In Cyber Safety

What is a Text Bomb? Is it for Real?

text bomb

Are Text Bombs for real?

Earlier, Forbes estimated global text messaging would peak at 3.6 trillion messages per year and claimed that this would happen during the year of 2012. After that, Forbes expected global text messaging to decline. Portio Research said, the actual number of global text messaging in 2012 was 7.6 trillion messages sent and they do agree that text messaging, in total numbers, is on a slight global decline. Global text messaging will be around 7 trillion during 2015 representing revenues of over US$112 billion for that year.

According to CNN, it has been over twenty-two years since the first text message of “Merry Christmas.” This was sent on Dec. 3, 1992, by Vodafone engineer, Neil Papworth to Richard Jarvis who was on Vodafone’s board of directors. Forbes underestimated the total global interest in text messaging and perhaps Portio Research has done the same. Text messaging may see another unpredicted uptake because of the phenomenon of text bombing.

What is Text Bombing?

Text bombing is similar to how a Denial of Service (DOS) attack works on websites. In a DOS attack, many computers attempt to log on to the same website at the same time. This makes the computer servers hosting the website unable to keep up with the response requests. This essentially takes the website down and out of service because no one with a legitimate need is able to access the website.

Text bombing is when a similar thing happens to a cell phone. So many text messages are received by the cell phone in a repetitive and relentless fashion that the phone becomes almost unusable during the attack.

Difference Between a DOS Attack and Text Bombing

The one big thing different between a DOS attack organized by computer hackers against a particular website and a text bombing attack organized by a text bomber is that text bombing is incredibly easy to set up and achieve.

A DOS attack requires the coordination of massive amounts (millions) of separate computers. Computers that do not have proper virus removal protection may become part of a network of “zombie” computers and used without the owner’s knowledge to conduct a DOS attack. Nevertheless, for a DOS attack it still takes millions of participating computers for the attack to be effective. For a text bombing attack, it only takes one computer and one mobile phone with unlimited text messaging.

How to Text Bomb

Almost anyone can learn how to text bomb someone else in a matter of a few minutes. They can do a simple manual text bombing attack of a few messages or they can go online and find software that allows them to set up a text bomb attack and run it automatically.

It is not our intent to encourage text bombing. The software and instructions on how to set up a text bomb are easy to find on the Internet. Sending a text bomb from computer to a mobile phone is certainly on the list of annoying pranks. At first, it seems like silly fun, yet it crosses the line to become illegal harassment when the prank gets out of hand.

The Impact of Text Bombing

The trouble with prank text messages is they are too easy to send. Because of this, it is difficult to convince those who learn how to send text bombs not to send them. The consequences on the receiver’s side of the attack are ignored. What if someone has an emergency while under a text bomb attack and really needs their phone to work?

The Disturbing Dark Side of the SMS Bomb

A single person can use a text bomb app to launch an attack. In addition, other people may be asked to join in. Sometimes, for example, posts have been made on popular Twitter accounts asking the millions of followers to text bomb a particular person. This is like mixing text bombing with a DOS attack and increases the amount of text messages astronomically.

A mobile phone subject to such a massive long-term attack needs to have its account closed or at least the text-messaging feature disabled to be useful. It is all just a prank, nothing to worry about right? Wrong.

As reported in a story by KSLA News the severe negative effects of this text bombing trend were implicated in the suicide death of fifteen-year old Danielle Cox. This girl from Louisiana was so tormented by the constant negative text messages saying derogatory things and messages telling her to end her life that she committed suicide. Text bombing was used to send 150 different messages making it appear that they came from Danielle’s different classmates and that everyone thought she was worthless. She had no idea that all the messages came from one girl.

The mother of Danielle is suing the parents of the girl who set up the text bombing attack. The basis for the lawsuit is because Danielle’s mother did not think the other girl’s parents used adequate supervision of their daughter’s computer use. Text bombing of this kind is harassment. In the UK and in other countries this is a serious crime especially when it encourages a person to commit suicide.

Revenge Text Bombing

Text bombing is used by those who want to get even with ex-partners from failed relationships or with their bosses. One guy bought an old mobile phone, and then purchased a one-month prepaid cell phone service card that included unlimited text messages. Next, he sent 40,000 messages to a boss he disliked. Reddit has a section in their blog about petty revenge where the guy told exactly what he did.

Imagine getting 10,000 messages that jam up a mobile saying something like, “I have the evidence on what you did. And I am going to use it!” Even when this is not true, it would give everyone pause to think. If they haven’t done anything seriously wrong, at least they are put into fear of being stalked.

The other thing that may happen on the receiver’s side of a text bomb attack is that they are charged for the text messages. If the receiver’s phone does not have an unlimited text message plan, after the monthly limit is reached for text messages, the mobile phone company begins to bill that phone for every other text message that comes in.

A text bomb attack could easily run up a mobile phone bill to thousands of dollars in text charges. Usually the mobile companies will reverse the charges after enough calls to customer service to protest the bill, but the process is a difficult hassle at best.

Stopping Text Bombing

There is no way of stopping a text bomber from attempting a text bomb attack, however there are two things that can be done, which are:

  1. The ability to receive text bomb attacks can be blocked.
  2. A parent can turn off the ability to send text bombs for a mobile phone they own that are used by their teenager or child.

Here’s how to do take these two safety precautions to avoid a cyber-bullying catastrophe and stop any possible annoyance.

Step Number One – Put up a Software Defense

There are software programs that block text messages for Android phones, such as Text Bomb Defender. This software blocks identical messages and those coming rapidly from the same source. Another good software for Android phones is Anti SMS bomber Pro. This software allows a person to block unknown numbers, blacklist numbers, and block keywords or names. For iPhones, a text bomb iPhone software to use is NumberCop, which stops text bombs and blocks phone spam.

Step Number Two – Disable Text Bomb Attack Capacity on the Mobile Phones of Children

Take the phone to the mobile carrier to make sure it is not “rooted.” A rooted phone allows the user to have administrative control over the phone’s operation rather than the mobile phone’s system software from the mobile phone carrier.

The Android operating system of 2.3 or later only allows thirty SMS text messages from the same phone to be sent at the same time. Older android phones or ones that are rooted are still able to send out tens of thousands of SMS text messages when driven by a text bombing software command.

Summary

We can only hope that overall text messaging goes down instead of up due to something as nefarious as popularization of text bombing. In the meantime, parents would be wise to take the simple steps listed above to reduce the potential of the text bomb problem.

 

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