3 signs your phone number is compromised

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SIM cloning is a practice in which a malicious user makes a copy of your phone’s SIM card, putting you at risk of any authentication based on the SIM card you are using being compromised. If you realize this quickly enough, you could minimize the damage.

What is SIM cloning and why does it happen?

A SIM card is essentially a security measure to prove that you have the right to access a cellular network. Your phone number is associated with a particular SIM card, and the SIM card also has its own unique identification number, registered with the service provider.

When a SIM card is “cloned”, it means one of two things. Either two identical cards now exist on the same network, or the original card has been blocked and the number associated with that card has been moved to a new SIM card in the possession of a malicious actor.

Although there are tools capable of making a copy of a SIM card, they require the original card to be present. So an attacker would have to steal our card in the first place. It’s not very convenient, so the most common method is to pretend to be you and ask the phone company to do a SIM swap.

This is a hacking technique known as social engineering and targets the part of a security system that tends to be the weakest link: humans! Sometimes SIM card cloning is done through collusion with a phone company insider, in which case the SIM card you have may not be blocked, making it more difficult to detect the hack.

SIM Clone Warning Signs

SIM cloning is a relative rarity, but it’s definitely something anyone using a SIM card should be aware of. So how would you even know that your card was cloned?

1. You suddenly stop receiving texts and calls (and you can’t make them)

If the attacker initiated a SIM card swap pretending to be you, your phone’s SIM card will be blocked. You may see a message saying you don’t have a connection or your phone is “not authorized” or something to that effect. You will not be able to make or receive calls or messages. If this happens to you, it’s a good idea to call your provider immediately (from another phone obviously) and ask if a SIM swap has been initiated.

2. You receive 2FA messages that you did not request

In some cases where hackers manage to clone a card without blocking your original card, your handset and the cloned handset may receive copies of the same messages. If you start getting messages with password reset codes or other two-factor authentication (2FA) information that you didn’t request, it’s worth calling your provider to make sure that your SIM card is secure.

3. Your phone bill has unknown activity

Sometimes hackers who clone SIM cards are not trying to scam you directly, but to use your number as a way to scam other people. They can commit crimes or impersonate you for various fraudulent scams by having control of your phone number.

So it’s worth checking your phone records every month to make sure there aren’t any calls you didn’t make to your number!

How to Prevent SIM Clone

Although rare, becoming a victim of SIM cloning can be devastating. It is not really possible to prevent cloning when it is done in collusion with employees of a telephone company. However, in most cases, the phone company itself falls victim to hackers impersonating you. The telephone company will ask the caller a number of personal information questions to verify that they are the correct person.

The main thing here is that it only happens when you call the company. If someone claiming to be from your phone company calls you and then asks for this information, it is almost certainly an attempt to steal this information. Specifically, so they can turn around and impersonate you to the phone company. So, if you receive such a call, never give out any of this sensitive information!

It is best to deal with one of the main reasons why cloning occurs in the first place. If you’re using a SIM-based, SMS-based two-factor authentication service, consider replacing it with another type of security factor. SMS-based two-factor authentication is weak compared to alternatives.

The best option is to use an authenticator app tied to your specific handset. Google Authenticator is widely supported, although some companies use their own internal authentication technology.

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About Laura J. Bell

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