Report: 'Smishing,' Deepfakes to Continue to Rise in 2020

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Drones may also be more widely weaponized to steal consumer data from public Wi-Fi networks, according to a new report on 2020 data breach trend predictions.

American consumers and agencies were exposed to a wide range of phishing threats over the course 2019—but in 2020, there’ll be a new, related danger on the horizon: smishing, or text-based phishing. 

According to consumer credit reporting company Experian’s 2020 data breach industry forecast, smishing is the top threat individuals will likely be targeted by in the coming year, followed by drones that steal consumer data, disruptive deepfakes, hacktivism, and identity theft through mobile payment systems. 

“Cybercriminals will leverage text-based ‘smishing’ identity theft techniques to target consumers participating in online communities, such as those supporting presidential candidates, with fraudulent messages disguised as fundraising initiatives,” officials wrote in the report. 

As bad actors become more sophisticated in their attempts to spoof or manipulate Americans for money or information, smishing efforts—a portmanteau of “SMS" and "phishing"—are expected to be on the rise. Experian notes that hackers and other cybercriminals will likely capitalize on the fact that it’s an election year and try to trick voting communities through spoofed texts to garner financial support. 

“As candidates build out online communities, a campaign page can be easily spoofed—soliciting donations via a fake email, and a smishing text message designed to look like it comes from a fellow campaign supporter can gain trust even faster,” the company notes. 

Much like traditional phishing scams, smishing may include misspelled words, poor grammar and unnecessary requests for users to share their personal information like credit card or social security numbers. Experian notes it’s generally best not to respond from texts if receivers do not recognize the senders. 

Next year, another top threat could come from drones with attached devices that can steal consumer data from free public Wi-Fi networks. To prevent the emerging threats, the company recommends implementing two-factor authentication and other password protections on all personal devices. 

“To keep sensitive data on your smartphone secure from drones and other aerial devices, it is important to use Wi-Fi wisely,” officials note. “Accessing public Wi-Fi in areas such as malls, parks and even coffee shops can open the door to hackers stealing your personal information in a matter of seconds.”

The company also predicts that deepfakes, or manipulated videos that can cause disinformation to rapidly spread, will continue to be weaponized to disrupt financial markets and create confusion across the geo-political landscape. Burgeoning companies and industries like cannabis retailers and cryptocurrency entities will also likely see a rise in hacktivism in the coming year. 

And, as mobile payment options continue to rise at large and medium venues, Experian also predicts that there’ll be a significant spike in identity thefts as cybercriminals tap into those mobile means. 

“Mobile payments are here to stay, but in a rush to adopt these new payment platforms retailers need to be careful that they don’t take one step forward and two steps back when it comes to security, and consumers need to be vigilant, too,” officials wrote.