Are SMS Text Messages Safer Than E-Mails?

There is quite a bit of a debate as to whether SMS text messages are safer than emails. This is because it will be dependent on what is meant by ‘safety’. Let’s explain.

When SMS Text Messages Are Safer Than Emails

Let’s start with the times that SMS text messages can be a little bit safer than emails.

Viruses & Malware 

Emails can have viruses, malware, etc. attached to them. It is incredibly easy to click one of these links or attachments and download some pretty bad software to your computer. In fact, it is much more common than you may think. Even experienced computer users do it from time to time.

SMS text messages cannot have that sort of thing attached to them. They can include a link to something, but that is about it. As long as you don’t click that link (and it is normally blindingly obvious that you shouldn’t click that link) then you should be fine. Most people aren’t going to be bothered trying to get a virus or malware onto a phone anyway. Phones have far, far too many safeguards in place and it is unlikely that it would happen.

Sender Spoofing 

Ok. We admit that senders can be spoofed if you receive a text message. It is exceedingly unlikely, though.

You have to remember that for most of the people that you would want to receive an SMS, you are going to have their phone numbers already. The likelihood of those people being spoofed is pretty close to zero. You could easily look up the phone number and potential scams from anybody else.

Email is completely different. Spoofing is insanely common there and, of course, you don’t need to have a person listed in your contact list for their name to be displayed. Many people have fallen for email spoofing scams because they seem so much more realistic.

So, basically, the main safety of SMS messages comes from the lower chance of you being scammed. We are not saying that the chance of being scammed is zero. It is just going to be far lower than with email and, as anybody who has used email can attest, the risk there is pretty high. 

When SMS Text Messages Are Not As Safe As Emails

So, what is wrong with SMS text messages? Where do the issues with safety lie? Well, there are a few problems here.

Do note that we are talking about actual SMS messages here. We know that there are some apps like WhatsApp that claims to be SMS messages, but they aren’t really. It is just a message sent in an app. This means that the advantages of using something like that won’t compare to SMS in the slightest. 

SMS Messages Are Not Encrypted

SMS protocols require SMS messages to be unencrypted. This means that the message sent by the sender is going to fly through the cellular network in the same way. No text is going to be obscured. Nothing.

This means a couple of things.

Firstly, your SMS service provider is going to be able to read the SMS. They probably won’t want to read it, but they can read it if they wished. You probably shouldn’t worry about this part too much. While they can read it, they are only ever going to read in a limited situation e.g. if they have a warrant from the police.

Your biggest concern is that SMS messages can be ‘snooped’ on. There could be somebody that intercepts the SMS message when it is floating around out there. If they do that, they can read the message. The chances of this happening are much lower than in the past, mostly because far fewer SMS are now being sent, but it is not impossible that this could happen to you. 

SMS Messages Are Temporarily Stored On Servers

SMS messages are going to be stored on the servers of your cellular provider. They are going to be stored unencrypted. This means that if their servers got hacked, then your SMS messages are at risk. Granted, most providers will delete the SMS messages a couple of days after they have been delivered, but some do not.

Email servers could still be hacked. We understand that. However, the vast majority of the big email hosting companies have fantastic servers. The chances of them losing an email are going to be minimal. That, and it probably wouldn’t matter too much anyway due to the amount of encryption behind their servers. 

Anybody That Has Your Phone Can Potentially See Your SMS Messages

If you dropped your phone (and it didn’t have a password on it) then anybody would be able to see your SMS messages being received. You have almost no way to lockdown that phone and prevent the messages from flowing in.

The same cannot be said for email. Obviously, somebody could guess your password and get into your account. This may have happened to you in the past. It isn’t all that uncommon. However, you do have options in place should this happen e.g. changing your password, or the email system may prevent somebody from getting in if they are unknown (normally with 2FA in place).

Of course, this is an issue that you could get around with if you kept a password on your phone. 

Conclusion – Are SMS Text Messages Safer Than E-Mails?

While there are some issues with SMS text messages, it is a relatively safe way to send and receive messages. It may not always be as safe as email, however, the vast majority of problems that would have made SMS unsafe have virtually disappeared. People aren’t snooping on cellular networks as much nowadays. Passwords can stop your SMS from being read, etc.

So, don’t worry about sending an SMS. While your message will be sent unencrypted, nobody is really going to be looking at your messages, even if the possibility is there. It just isn’t worth it nowadays. 


Kokou Adzo

Kokou Adzo is a seasoned professional with a strong background in growth strategies and editorial responsibilities. Kokou has been instrumental in driving companies' expansion and fortifying their market presence. His academic credentials underscore his expertise; having studied Communication at the Università degli Studi di Siena (Italy), he later honed his skills in growth hacking at the Growth Tribe Academy (Amsterdam).


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