Smishing Triad Stretches Its Tentacles into the United Arab Emirates

Cyber Security Threat Summary:
Resecurity research has uncovered that the 'Smishing Triad' cybercrime group, known for conducting phishing attacks via SMS (smishing), has expanded its operations into the United Arab Emirates (UAE). Initially identified by Resecurity in August, this group had been targeting victims in various countries, including the U.S., UK, Poland, Sweden, Italy, Indonesia, and Japan.

In their recent findings, Resecurity detected the group's phishing campaign extending to the UAE. The group has registered domain names closely resembling those used in previous attacks. Notably, these domains were registered with Gname[.]com Pte. Ltd., a Singapore-based web registrar, with some domains listing Chinese entities as registrant organizations.

To further affirm their focus on the UAE, the Smishing Triad employed geo-fencing tactics, restricting access to their smishing pages to UAE citizens only. This geo-fencing was observed in phishing lures impersonating the Emirates Post, the official parcel delivery service of the UAE.

The Smishing Triad is also exploiting compromised Apple iCloud accounts and illegally acquired databases containing UAE citizens' personally identifying information (PII) to carry out their attacks. These databases are obtained from the Dark Web, and the attacks are launched from previously compromised iCloud accounts. Resecurity has alerted the National Computer Emergency Response Team for the UAE (AeCERT) about these activities” (SecurityAffairs, 2023).

Security Officer Comments:
The expansion of the Smishing Triad into the UAE aligns with a broader trend of increasing cyberattacks on the country. Mohammed Hamad Al Kuwaiti, Head of Cyber Security for the Government of the UAE, revealed that they thwart over 50,000 cyberattacks daily, with a focus on strategic sectors such as finance, healthcare, and energy.

Phishing attacks targeting individuals in the UAE have surged by 77% in the second quarter of 2023 compared to the previous quarter. These attacks commonly employ lures like undelivered parcels, Know Your Customer verification scams, promises of free money, and unusual email login alerts.

Suggested Correction(s):
Users should always be cautious of individuals or organizations that ask for personal information. Most companies will not ask for sensitive data from its customers. If in doubt, users should verify with the company itself to avoid any potential issues.

Users should always take a close look at the sender’s display name when checking the legitimacy of an email. Most companies use a single domain for their URLs and emails, so a message that originates from a different domain is a red flag.

As a general rule, users should not click links or download files even if they come from seemingly “trustworthy” sources.

Check for mismatched URLs. While an embedded URL might seem perfectly valid, hovering above it might show a different web address. In fact, users should avoid clicking links in emails unless they are certain that it is a legitimate link.

Users should always be on the lookout for any grammatical errors and spelling mistakes. Legitimate companies will often employ proofreaders and editors who ensure that the materials they send out are error-free.

Users should not be frightened or intimidated by messages that have an alarmist tone. They should double check with the company if they are uncertain about the status of their accounts.

Phishing emails are designed to be sent to a large number of people, so they need to be as impersonal as possible. Users should check whether the message contains a generic subject and greeting, as this can be a sign of a phishing attempt.

Although not every end user has access to advanced anti-phishing software, they can still use the built-in protection of their email clients to filter messages. One example is setting the email client to block all images unless approved.

Legitimate companies will never send confirmation emails unless there are specific reasons for doing so. In fact, most companies will avoid sending unsolicited messages unless it’s for company updates, newsletters, or advertising purposes.

Users should always take the context of an email or message into account. For example, most online accounts do away with viewable member numbers, so users should be wary if they receive emails containing a “member number” for services that generally don’t use them.

It is important to take note of unusual information in the text of the message. Any mentions of operating systems and software that are not typically used by consumers can often be indicators of a phishing attempt.

If it seems suspicious, it probably is. Users should always err on the side of caution when it comes to sending out personally identifiable information through messages and emails.