How to protect SIM cards from hackers (2022 SIM security guide)

How to protect SIM cards from hackers (2022 SIM security guide)

Since the dawn of the Fourth Industrial Revolution, we are living in an ever increasingly connected world. There is virtually nothing that a smart device cannot do. SIM security has also become an important issue.

Unfortunately, these devices are not infallible and are prime targets for hackers and fraudsters who are looking to commit opportunistic crime. The last thing that you need is for this to happen to you when you are on your dream vacation.

Below is a comprehensive guide into the threat landscape as well as tips on how to prevent yourself from becoming a victim.

Make sure that you use a travel SIM card on your next international vacation.

Why people hack SIM cards

As pointed out in the introduction, technology has made our lives simpler. We don’t have to go into a bank to carry out a basic transaction like paying for something or transferring money to a beneficiary. This can be done via our mobile devices.

In order to ensure security, banks often send verification requests to mobile customers in the form of one-time-pins. Armed with this, hackers can transact on your behalf.

Do you know what a SIM card is?

Further reading: What is a SIM card & how does it work?

Common targets of SIM hacking

While anyone can be the target of SIM hacking, there are certain groups of people that are common targets of this crime.

These include:

  • High-earners;
  • Social media influencers;
  • Popular gaming channels; and
  • The elderly.

It is important to look out for the warning signs that you have be a victim of SIM hacking. It is then important to plan what the next steps are to ensure that you address the threat.

Do you know where the SIM card originated?

Further reading: History of SIM cards.

Types of SIM card security vulnerabilities

There are a number of key vulnerabilities that mobile users need to be aware of when it comes to SIM cards.

This complex attack carries out SIM card hacking by sending a piece of spyware-like code to a target device using an SMS message. If a user opens the message, hackers can use the code to spy on their calls and messages—and even track their location.

Another SIM card security issue you may have heard of is SIM card swapping. To perform a SIM card hacking through a SIM card swap, a hacker will first call up your phone provider. They’ll pretend to be you and ask for a replacement SIM card.

They’ll say they want to upgrade to a new device and, therefore, need a new SIM. If they are successful, the phone provider will send them the SIM. Then, they can steal your phone number and link it to their own device.

In a SIM clone attack, the hacker first gains physical access to your SIM card and then creates a copy of the original. The hacker will then take out your SIM from the smartphone. They do this with the help of a smart card copying software, which copies the unique identifier number (assigned to you) onto their blank SIM card. The hacker will then insert the newly copied SIM card into their smartphone.

Have you considered using a travel SIM card?

Further reading: What is a travel SIM card? (2022 international travellers guide).

How to prevent SIM swapping

There are a number of steps that one can take to prevent being a victim of SIM swapping fraud.

  1. Don’t reply to calls, emails or texts that request personal information. If you get such a request for account or personal information, contact the company directly on your own, using a phone number or website you know to be genuine;
  2. Use multi-factor authentication. As previously noted, two-factor authentication, 2FA for short, will be useless if the code to verify your identity arrives on the crook’s phone and he already knows your passcode;
  3. Protect the physical device. That means using the facial recognition or fingerprint scanning options common in smartphones today, Velasquez says, along with a PIN;
  4. Protect the physical SIM. You can lock your SIM with a numerical PIN you would have to enter every time you restart a device or remove a SIM. You can create such a PIN inside the settings on your iPhone or Android device; and
  5. Be careful what you post online. This generally means avoiding the kind of information often prompted by security questions, including birthdates, the name of your pet, your best friend’s first name and high school mascot.

SIM cards come in all shapes and sizes.

Further Reading: SIM card sizes, dimensions & types (2022 User guide).

5 Tips to prevent SIMjacker attacks

Unfortunately, no stand-alone method exists for users to stop SIM card attacks. It is the duty of mobile carriers to ensure their customers’ security. Above all, they should avoid using outdated SIM menu apps, as well as block SMS code containing dangerous commands.

But there’s some good news. There are some ways that you can prevent a simjacking attack:

  1. Don’t click on any link in a suspicious text. Unless you are confident that the link is safe and was sent by someone you know, do not click on it;
  2. Update your phones anti-virus on a regular basis;
  3. Use a VPN if you are able;
  4. Report any attacks to your mobile service provider; and
  5. If nessesary, remove your SIM card from your phone and shut your phone down as soon as you become aware of the attack.

Did you know that you have an identifiable number that registers you on the mobile network you are using?

Further reading: What is an IMSI number (2022 Technical guide).

Protecting your SIM card from cloning

The word cloning means to duplicate. As such, SIM cloning is the process in which a legitimate SIM card is duplicated. It means creating another SIM card with the exact same information as the original.

For the most part, physical access is key to SIM cloning. That means, that a SIM card can be cloned if you allow a 3rd party to get their hands on your SIM card. Duplicating a SIM card remotely is difficult, costly, and so is not common.

To protect your SIM card from being cloned, don’t let others get their hands on it. For example, if you are sending in your smartphone for repairs.

Secondly, enable a PIN on your card. If you have a security PIN active on your card, the process of duplicating it cannot be completed without the hacker entering that PIN.

What data is stored on a SIM card?

Further reading: What data is stored on a SIM card (2022 Technical guide).

5 Tips to prevent SIM Jacking

There are five important steps that you can take to prevent SIM jacking.

  1. Be wary of phishing emails, texts, and calls. Phishing is almost as old as the internet. It’s a social engineering attack often used to steal login credentials, credit card numbers, and other user data;
  2. Lock your phone number with your service provider. Many network service providers offer Port Freeze or Number Lock to protect your mobile number from unauthorized transfer;
  3. Use strong passwords and security questions. If you still use your birthday or middle name as a password, it’s time to stop. You need to come up with a strong password that is nearly impossible to guess;
  4. Turn on two-factor identification. 2FA is another way to quickly add an extra layer of security to your accounts; and
  5. Enable biometric authentication on your device. Passwords, PINs, and 2FAs are great. But face and touch ID offer a level of protection that exceeds those simply because they require your physical presence to work.

Have you ever wondered if your SIM card a unique, identifiable number?

Further reading: What is a ICCID number & why it’s important.

Safety tips against WIBattack attacks

SIM security is important. A WIBattack is a new form of SIM attacks that aims to gain access to a users SIM card.

There are two main ways that a user can increase their safety to these attaks.

There are two ways to look at this problem, one is from the perspective of the network operator. The other is the perspective of the end-user.

For network operators, it is essential to deploy relevant solutions to tackle this problem. Some of the solutions may include, replacing the vulnerable sim-cards to give the end-user 100% security. Another solution that might be worth looking into is filtering OTA SMS’s.

As far as the subscriber is concerned, if the sim-card that the subscriber is using is vulnerable. The best thing to do is to replace the sim-card and invest in a few bucks to ensure 100% security, it’s because if you go roaming to other networks, your network provider won’t be able to ensure your security.

How to know if a SIM card has been hacked

There are a number of ways to tell whether your SIM card has been hacked.

  • You’re no longer receiving calls and texts. If someone has cloned your SIM card or has convinced your network operator to switch your number to a new SIM card that they have in their possession, you won’t receive any more texts or phone calls;
  • Unrecognized numbers on your account. If you’re checking the outgoing calls on your bill and see numbers that you don’t recognize, it might be time to contact your network operator and try to get more information;
  • You receive a message requesting you to restart your device. One of the very first signs of SIM hacking that you’ll notice is a seemingly random text purporting to be from your network provider asking you to restart your device;
  • Your device appears in a different location on location-trackers. If you’re using something like Find My iPhone for iOS or Google’s Find my Device for Android, then this can be a good way to check for SIM problems; and
  • You’re locked out of your accounts. Lots of accounts utilize a security feature called two-factor authentication. This is a feature that prevents a hacker from accessing your account even if they know your username and password.

What to do if your SIM card is hacked

There are a number of important steps that you can take once you are aware that your phone has been hacked:

  • First, turn on your phones Safe Mode. Once this is enabled, delete all newly installed or unrecognized apps from your phone. Make sure to look for hidden apps;
  • Install and run mobile antivirus software. These applications will scan your phone for malicious files and apps that compromise your phone’s security and permanently remove them;
  • Reset your phone and PIN code. Doing this will ensure that if a hacker did get access to your login details and hacked your phone that way, they won’t be able to get back in once you restart your Android;
  • Reset account passwords. This includes banking and email passwords; and
  • Contact your carrier. This is the most important step you must take.

Armed with the information in this article, you should be able to identify a threat and respond appropriately.

SIM card security FAQ’s

  • Can someone hack my phone from my number?
    Yes. If someone steals your phone number, they become you — for all intents and purposes. With your phone number, a hacker can start hijacking your accounts one by one by having a password reset sent to your phone.
  • What information can be taken from a SIM card?
    Data that SIM cards contain include user identity, location and phone number, network authorization data, personal security keys, contact lists and stored text messages.
  • Can hackers get your SIM card?
    It’s absolutely possible for someone to clone or even hack your SIM card. However, it’s not that common – in fact installing spyware onto a victim’s device is a much more common practice used by hackers.
  • Do SIM cards hold any personal information?
    Data that SIM cards contain include user identity, location and phone number, network authorization data, personal security keys, contact lists and stored text messages.
  • Can someone spy on you through your SIM card?
    Installing spyware onto a victim’s device is a much more common practice used by hackers.
  • Can my SIM card be tracked?
    Your SIM card is unique to your device, and you can use it to track your phone’s location if it’s ever lost or stolen. Unfortunately, hackers can intercept communications between your SIM card and mobile provider to access your location information.