Social Engineering Attacks to Watch Out For

Social engineering

Not all cyberattacks require technical skills. Social engineering is one of those techniques that is highly effective without requiring a threat actor to understand the complex and inner workings of security systems.

Social engineering is the process of manipulating victims into giving up confidential information or providing access to restricted resources. The technique relies on human interaction and psychology and it is used to circumvent normal security procedures.

Businesses are often targeted with social engineering attacks to gain access to information such as account passwords, banking information as well as access to the victim’s computer.
It could also be used to install malicious software for remote control and information theft.

Social engineering is popular because it is much easier to exploit people’s behavior and emotion than find security vulnerabilities.

How social engineering works
Social engineering usually starts with research and reconnaissance of the target. Cybercriminals often gather intelligence about the organization structure, business partners, employees’ behavioral patterns, and internal communication tools.

The discovered information is then used to design social engineering attacks.

Social Engineering Tactics
There are various tactics used by social engineers to gain the trust of their target. Some of them are covered below

1. Message from a Trusted Partner
A common social engineering tactic is to send a phishing email to impersonate a trusted business partner. The hacker will present a valid reason, a pretext, for the contact and then demand the victim hand over their login credentials and other personal data. Often, personal information is obtained via malicious links included in the email.

This is commonly deployed against financial institutions and their partners.

This social engineering method may include an email or call asking for details of an ongoing transaction, a boss’ weekly calendar, charity donation, or a scam urgent request for help from a stranded friend.

2. Baiting Tactics
This is also known as quid pro quo. This method relies on dangling gifts or benefits in front of people to encourage them to take actions in favor of the attacker.

Hackers may offer popular movies, music, and premium software for free or at heavily discounted prices. Such offers are distributed on peer-to-peer websites, online advertisements, and social media platforms.

The free offers are often embedded with malware to compromise victims’ systems and steal confidential information. For premium products sold at a fraction of the cost, the promoters harvest the buyers’ credit cards and account details which are then used for automatic debits or emptying victims’ accounts.

Social engineers may drop infectious USB drives in the business premises with the hope that an employee will plug them in directly into the system causing infection.

3. Creating Distrust
Attackers can also create distrust among friends and colleagues and take advantage of the ensuing chaos.

This involves having unauthorized access to a victim’s email and social media account and then manipulating them to achieve the desired outcome.

The malicious actor pretends to be the account owner and sends carefully crafted messages in order to cause disaffection among parties. Old messages may be edited or previously private conversations leaked to the subject of discussion. The strained relationship may then be exploited for various purposes.

4. Unsolicited assistance
In this case, malicious actors offer unsolicited assistance to victims or pretend to be responding to a call for help.

The attackers impersonate an employee from a different branch or a support agent for popular companies in industries such as banking, health, and software development.

Attackers may send out emails or make calls offering to fix the victim’s computer. A recent cybersecurity incident could also be referenced as the reason for offering a fake security update that is actually malware.

Cybercriminals may request personal information from the victims as part of the fix.

5. Faking Trust
Cybercriminals can best impersonate a person when they have access to their emails and other online accounts.

They can send messages to the victim’s contacts leveraging their existing relationship. Such messages are not properly scrutinized because of their trusted origin.

The messages may include malicious links and attachments disguised as cute pictures and salary upgrades. Victims’ devices are infected when such links are opened.

Such impersonation may also be used to obtain sensitive information about a victim’s personal and professional life.

6. Tailgating
This is when a cybercriminal gains physical access into a secure location by following and pretending to be associated with authorized personnel.

How to Protect Yourself from Social Engineering Attack
1. Avoid all unsolicited offers of winnings or gifts.
2. Block and report any request for passwords or financial information.
3. Reject all unsolicited offers for help and only use official channels for communication.
4. Organizations should regularly carry out social engineering awareness training and penetration testing.
5. Anti-virus software, firewalls, and intrusion detection systems should be installed and kept up to date.
6. Deploy advanced security systems and processes for employees with access to sensitive and financial information.
7. Install anti-spam software on your network to block malicious emails.
8. Don’t overshare personal information online or in gatherings.
9. Don’t click on links in email, visit the site directly via browser.
10. Don’t leave your devices unattended.
11. Monitor your accounts closely to quickly detect unauthorized logins.

Social engineering will continue to be a favorite method of hacking because of its simplicity and effectiveness. Cybercriminals can use social engineering attacks in unlimited ways to steal personal information and compromise systems.

To protect yourself and your organization from various social engineering tactics, follow the recommended tips discussed above. Security-aware employees can better detect attack attempts and block them.

Do you want to protect your business from social engineering attacks? Get in touch today.

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