Another Attack Vector For SMS Interception

SMS codes for 2FAs have been discussed for a long time, and everyone knowledgeable in security knows they are not secure. What’s more – you should remove your phone number from sensitive services like Gmail, because if an attacker can fallback to SMS, the account is compromised.

Many authors have discussed how insecure SMS is, including Brian Krebbs, citing an example of NetNumber ID abuse, in addition to SIM Swap attacks and SS7 vulnerabilities.

Another aspect that I recently thought about is again related to intermediaries. Bulk SMS resellers integrate with various telecoms around the globe and accept outgoing SMS by API calls, which they then forward to a telecom in the relevant country. Global companies that send a lot of SMS try to look for cheap bulk deals (you are probably aware that Twitter/X recently decided to charge for SMS 2FA, because it was incurring high costs). These services are sometimes called a2p (application to person).

This means that intermediaries receive the 2FA code before it reaches the subscriber. A malicious insider or an attacker that compromises those intermediaries can thus have access to 2FA codes before they reach the subscriber.

I don’t know if this attack vector has been used, but it is a valid attack – if an attacker knows the intermediaries that a given service is using, they can either try to compromise the systems of the intermediaries, or gain access through a compromised insider. In either scenario, the victim’s 2FA code will be accessible to the attacker in real time.

This just reinforces the rule of thumb – don’t rely on SMS for two-factor authentication.

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