What Happens When Hackers Steal Your SIM? Learn How to Protect Yourself
You do always take care of the security of your private data on your personal smartphone. To this end, you keep transferring your personal pictures and files to your PC or get to choose complex passwords and patterns to prevent any potential spy on your smartphone. Additionally, you take all security considerations of your online messaging apps like WhatsApp, including end-to-end encryption, two-step verification and other steps.
However, yes, you are still a target! We can’t dispute more that smartphones are occupying the world of technology to be displayed as mini, connected computers with more masked secrets that a lot of companies are seeking out to discover and exploit in their commercial and business uses. For instance, you might be spied on by your competitors who are haunting any information exposing your business, or you might be a rich prey for those who want to violate your privacy and tamper with it for fun or blackmail. Hereby, the other face of smartphones presents them as a tool for spying, surveillance and information gathering, especially if they are hacked or monitored.
Nowadays, researchers reveal a growing threat linked to the emergence of a new and previously unobserved critical vulnerability in SIM cards, which forms your secret data bank. Experienced attackers can remotely compromise your privacy and life secrets.
First: SIMJacker Attack
Due to your increasing personal and financial information tied to your online identity, attacks and hackings of phone numbers are more likely to occur. According to AdaptiveMobile Security, which is a company specialized in mobile phone security, the attack takes place through a defect and a gap in the SIM cards called (SIMJaker). This is capable of opening a back door for the hackers to attack the SIM card, and short SMS is enough to do the mission.
How Does It Happen?
SIMJacker attack starts with an attacker sending an SMS to your smartphone. This SMS contains a link to a browser or a specific code commanding the SIM to disclose some data or to help control the device using a piece of software called S@T Browser, which is part of the SIM Application Toolkit (STK) that many phone operators use on their SIM cards. It is worth mentioning that such a process happens silently, not noticeable to you. Also, the SIMJacker hack is not limited to a specific operating system, and all types of phones are at risk, including smartphones that run on Android and iPhone.
The information pulled out from your SIM card contains your cell-ID which can determine your location and some specific device information like the IMEI from the handset. After that, the attack sends the data to a device other than the one from which the attacker sends the SMS in the hacking process. Then the attacker will be able to spy on your phone calls, steal your credits or hijack your bank accounts when linking your email to your phone number.
How to Protect Your SIM Card from SIMJacker Attack?
According to the researchers, all manufacturers and types of mobile phones with different operating systems are vulnerable to such attacks that exploit technical gaps in the SIM cards. In spite of having the GSM along with the cards’ manufacturers notified about the problem, the problem still exists and has not been rooted out:
- They have announced some recommendations on the importance of developing some apps protecting phones from messages received by the program (S@T) on the card.
- There are some operators trying to mitigate the damage by setting up a mechanism to analyze and prevent suspicious messages containing (S@T) Browser commands.
- To protect your phone, you can contact your carrier and make sure of its use of network filters that prevent SMS messages that carry SIMJacker attack from penetrating your phone. Otherwise, you will have no choice but to request the replacement of your SIM card with one that has applied protection mechanisms.
Take it into consideration how you can further protect your SIM card as listed below.
Second: SIM Swap Attacks
Hackers did compromise the personal account of Jack Dorsey, CEO and co-founder of Twitter. The penetration of Jack’s phone number linked to the account allowed the hackers to post a hail of offensive tweets for 15 minutes.
How Did the Hack Happen?
This hack is called “SIM Splitting or SIM Swap” in which the hackers take over your phone number and, as a result, all of your linked accounts. That is,
- The attacker deceives your service provider and impersonates you in order to ask for their technical support to issue a new and alternative SIM card.
- They can steal your phone number and link it to their own devices.
- Once the process is completed, the provider will cancel and suspend your real SIM card.
- The hacker will be able to access your phone calls and messages, bank accounts, e-mail and much more.
Let’s rethink the vast amount of sensitive information associated with your Google account:
- Address, birthdate and other personal information.
- The photos that may harm you personally.
- Calendar and upcoming travel dates.
- Emails, documents and search history.
- Personal contacts and their private information.
- All other online services that have used your primary email address as a source of authentication.
Third: SIM Cloning
It is worth noting that each SIM card is equipped with three basic codes:
- The International Mobile Subscriber Identity Code (IMSI) identifies the SIM data in international networks. This code consists of the country code or the network ID that you use.
- The (ICCID) code is the serial number of the SIM you are using. It is not the serial number of the mobile phone but the chip. Each chip has its own serial number.
- (Ki) code is the main code that the hacker needs. It identifies the card in the network and also protects it. If the hacker decodes the (Ki) code, he will be able to tweak your chip and own it.
By obtaining this data, cloning will be possible. As for the IMSI and ICCID codes, a SIM card reader can identify them, while it cannot read the other code (Ki) in the same way. However, hackers can use other clever methods to scan the (Ki). Consequently, the chip is copied to a writable, programmable card that telecom companies don’t supply, but hackers sell it online. There are several online programs and applications that attackers can download to decode these codes and copy your SIM data after reading it and work to write it on a new chip that can be written and programmed.
Victims may feel that something is suspicious. As a result, they may inform the telecom company to locate the geographical penetrator of the attacker. However, you should take care not to leave your SIM out of your sight because the cloning process requires the hacker to obtain your tangible SIM card or can use other ticks.
How Do You Know Whether Your Phone Was Hacked or Not?
You can follow the below steps that may help you obtain information about your SIM card being compromised:
- Check the data connection details (in network settings) and check if there is any suspicious number other than yours appears there.
- You can use specific applications or programs to obtain complete information about all incoming and outgoing calls. One of the good Android applications for this purpose is Network Info.
- You can visit the nearest branch of your network provider and ask for a test for your number. You can request an accurate record of the movements and uses of your SIM, including outgoing and incoming calls, text messages and data transmission.
- Call your number from another one and check if someone is answering, or you can observe the type of automated message you receive.
- You will feel the hacking of your SIM when you receive messages stating that your phone can’t connect to the network. You may lose calls and text messages because they are directed to the other phone using your number, especially notifications that you receive from companies and applications informing you that you have logged in via another device.
How Can You Secure Your SIM Card?
Most researches have revealed the failure of telecommunications companies in the world to protect the information of their users. Thus, attackers have been able to break most of the preventive procedures and reach their goals. Despite the fact that the USA has alerted its telecom companies about the necessity of developing new protection methods and very complex digital programs adding secret keys to the encrypted SIM, digital programming remains vulnerable to hacks at any time because the algorithms used in the code are decodable.
Most international companies, even in developed countries, have already been exposed to hacking, including Google, Facebook and Twitter. However, there are some procedures to undertake:
- Protect Your Personal Data
As we mentioned earlier, hackers use the data they find about you online, such as date of birth, family names and address. This will help him convince customer service about your identity. That is, be smart when sharing your personal data on the Internet.
- Lock Your SIM with a (PIN)
To protect your card from unexpected attacks you need to take into account adding a PIN code to your SIM card. Hence, anyone tries to make changes to your SIM, he won’t go on without a PIN.
“Settings”> “Lock Screen and Security”> “Other Security Settings”> “Set up SIM card lock”
3. Be Careful!
Now, you are aware of how such hacks occur, therefore:
- You should be careful about your information, data and SIM card.
- Be aware of any message containing a strange link or code.
- Don’t leave your mobile phone anywhere far from you because it won’t take the hacker more than several minutes to use your phone and discover the serial number of your SIM card.
- Don’t throw the box in which you keep your card data.
- If you find anything suspicious, such as messages that you did not write, numbers you don’t know, or data you have lost from your phone, know for sure that your SIM card is in the hands of attackers.
4. Replace your phone with another that supports (eSIM)
You can get rid of all the hassle of the regular SIM by replacing it with Embedded SIM, a built-in card within modern devices. Therefore, you guarantee that attackers won’t steal your SIM because the eSIM isn’t removable but programmable. This enables you to change the subscription with the provider if you feel any suspicious activity within your SIM. Find out the best eSIM mobile phones supporting eSIM.
5. Use Virtual Phone Numbers instead
We have previously reviewed the ways attackers can control your SIM card, which has become a major threat to the security of your data and information. Accordingly, the wheel of technological development has replaced SIM card with electronic and embedded SIMs. Because of the further importance of this trending market, you can find details about SIM and eSIM in here. Using a virtual phone number to link it to your e-mail along with various social media platforms is enough to keep you away from many attempts to have your SIM attacked.
The good news is that the virtual phone number does not require that you purchase a new tangible card. This is because it depends on the Voice over Internet Protocol (VoIP) service. That is, all that you have to do is install an application that provides such numbers in a licensed and legal way, such as Numero eSIM App. Also, having more than one virtual phone number on your single device differentiating your accounts associated with each number may make you avoid the worse. For example, you will not bother to lose all your accounts but only those associated with one of the numbers if any rare attacks occurred.
Ways of Using Virtual Phone Numbers
To make things understandable, virtual phone numbers are much like normal numbers acquired in a virtual way that keeps you from visiting your local service provider. Here’s some of what you can do with a virtual phone number:
- In Your Company
Many companies spend thousands of dollars to build dedicated telephone lines. However, with the alternative of virtual phone numbers available, your company will free itself from having to pay for the phone lines and also from all the necessary equipment that accompanies it:
First: Assign a special number to each department or employee in your company if you prefer to abandon the use of your employees’ smartphones. As a result, you will ensure the continuity of their performance and maintain your business secrets within the walls of your company.
Second: Your company, located in China, can have a virtual phone number in Los Angeles or London without paying for a fixed foreign telephone line. Also, your call center will contain more than a virtual number for more than one country in more than one-time zone. That makes it more popular for your business and allows you to give an impression that it is local to the target audience. This increases your customers’ statistics and provides effective coverage 24/7.
Third: You may provide your remote employees with a local virtual number so that you and your customers can reach them easily.
Fourth: You have another option to facilitate your customers’ communication, which is to provide one virtual number for them to contact your company. Upon answering, the call will be appropriately directed to its correct location, whether for sales or support. Furthermore, take advantage of the Voicemail feature to know your contacts and the needs of your customers during your absence.
Fifth: Draw the attention of your audience in the most used channels on the Internet, whether Facebook or WhatsApp. This will help manage your campaigns or customize your technical support center so that no one hesitates to send you and start benefiting from your services.
- In Your Business Life
As an entrepreneur, you have to do a lot including finding the audience and the effective marketing plans to persuade customers to buy or take advantage of your services. You must also provide them with ways to reach you via email and phone number. However, it is scary to think of giving up your privacy when distributing your personal number to a good number of strangers. Not to mention the inconvenience this will cause you when you receive a lot of phone calls when you spend time with your family or taking a day off. Here the virtual number option manifests as an urgent need.
That is, as an entrepreneur, obtaining a virtual number will not only contribute to organizing your life. You can also use it in many different ways. For example, it will not bother you anymore because the virtual number will keep your private number out of sight through the Private Number feature it provides. The virtual number can organize your business and keep you informed of who is calling and why they are calling.
- In Your Life
Having a virtual number brings freedom to anyone, as you can easily change the number to another when you need to. You can use the virtual number temporarily to take advantage of some services via the Internet or even register in dating applications. Spreading the number on the Internet may expose you to a lot of inconveniences, and you need to avoid any chance, even if it is slim, to attract the attention of pirates or attackers to your own number. Accordingly, virtual numbers create the privacy layers that you cannot find with a regular phone number.
Use Your Virtual Phone Number Carefully!
Because, as we mentioned earlier, the virtual numbers are very similar to the real numbers, you can maintain them through some of the recommendations that we have told previously, the most important of which is to be careful about your use of the numbers:
- Do not use the number in matters that may expose you to questioning or prohibition due to the misuse of the number in different sites or WhatsApp.
- You do not need to provide official documents for every virtual number you get, so you do not have to disclose a lot of information about you online.
- With regard to your maintenance of the activated WhatsApp account with a virtual number, you make use of some of the tricks in WhatsApp to ensure that your account or your information is not subjected to breach or theft.
Is eSIM Safe?
Let’s think about it together. Now you can direct your calls and messages with the same mechanism as regular numbers but in more effective and often safer ways using eSIM and virtual phone numbers.
Suppose your SIM card is exposed to any of the aforementioned types of hacking. Then you will be unable to retrieve your data that is in the hands of strangers, and you have to purchase another number and review the matter with the network provider. However, owning a virtual phone number contributes to protecting your information and keeping your number private through the ‘Private Number” feature it provides. In case you feel insecure about the ongoing use of the virtual phone number for you have already shared with someone online or in person, you can simply change it and replace it with another number without any efforts to remember.
Also, your choice of providers of eSIM and virtual phone numbers is very important in ensuring the protection of your information and data that you provide in order to obtain a number from them. This is because many of the numbers provided online are unlicensed and fake, so there are virtually no safety factors in such numbers. Unlike some other documented and licensed applications that guarantee not to share your data with any party. For example, Numero virtual numbers provided from various suppliers from around the world are safe, where the security of your data exceeds all priorities.
We highly stress the importance of not sharing your personal information over the Internet, so that hackers won’t exploit it in issues that could harm you. Most importantly, be smart when dealing with any link, suspicious message or movement in your phone and act smarter.