Protect Yourself from Social Engineering: The Most Successful Attack Method

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Social Engineering Attacks

Social engineering is a form of cyber attack that manipulates individuals into giving away personal information or conducting actions that benefit the attacker.

It has become one of the most successful forms of cyber attack because it takes advantage of our tendency to trust and help others.

Up to 90% of malicious data breaches involve social engineering, as it’s often easier to trick an employee into handing over sensitive information than it is to gain entry through brute force.

This article will explore common social engineering techniques and how to prevent falling victim to them.  

 

What is a Social Engineering Attack?

Social engineering is not a traditional cyber attack, but rather a psychological tactic that targets the mind like a con artist.

The goal is to gain the trust of the target and manipulate them into engaging in risky behaviour, such as revealing personal information or clicking on potentially malicious links or attachments. 

The process of a social engineering attack involves multiple stages. The attacker first conducts research on the intended victim to gather information, such as potential entry points and vulnerable security protocols, needed to proceed with the attack.

Then, the attacker attempts to build the victim’s trust and provide stimuli for actions that violate security practices, such as disclosing sensitive information or granting access to crucial resources.

 

How Does Social Engineering Work?

Social engineering is extremely dangerous because it relies on human error instead of software or operating system vulnerabilities. Human errors are much less predictable, making them harder to detect and prevent than malware-based intrusions.

A cybercriminal will communicate with the victim while posing as someone from a reputable organization. In some cases, they may even impersonate someone the victim knows.

If the manipulation is successful and the victim believes the attacker is who they claim to be, the attacker will encourage the victim to take further action.

This could include revealing sensitive information such as passwords, birth dates, or bank account information. Or, they may convince the victim to visit a website that contains malicious software that can harm the victim’s computer.

In the worst-case scenario, the malicious website steals sensitive data from the device or takes complete control of the device.

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Digital Social Engineering

Here we will focus on the most common types of social engineering attacks used against victims. Social engineering attacks come in various forms and can occur in any place where human interaction is present.

The most common forms of digital social engineering attacks are:

1. Phishing

The most common type of social engineering attack is phishing. It usually takes the form of an email that appears to come from a legitimate source. Phishing emails may try to coerce the victim into revealing credit card or other personal information.

In some cases, phishing emails are sent to obtain employee login information or other details for use in a sophisticated attack against the target company. Advanced persistent threats (APTs) and ransomware attacks often start with phishing attempts.

Most phishing scams aim to achieve three goals: collect personal data such as names, addresses, and Social Security numbers; use misleading or shortened links that redirect users to malicious websites that host phishing landing pages; and use fear and a sense of urgency to manipulate the user into responding immediately.

3. Baiting

Baiting is a form of social engineering attack where attackers offer free giveaways or disseminate infected devices to lure victims into compromising their security.

One of the most pernicious forms of baiting is distributing malware through physical media, such as flash drives infected with malware that are placed in areas where potential victims are likely to see them, such as restrooms, elevators, or parking lots of the targeted company.

These baits have a convincing appearance, such as being labeled as the company’s payroll list, and when victims take the bait and insert it into their work or personal computer, it results in the automatic installation of malware.

4. Scareware

Scareware is a type of malicious software that tricks victims into visiting malicious websites or purchasing meaningless products by presenting a pop-up warning that their security software is out-of-date or that malicious content has been detected on their machine.

 

Physical Social Engineering

When it comes to cybersecurity, it’s important to also consider the physical aspects of data and asset protection.

Certain individuals in an organization, such as help desk personnel, receptionists, and frequent travelers, may be more susceptible to in-person physical social engineering attacks.

To defend against these attacks, organizations should implement physical security controls, such as visitor records and background checks. Employees in higher-risk positions for social engineering attacks may also benefit from training specific to physical social engineering attacks.

1. Targeted Phishing

Targeted phishing, also known as spear phishing, is a form of email attack where fraudsters target a specific individual with their message.

This type of attack is more difficult to detect than standard phishing schemes as it is specifically addressed to the target, reducing suspicions that it may be fraudulent.

An attacker may impersonate an organization’s IT consultant and send an email to one or more employees, worded and signed precisely as the consultant would, leading recipients to believe it is an authentic message.

The message instructs recipients to change their password and provides a link that directs them to a malicious page, allowing the attacker to obtain their credentials.

2. CEO Fraud

CEO (or CxO) fraud is another form of social engineering attack where cybercriminals gather information about an organization’s structure and critical executive personnel.

Similar to pretexting, attackers use the credibility of the source of the request, such as the CFO, to persuade an employee to perform financial transactions or provide sensitive and valuable information. This type of attack is also known as executive phishing or business email compromise (BEC).

 

Methods to Prevent Social Engineering Attacks

To carry out their schemes and lure victims into their traps, social engineers manipulate human emotions such as curiosity and fear.

Organizations must assist their employees in defending against these attacks by incorporating the following suggestions into their security awareness training programs:

1. Do Not Open Emails or Attachments From Unknown Senders

If you do not recognize the correspondent, you are not required to respond to the email. If you know the sender but are suspicious of their message, confirm the information from other sources, such as the telephone or the service provider’s website.

Contact a friend or family member in person or by phone if they send you a suspicious email.

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2. Be Wary of Tempting Offers 

If an offer sounds too good to be true, it likely is. You can quickly determine whether you’re dealing with a legitimate offer or a trap by using Google to research the topic.

3. Develop a Culture of Risk Awareness

Developing a culture of risk awareness among employees is essential to ensuring that they are vigilant against social engineering attacks.

These attacks often rely on naiveté and human error to cause harm, so it’s important for organizations to strengthen their cyber security.

This will help employees understand how to prevent attacks and know where to report incidents if they occur.

 

In a Nutshell 

Social engineering is a deceptive technique used by hackers to trick individuals into divulging sensitive information or gaining access to systems.

It’s popular because it exploits human nature, using emotions such as trust, fear, and curiosity to manipulate people into doing things they wouldn’t normally do.

However, there are methods to prevent these attacks, and this article has provided information on common social engineering techniques and advice on how to avoid falling victim to them.

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Related articles:

Types of DDoS Attacks (Distributed Denial of Service)

Ransomware: The Silent Killer That Can Cost You Everything

How to Prevent and Mitigate Against Phishing Attacks

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