SMS Verification 2024: How to Get Started (and What It Is)

March 5, 2024 | By Sam Pelton
cartoon representation of a text message bubble and security lock with somebody using a laptop

Remember the days of scribbling passwords on sticky notes or racking your brain for that forgotten security question?

Thankfully, technology has evolved, and so has the way we secure our online identities.

Enter SMS verification—a security tactic that gives consumers an easy and secure way to access their accounts, and allows businesses to offer that level of security.

That’s why a reported 93% of businesses use SMS verification.

But how does SMS verification work? How can you offer it to your users? If you’re an account user, what are options if you don’t want to give out your own phone number (or if you don’t have one)?

Let’s get into all of that and more in this article.

What Is SMS Verification?

SMS verification is a form of 2-factor authentication that involves requiring users to input a unique code they receive via SMS before they can access their online accounts.

This can be just for initial access to the account, or it can be an ongoing requirement for every login.

Thus, SMS verification is a security measure that adds an extra layer of protection to your online accounts. Instead of relying solely on your password, which can be cracked or stolen, it uses your mobile phone as a second form of authentication.

Even if someone manages to guess or steal your password, they usually won't be able to bypass the SMS verification barrier without physical access to your phone—significantly reducing the risk of account hacking and unauthorized access.

And with almost 20% of passwords being compromised by some reports, added layers of security can be vital.

Why Use SMS Verification?

Some Illustrations…

SMS verification helps protect both businesses and users in a couple of ways.

To illustrate, imagine this…

Let’s say there’s a nefarious hacker. And let’s call him Bill. (Very nefarious-sounding.)

Hacker Bill has obtained access to your account password.

And he wants to use that password to try to log in to your account on your favorite online retail store—so that he can make some purchases using the credit card you have stored on the site.

But alas, Bill is thwarted…

How? Because when he enters the credentials on the login page, he’s hit with a notice that says a code has been sent to the phone number on file.

Since Bill does not have access to that phone number, he gives up, rethinks his life choices, and decides to become a missionary instead. (OK, maybe just wishful thinking…)

Or here’s another scenario…

Let’s say there’s another fellow, John.

John notices that a SaaS website has a free trial. He wants to take full advantage of the free trial—and then more. His plan is to create multiple accounts and then just keep using the free trials so that he can continue to get the service for free.

But alas, John is thwarted…

How? Because whenever he tries to create an account, the site requires him to input a code he receives via SMS. But it doesn’t let him enter the same phone number multiple times.

He could, of course, get around this by setting up multiple virtual phone numbers or by using other people’s phones. But this is much more tedious and untenable than it would be without the SMS verification process.

So SMS verification saves the day again.

Summary Benefits

Why Use SMS Verification? with the bullet lists shown below and padlock icons or corresponding icons for each bullet

Although SMS verification can introduce a bit of added friction to the account creation and/or login process, the benefits are often worth it for both businesses and individual users.

To give a brief summary of the benefits…

For businesses:

  • Enhanced security
  • Improved user trust
  • Fraud prevention

For individuals:

  • Enhanced security
  • Peace of mind
  • Convenience (compared to more complicated security measures)

How Can You Set Up SMS Verification?

To offer SMS verification services, you need access to an SMS platform or API that will give you the tools you need to set up your verification process.

Your first step is to set up a free trial.

Then either you or your developers can access the API documentation to determine how to create an SMS verification procedure.

The API will allow you to program things so that…

  • It takes a phone number someone enters as an input
  • It checks if the phone number is valid
  • It fires off a code to the phone number via SMS
  • When the code is entered, it checks the phone number and code combination to make sure it’s correct

In addition to having the right tools and setup, you’ll need to determine the best point in the process to implement it for your website.

Do you want to implement it just at signup? On the first login? On every login?

Your answer to this may depend on the sensitivity of your product/service.

What Is an SMS Verification Code?

An SMS verification code is a code that is sent to an end user when the SMS verification process is initiated.

The code is connected to their phone number and functions as a one-time password the user must enter (typically in addition to their normal account password) in order to access their online account.

The SMS verification codes usually expire after a period of time, adding even more security to the process.

How Do You Get an SMS Verification Number?

Let’s say you’re an end user trying to create an account and you’re asked to provide a phone number for verification purposes.

But let’s say you don’t want to provide your own personal phone number. Are there options for you?

Yes, there are!

Services such as ours at Mobile Text Alerts will give you access to a virtual phone number that you could use for this purpose.

Less Discussed Aspects of SMS Verification…

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SMS Verification vs. Biometric Verification with the following side by side and attractive geometric elements or icons:

SMS Verification

  • May be less secure in some cases than biometric verification
  • Less convenient for users than biometric verification

Biometric Verification

  • More invasive than SMS verification
  • Not appropriate for every business (may be considered overkill) ]

SMS Verification vs. Biometric Verification

Biometric verification (for example, verification via fingerprint or facial recognition) has risen in popularity in recent years.

So should your business offer SMS verification, biometric verification, or both?

Here are are few of the cons of SMS verification…

  • SMS verification may be a bit less secure in some cases than biometric verification, because SMS is not encrypted so theoretically people could still gain unauthorized access to your SMS and use it to get into your account
  • SMS verification is a bit less convenient than biometric verification, because SMS verification requires the user to take an extra step of having to get the code from their phone

However, despite those challenges, SMS verification is less invasive than biometric verification.

People may feel uncomfortable with a business having their face or fingerprint on record but would usually feel less uncomfortable providing their phone number.

And depending on the type of business you run, biometric verification may be considered invasive overkill.

What About People Who Don’t Have Access to a Phone?

While the majority of people in the United States have access to a mobile phone that they can use for SMS verification, there may be some people who do not, or who don’t want to give out their mobile number.

What can you do for those people?

Because of situations like those, it’s often best for businesses to offer alternative methods of verification.

The alternative method could be...

  • Email verification
  • Voice call verification
  • A security challenge
  • An authentication app

What About People with Disabilities?

Millions of people in the United States have disabilities.

While SMS verification offers valuable security benefits, one issue you may not think about is how it could inadvertently create barriers for individuals with disabilities—further marginalizing them in the digital world.

For example, visually impaired people might have a hard time reading verification codes on small screens or navigating verification processes presented visually.

Users with motor impairments might similarly face difficulties entering codes due to tremors, limited hand mobility, or reliance on assistive technologies.

Processing information quickly or remembering codes might also be challenging for individuals with cognitive disabilities, creating frustration and anxiety.

If you might have users like this for your own site or app, you’ll want to be aware of these challenges. Again, offering alternative methods of verification can be helpful to give people more of a range of options for which verification method works for them.

FAQ on SMS Verification

Here are some answers to your frequently asked questions…

Is SMS verification free?

SMS verification is typically free for end users to take advantage of as they try to log in or access their account. (If the end user’s phone plan charges for text messages, they will have to pay their standard messaging fee.)

In order for a business to offer SMS verification, you will likely need to pay a fee to access message sending capabilities.

How do I get a free virtual mobile number for SMS verification?

If you don’t want to use your own phone number when going through SMS verification, you don’t need to.

There are options to get virtual numbers to use instead. Free options may not offer the best experience (for example, many just give you temporary access to a publicly accessible phone number with everyone being able to view the responses). But services such as Google Voice may be a good option for you.

You can also use full services such as ours at Mobile Text Alerts to get a dedicated virtual phone number that you can keep—and you can have access to a robust platform to manage and send out mass text messages.

How can I do SMS verification online?

You can do SMS verification online rather than on your own phone using a VOIP or online SMS platform such as Mobile Text Alerts.

These kinds of services will give you access to a virtual phone number that you can use just like a real phone number.

A popular free VOIP service is Google Voice. Our service at Mobile Text Alerts gives you a robust platform for sending mass text messages and includes a free VOIP to send and receive messages.

SMS Verification Isn’t Complicated

As you can see, SMS verification isn’t rocket science. The concept is simple and valuable to boost security for end users.

Interested in implementing it for your business? Get a free trial account of the Mobile Text Alerts API now to see how it might work for you.

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