Social engineering involves tricking a user into divulging sensitive information or taking action that enables a hacker to gain unauthorized access to systems.
In social engineering attacks, hackers take advantage of a potential victim’s natural tendencies and emotional reaction. Attackers use social engineering tactics because is it easier to exploit your natural inclination to trust that it is to discover other ways to hack your systems. It is easier to fool someone into sharing their password than it is for a criminal to try to hack the password unless it is feeble.
- Social engineering involves tricking an unsuspecting user into taking an action that enables a cybercriminal to access systems and data
- Attackers use social engineering tactics because is it easier to exploit your natural inclination to trust
- Popular social engineering tactics include baiting, phishing, spear-phishing, email hacking and contact spamming, pretexting, vishing, and quid pro quo.
- Install a security product, update your software, and be vigilant to prevent social engineering attacks.
Humans – The Weakest Link in Security
If you ask any security professional, they will tell you that the weakest link in the security chain is the human who accepts a person or scenario at face value. It does not matter how many security tools an organization has, if employees trust strangers without determining their legitimacy, then the company is completely exposed.
Types of Social Engineering?
There are different social engineering tricks that hackers leverage to steal confidential information.
- Baiting: a hacker dangles a bait to entice a target into acting. This social engineering attack is analogous with a fish reacting to a worm on a hook. For example, an attacker might leave a USB stick loaded with malware at an office’s reception or lounge. Additionally, the hacker might label the device in a compelling way, such as “Salaries,” “Payments,” or “Confidential.” The chances are that a victim will take the USB stick and plug into a computer. Such action triggers malware to execute and self-replicate automatically.
- Phishing: Phishing is a popular way a hacker uses to grab information from users. In this social engineering trick, a malicious actor typically sends an email or text to a target, seeking action or information that might enable the attacker to commit a more significant crime. A phishing email appears to come from a trusted source, such as a bank requesting the victim to update their account details. Clicking the link takes you to a fake website controlled by hackers
- Spear-Phishing: In this attack, a hacker targets of spears a specific victim. An attacker might gather information such as the name and email address of the target. The criminal sends an email that appears to come from a credible source, such as a senior executive.
- Email Hacking and Contact Spamming: A hacker with access to a victims email account can send spam emails to the contact list, making the recipient believe that they are receiving the emails from someone they know. Cybercriminals hack emails and spam contacts to spread malware and trick people into revealing personal information
- Pretexting: Hackers use impressive pretext or ploy to capture a victim’s attention. For instance, they can send an email with the target as a beneficiary of a will. Attackers request the victim to share personal information and bank details to transfer the funds
- Quid Pro Quo: In this attack, fraudsters trick a victim into believing that a fair exchange will take place. For instance, a hacker may call a target pretending to be a customer representative or an IT technician. They request a victim’s login credentials, promising to offer technical support in return.
- Vishing: this social engineering attack is a voice version of phishing attacks. An attacker uses the phone to trick a victim into sharing confidential information. For example, a criminal might call an employee posing as a co-worker. With accurate background information, the criminal might lure the victim into sharing credentials and other information that grants access to company systems and data.
Popular Compelling Pretext in Social Engineering
Social engineering attacks, including phishing and pretext, are responsible for 93 percent of successful data breaches. Some practical approaches in social engineering tactics include:
- Urgently asking the victim for help
- Using phishing attacks with a legitimate-seeming background
- Requesting you to donate to a charitable fundraiser, or some other cause (this compelling approach is popular during the COVID-19 pandemic)
- Present a problem that requires a victim to verify their information by clicking on a link and sharing the information in a form
- Notifying you that you are a winner
- Hacker posing like a boss or co-worker
How Can You Prevent Social Engineering Attacks?
These are some of the tips to help you avoid social engineering attacks:
- Be Vigilant: An USB stick bit is not always a safe find. Always be on the lookout of the source since hackers could load such baits with malicious programs waiting to infect your computer. A text or email requesting you to update your bank details isn’t necessary from your financial service providers. It would be best if you always understood that hackers easily spoof trusted sources. That said, do not click on links or open attachments from suspicious sources. Always type a URL in your browsers URL bar instead of clicking on a link shared via text or email
- Install a Security Product: Install antivirus software or a security suite. Keep the antivirus updated.
- Update Software: Ensure that your computer and other devices are running the latest versions of the operating systems and other applications. Set the operating systems to download and install updates automatically.
- Leverage Email Services Security Controls: Some email programs and services offer controls to filter out junk email, including scams. Set your spam filters high to block as much junk and malicious emails as possible.
Do not wait until your systems and confidential information are already in the hands of hackers. Instead of reacting to a breach, be proactive and vigilant to prevent social engineering incidents.
I am a cyber security professional with a passion for delivering proactive strategies for day to day operational challenges. I am excited to be working with leading cyber security teams and professionals on projects that involve machine learning & AI solutions to solve the cyberspace menace and cut through inefficiency that plague today’s business environments.