone number, they could potentially gain access to your iCloud accounts and other platforms where your images are stored. This is what led to the incident known as CelebGate, where private photos of celebrities were leaked online.

Protecting Your Phone Number

Let's dive in and explore some practical steps you can take to ensure the security of your precious digits.

Want to make it harder for hackers to get hold of your phone number?

Here are a few simple tips to amp up your security game and protect those precious digits from prying cyber criminals.

Lock your SIM

A SIM lock can be a useful tool in protecting your phone from scammers attempting to perform SIM swapping. This lock adds an extra layer of security by requiring a unique PIN for any modifications or usage of your phone number. It acts as a barrier, safeguarding your information and preventing unauthorized access.

To create a personal identification number (PIN) for your SIM card, you can either get in touch with your service provider or set it up directly on your iPhone and other iOS devices.

Enable two-factor or multi-factor authentication (2FA/MFA).

It's vital to employ two-factor or multi-factor authentication (2FA/MFA). This bolsters your security measures, adding an extra line of defense against potential threats.

Known as 2FA, two-factor authentication serves as an enhanced security shield for your accounts. To activate this feature, get in touch with your mobile service provider's customer care and ask for the inclusion of a supplementary passcode for your account. This process ensures that exclusive authority to modify or transfer your phone number rests solely in your hands. However, for heightened security, consider using hardware keys or 2FA apps, as text message verification can often fall short.

Don't click that!

When you come across text messages or emails from unfamiliar senders, it is important to refrain from clicking on any embedded links. If you receive a message concerning a missed package delivery or discover a waiting message in an online account, it is advisable to access the service directly instead of using the link provided.

Make sure to always conduct thorough investigations on senders to ensure their credibility and genuine verification.

Keep Your Digits to Yourself - It's Cool, Not Rude!

‘Sharing is caring', right?

Well, when it comes to your phone number, think again. It's totally cool (and super smart!) to play a little hard to get with those digits.

By not just handing over your number willy-nilly you escape landing on a scammer's hit-list. Pulling off this disappearing act in the digital world isn't being rude, After all, if they can't find you, they can't trick you – it's as simple as that! So, remember to hold onto your number like it's the last piece of pizza. Less sharing, more caring for your cyber-safety!

Conclusion:

Exploring the nefarious tactics that can stem from a seemingly innocuous phone number falling into the wrong hands highlights the need for phone number privacy. To safeguard ourselves, we must prioritize strong cybersecurity practices; implementing multi-factor authentication, using robust, unique passwords, and staying vigilant against unsolicited and suspicious communications. Equipped with knowledge and proper precautions, we can transform our digital landscape into a safer space.