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Banks urged to scrap use of SMS in the wake of rising scam cases

Rising SMS-related banking scams continue to expose a damaging weakness in Singapore’s cybersecurity infrastructure, one that remains challenging to pinpoint exactly where given the hyper-connectedness of our networks today.

Banks, telcos, payment providers and government agencies all have some part to play in beefing up their own systems, experts said, calling for stronger cooperation within the industry as well.

“No single entity can address this alone. Cybersecurity is a team sport and it is constantly evolving,” Koo Juan Huat, Cisco director of cybersecurity for Asean, told The Business Times.

That said, banks, dealing directly with customers’ money, are expected to shoulder more liability beyond just public warnings.

Online banking fraud has taken many forms as cybercriminals become increasingly sophisticated. SMS-related attacks, in particular, have grown more prevalent even with customer education efforts.

Last December, at least S$8.5 million was lost to SMS phishing scams impersonating OCBC.

It is also possible to fall victim to unauthorised transactions without receiving or revealing OTPs to others. Between September to December 2020, attackers gained access to the systems of overseas telcos to divert SMS OTPs and authenticate fraudulent card transactions amounting to S$500,000, affecting 75 bank customers in Singapore.

To be sure, banks’ internal systems are generally uncompromised in such situations. “Of course, we shouldn’t dismiss an option of banks’ security systems being compromised, but I assume we would hear about much more money stolen if that were the case,” said Acronis co-founder Stas Protassov.

But being the parties impersonated by attackers, banks’ defence measures need to protect more than just their own systems, said Yeo Siang Tiong, Kaspersky general manager for South-east Asia.

BT understands that one of the local banks has plans to stop including hyperlinks in all its SMS communications, even for marketing purposes.

Some experts suggest the lenders scrap SMS completely: both as a customer-facing communication tool and as a secure channel for OTPs…

Ultimately, experts concurred that customers still need to play a big part in being vigilant. The rule of thumb is to avoid clicking on hyperlinks that come through SMSes or any text messages, said Jeremy Ho, Asia-Pacific vice president of Attivo Networks.

“Many users bank online with their mobile phones, and with a smaller screen, they have to be mindful not to overlook fake websites and provide sensitive information unknowingly,” he added.

Read the full article by Natalie Choy on The Business Times.

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