Do You Need Old Phone Number For 2 Step Verification SMS Based One Time Password: Risks and Safeguarding Tips

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SMS Based One Time Password: Risks and Safeguarding Tips

With the digital world development, the need to secure customer identities has also evolved. Today’s customers expect a secure experience from organizations. The increasing utilization of cloud services and mobile devices has also increased the risk of data breaches. Did you know that overall account hacking losses increased 61% to $2.3 billion and incidents increased up to 31% compared to 2014?

SMS-based OTP is a technology designed to address phishing and other authentication-related security risks in the online world. Generally, SMS based OTPs are used as the second factor in two-factor authentication solutions. It requires users to send a unique OTP after entering credentials to verify themselves on the website. 2FA has become an effective way to reduce hacking incidents and prevent identity fraud.

But unfortunately, SMS based OTP is no longer secure nowadays. There are two main reasons behind this:

  • First, the most important security of the SMS based OTP depends on the privacy of the text message. But this SMS depends on the security of the cellular networks and recently many of the GSM and 3G networks have implied that the privacy of these SMS cannot be basically provided.
  • Second, hackers try their best to break into customer data and therefore have developed many specialized mobile trojans to get into customer data.

Let’s talk about them in detail!

Major risks associated with SMS based OTP:

The main aim of the attacker is to get this one time password and to enable it many of the options are developed like mobile Trojans, wireless interception, SIM Swap attacks. Let’s discuss them in detail:

1. Wireless Interception:

There are many factors that make GSM technology less secure such as lack of mutual authentication, lack of robust encryption algorithms, etc. It is also found that the communication between mobile phones or base stations can be eavesdropped and with the help of some protocol weaknesses, can. be also deciphered. Moreover, it is found that by misusing femtocells, 3G communication can also be intercepted. In this attack, modified firmware is installed on the femtocell. This firmware contains sniffing and interception capabilities. Also, these devices can be used for mounting attacks against mobile phones.

2. Mobile Trojans:

The latest rising threats for mobile devices are the mobile malware, especially Trojans. These malware are designed specifically to intercept the SMS that contains One Time Passwords. The main purpose behind creating such malware is to make money. Let us understand the different types of Trojans that are capable of stealing SMS based OTPs.

The first known piece of Trojans was ZITMO (Zeus On The Mobile) for Symbian OS. This trojan was developed to capture mTANs. The Trojan has the ability to register itself to the Symbian OS so that when they SMS can be intercepted. It contains more functions such as message forwarding, message deletion, etc. Delete ability completely hides the fact the message ever arrived.

A similar type of Trojan for Windows Mobile was identified in Feb 2011, called Trojan-Spy.WinCE.Zot.a The characteristics of this Trojan were similar to the above.

There are also the Trojans for Android and Black Berry by RIM. All of these known Trojans are user-installed programs, so they do not exploit any security vulnerability of the affected platform. Also they use social engineering to convince user to install the binary.

3. Free public WiFi and hotspots:

Nowadays, it is no longer difficult for hackers to use an unsecured Wi-Fi network to distribute malware. Planting infected software on your mobile phone is no longer a difficult task if you allow file sharing over the network. Additionally, some of the criminals also have the ability to hack the connection points. Thus, they present a pop-up window during the connection process, which asks them to update some popular programs.

4. SMS encryption and duplication:

The transmission of SMS from the institute to the client takes place in a simple text format. And I must say, it goes through several intermediaries such as SMS aggregator, mobile vendor, application management vendor, etc. And any of a hacker’s collusions with weak security controls can pose a huge risk. Additionally many times, hackers jam the SIM by providing fake ID proof and obtain the duplicate SIM by visiting mobile operator stores. Now the hacker if free to access all the OTPs arrived on that number.

5. Madware:

Madware is the type of aggressive advertising that helps to provide targeted advertising using the data and location of Smartphone by providing free mobile applications. But some of the ones around have the ability to act as Spyware thus being able to capture personal data and transfer them to app owner.

What is the solution?

Using some preventive measures should ensure security against the SMS-based OTP vulnerability. There are many solutions here like introducing Device tokens. In this approach, when making a transaction, the token will generate a one-time password. Another option is to use a one-touch authentication process. Additionally, an application may also be required to install on a mobile phone to generate an OTP. Below are two more tips to secure SMS based OTP:

1. SMS end encryption:

In this approach, end-to-end encryption to protect one-time passwords so as to eliminate its usability if the SMS is intercepted. It uses the “application private storage” available in most of the mobile phones these days. This persistent storage is private for each application. This data can only be accessed by the program that stores the data. In this process, the first step contains the same OTP generation process, but in the second step this OTP is encrypted with a customer-centric key and the OTP is sent to the customer’s mobile phone. On the receiver’s phone, a dedicated application displays this OTP after decrypting it. This means that even if the Trojan is able to gain access to the SMS, it will not be able to decrypt the OTP due to lack of a required key.

2. Virtual dedicated channel for the mobile phone:

Since mobile Trojans are the biggest threat to SMS-based OTP, since conducting a Trojan attack on a large scale is no longer difficult, this process requires minimal support from the OS and minimal to no support from the mobile network providers. In this solution, certain SMS are protected from eavesdropping by delivering them only to a special channel or program. The process requires a dedicated virtual channel in the mobile OS. This channel redirects some messages to a specific OTP application thus making them safe from eavesdropping. The use of application private storage ensures security to this protection.

Ultimately, no matter which process you choose, no technology can guarantee you 100% security. The key here is to be alert and up-to-date on the rapid changes taking place in technology.

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