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Is SMS encrypted and what should your business do about it

Alia Paavola
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In the past, the security of SMS wasn’t at the forefront of discussions. But as it grows in popularity for multi-factor authentication and other business use cases, more people are asking for clarity about the safety of SMS.

One of the most common questions is: are text messages encrypted? While you may find conflicting information online, we spoke to our Head of Security to get you all the facts. Read on to dive deeper into the answer and what businesses can do about it.

What is end-to-end encryption?

End-to-end encryption is a security protocol that ensures that messages and data are encrypted throughout the entire communication process, from sender to recipient, and only the intended recipient is able to decrypt and read the message. It is designed to prevent malicious third parties from accessing data or intercepting communications. With end-to-end encryption, no third party can view message content in transit or store it in a readable format.

Is SMS encrypted?

Standard SMS is not and will never be end-to-end encrypted. SMS encryption is performed wholly by mobile carriers who typically use weak encryption such as CDMA or GSM. SMS messages are sent in plain text, meaning anyone snooping on traffic can intercept and read them. 

Additionally, mobile carriers often store text messages sent on their networks for varying amounts of time. These message records can be subpoenaed. 

Risks of unencrypted SMS

Understanding the risks of unencrypted text messages can help protect your business. It also can help you decide which information your business should share via SMS and which information you shouldn’t.

  • Man-in-the-middle attacks. This occurs when an attacker intercepts communication using a vulnerability, allowing them to read the conversation or even modify the message sent.

  • Unauthorized access. Unencrypted text messages can be read by mobile carriers, government authorities, and hackers. This means any sensitive information shared over text could be exposed.

  • The wrong recipient could read your message. If you accidentally send a text message to the wrong number, that person will be able to read the message.

  • Hackers could gain unauthorized access to accounts. Textline’s security analyst Daniel de Jesus recommends not using SMS for user authentication purposes, especially in industries dealing with highly-sensitive information, like banking accounts. That’s because SMS codes can be intercepted by malicious attackers to gain access to accounts. Instead, our security expert recommends authenticator applications like 1Password or Authy, to provide an extra layer of security.

Read more about the security risks associated with SMS

So, is SMS a secure communication channel for businesses?

Even though SMS is not encrypted, you can improve its security and stay compliant with data protection laws using the right business texting platform. That’s because secure SMS platforms have safeguards in place to protect businesses and their data.

On secure SMS platforms, sensitive business data and customer data are protected. Textline, for example, has advanced data encryption. We encrypt all the data we control. All web traffic is encrypted using strict Secure Socket Layer connections and enforced by our web application firewall. Plus, all application data at rest is encrypted, including photos and attachments. 

There are also other security measures these platforms take, including multi-factor authentication, whitelisted IPs, and more. These prevent unauthorized parties from accessing and viewing data within the platform.

However, as we mentioned earlier, SMS messages are not private. This means businesses should limit sensitive data shared over SMS.

Here are nine tips about improving the security of SMS.  

Make messaging more secure with Textline

Textline is the most secure business texting platform on the market. We lock down all data on our platform to protect sensitive business information. With access to features like data encryption, team training, and multi-factor authentication, you can improve the security of business texting.

Plus, with our patented messaging consent feature, you can ensure you remain compliant with TCPA and data protection laws.

Try Textline for your business today. Unlock your 14-day free trial now.

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