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Digital Fraud Wiki

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SIM Swapping: How You Could Lose All Your Crypto in Minutes

What is sim swapping or sim hacking?

SIM swapping, or SIM hacking, is a cyberattack where an attacker tricks a mobile carrier into transferring a victim’s phone number to a SIM card the attacker controls. With control of the victim’s phone number, the attacker can intercept calls and messages or bypass two-factor authentication (2FA).

Here’s how SIM swapping typically works. First, the attacker gets the victim’s name, phone number, and other personal details through online research or phishing attacks. In some cases they call the victim’s mobile carrier and pose as the victim. They may use pretexting techniques to convince customer service representatives to assist them.

Next, attackers use the information to convince the victim’s mobile carrier to transfer the victim’s phone number to a new SIM card. The attacker may claim to have lost their phone or SIM card and need a replacement.

Once the mobile carrier approves the SIM swap request, the attacker activates the new SIM card. With the new SIM active, they’ve effectively taken control of the victim’s phone number. using that control, the attacker will intercept incoming calls or messages with one-time passwords (OTPs) or other authentication codes. This allows them to gain unauthorized access to the victim’s online accounts, cryptocurrency wallets, and other financial accounts.

How can a SIM card be hacked?

  1. SIM Swap Fraud: Attackers target mobile network operators and trick them into transferring a victim’s phone number to a SIM card they control.
  2. SIM Cloning: Copying information from a legitimate SIM card onto another SIM card. Fraudsters can do this by intercepting communication between the SIM card and the network.
  3. Remote SIM Card Attacks: Attackers exploit vulnerabilities in the SIM card software itself. These vulnerabilities can allow an attacker to remotely send commands to the SIM card or steal information.
  4. Physical Access: Attackers take SIM cards from stolen phones to extract sensitive information like the IMSI (International Mobile Subscriber Identity) or the Ki (Authentication Key).

How can SIM swapping affect cryptocurrency?

Attackers can intercept SMS-based authentication codes sent by exchanges or wallets. With these codes, the attacker can gain take over the victim’s cryptocurrency accounts, including wallets and exchange accounts.

With that control, they can transfer funds out of the accounts to addresses they control. Cryptocurrency thefts like this can be irreversible. Attackers may also use the compromised accounts for other frauds like identity theft or account takeovers.

SIM swapping is a significant threat for crypto investors. Many crypto exchanges and wallets use SMS-based two-factor authentication (2FA). So, if an attacker can intercept those codes, they have easy access to the victim’s wallet.

Since cryptocurrency transactions are irreversible, crypto is an attractive target for attackers. The stolen funds can be quickly moved and are difficult to trace. Crypto investors with significant holdings are often targets. Attackers work in teams and conduct extensive research to identify and target large investors.

The decentralized nature of cryptocurrency markets and the lack of regulation also means that victims of SIM swapping attacks may have limited recourse for recovering stolen funds.

How to avoid SIM swapping

  • Avoid relying on SMS-based 2FA alone for securing cryptocurrency accounts. Instead, use more secure methods such as hardware tokens, authenticator apps, or hardware wallets.
  • Use the extra security measures your cryptocurrency exchanges and wallet offers, like whitelisting withdrawal addresses or setting up withdrawal confirmations.
  • Be vigilant for signs of a SIM swapping attack. Investigate red flags like unexpected loss of mobile network connectivity or notifications from your carrier about SIM card changes.
  • Regularly monitor cryptocurrency accounts for any unauthorized activity. Report suspicious transactions to your exchange or wallet provider immediately.
  • Keep personal information private and be cautious about sharing sensitive data online.

How AI fraud platforms can help prevent SIM swapping

AI systems can analyze user behavior patterns associated with account access and usage. AI detects deviations from normal user behavior that may indicate unauthorized SIM access. Changes in login locations, device types, or usage patterns can trigger alerts for further investigation.

Because AI-powered fraud prevention solutions continuously monitor network and account activities for unusual patterns or anomalies, algorithms can detect if a user’s SIM card has been suddenly changed. These anomalies prompt the system to flag potential fraud and immediately mitigate it.

Instead of relying on SMS 2FA alone, AI incorporates device fingerprints and behavioral biometric data. This reduces reliance on vulnerable SMS-based authentication methods susceptible to SIM swapping attacks.

Through real-time monitoring, carriers can use AI to analyze call and message metadata and identify potential SIM swapping attempts. Frequent SIM card changes or unusual call forwarding requests can generate these real-time alerts.

As AI fraud prevention solutions integrate with telecom networks to monitor and analyze network traffic, call logs, and messaging activities in real time, carriers can proactively detect and prevent SIM swapping attacks.

Learn how leading AI-powered fraud and risk platforms like DataVisor can do all the above and more by booking a customized demo with our team.