What is Social Engineering?

Cyber attackers are getting more and more sophisticated with each passing day; so are cyber attacks. The advancements of technology have helped everyone, including cybercriminals.

But this doesn’t mean all cybercriminals are masters of different technologies. Rather they have become more adept in the art of human manipulation. One such attack that effectively uses human manipulation is social engineering.

It has become a potent weapon for cybercriminals due to its simplicity. In this post, we will cover everything about social engineering attacks, including their types and how to protect yourself from them. Read on…

Table of Contents

  1. What is social engineering?
  2. Common types of social engineering attacks
  3. How to protect yourself from social engineering attacks?
  4. Closing thoughts

What is social engineering?

Social engineering is the practice of taking advantage of human errors and behaviors to carry out a cyber-attack successfully. Rather than assuming social engineering to be a form of cyberattack, it is wise to assume that social engineering is all about the psychology of persuasion. The whole point of social engineering is playing a con man on technical grounds. The attacker lowers your guard, posing as a trusted source, and then tricks you to click on malicious links or attachments that may cost you valuable information.

In a typical social engineering attack, the attacker tends to be a trustworthy entity. For instance, they could be from a trusted organization according to the victim or may even impersonate a person the victim knows to win their trust.

If this manipulation works, the attacker lures the victim to take further action. This may involve giving out sensitive information such as credentials, passwords, and even bank account details. Or in many cases, the attacker may redirect the victim to a malicious website that might appear as a genuine one to the victim. This website might have malware embedded that may cause disruptions to the victim’s system. In worst-case scenarios, the malware might strip sensitive information from the victim’s computer or take it over immediately.

A cybercriminal indulges in a deep search of the email addresses of your organization over the internet. They find and list all the publicly available email addresses of all employees in your organization and then initiate spear-phishing or angler attacks based on their needs.

Common types of social engineering attacks

Phishing is the most common social engineering attack that uses spoofed email addresses and links to trick individuals to give their login credentials, credit card numbers, and highly sensitive data. Phishing has two variations

  • Angler attacks — Angler attacks target social media users. For instance, fake accounts answer users who raise complaints via social media, let’s say Facebook or Twitter. The fake account tries to contact the disgruntled customer offering to solve their complaint by providing a malicious link. Once the user clicks on the link, it pulls all the information of the user.
  • Spear phishing — Spear phishing is more of a targeted form of phishing. It targets individuals or businesses attempting to use their credentials. Unlike common phishing methods, this type is more targeted making more individuals fall for this attack.

Baiting is a type of social engineering attack where a scammer offers false promises, taking advantage of the victim’s greed and curiosity. This may result in the scammer stealing the victim’s personal or financial information, or inflicting their system with malware. For instance, the victim might receive an email that promises free gift cards if they click on the sent link to take the survey. This link may be a spoofed office 365 or facebook login that captures their email and password and sends it to the malicious actor.

Whaling is also a commonly orchestrated type of phishing attack in which social engineers target highly valued individuals like CEOs and CFOs. The term is called whaling because it refers to targeting the “big fish” within a company. Successful whaling attacks can expose a great deal of confidential information due to the high network access these executives have.

How to protect yourself from social engineering attacks?

Reject requests or offers for help

Legitimate companies and organizations do not reach out to an individual to provide help voluntarily unless you filed a complaint or you registered yourself on the company’s website or helpline. Always consider offers like renewing your credit card, refinancing your home, increasing your redeem points, and answering security questions, a scam.

Set spam filters to high levels

All email programs have spam filters. Navigate through your email settings and set your spam filters to high and also remember to check regularly through the spam that no legitimate mail has been accidentally trapped into it.

Secure your computer devices

Make sure that your computing devices are installed with antivirus software, firewalls, email filters, and anti-phishing tools provided by your browser or third-party tools to alert you in case of threats. Also, set your operating system to automatically update or manually update soon as you receive a notification to do so. With every update, many security patches are being deployed by the developers that can help secure your device from malicious actors.

Beware of any download

Cybercriminals prey on the trust of your contacts to get hold of your sensitive data. So even if you receive an email from a sender who appears to be someone you know, if you are not expecting any link or attachment from them, it is advisable to check with your friend before downloading anything. Be suspicious of unsolicited messages; if it is from a site you use, do your own research. Go to the authorized site to cross-check the details of the real site with the fake ones.

Check the URL twice before navigating to it

When you receive a suspicious email with a link asking you to click and navigate to it, make sure that the link is legit. Hovering on links in the email displays the actual URL at the bottom, but still, a good fake can even make it look authentic if not viewed properly. A Facebook phishing link can look like this https://www.profile.co.gp/facebook.

Closing thoughts

Social engineering attacks are becoming more and more successful with cybercriminals becoming more shrewd in manipulating their victims. A study shows that around 83% of companies experienced email phishing attacks in 2021 with the numbers growing rapidly in the first quarter of 2022. Hence it is important to be aware of suspicious emails and links from unwelcomed senders. After all, thwarting social engineering attacks is solely in your hands, as it becomes successful only if you are unaware and act without thinking.

If you want to read more articles about Social Engineering, take a look at our website for more publications: https://www.partech.nl/en/publications

Originally published at https://www.partech.nl.

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