Traditional hacking aims to creep into the enterprise network to comprise the security setting and steal data or control the IT system and application. But now, you’re the target! Cyber attacks come with different strategies, purposes, and methodologies. Social engineering is one of the hackers’ ways to gain unauthorised access to commit crimes.
What is Social Engineering?
Social engineering is a methodology hackers use to take advantage of human weakness to access personal information and infiltrate protected systems.
In other words, the term social engineering refers to any act of exploiting human interactions by manipulating users to make any security mistakes to gain advantages to control over sensitive information.
Individuals are being targeted, not computers, so hackers can conduct malicious activities by getting people to give up confidential information.
How Social Engineering Works
Social engineering is broadly used to describe phishing, spearfishing, ransomware, cyber fraud, and beyond. But how is it accomplished? What kind of people allows themselves to be taken advantage of and willingly pass their personal information to hackers?
Simply, it’s the art of manipulating. And it’s not just about stealing credit card information or people’s identity. Social engineering includes hacking computer systems to obtain data about a company’s activities, or maybe it applies on a larger scale to threaten national security.
Let’s see this scenario; a man calls his victim pretending he is from the central bank and requests access to his bank account, claiming an emergency matter, or the bank tries to collect data about its customers. Then the man calls the bank using empathetic tendency and psychological tricks to deceive the bank representative and obtain access to his victim’s account and steal his money.
It happens all the time.
It also applies to fishing emails. Attackers send emails to their targets asking for an extra confirmation step requesting passwords, and then they gain access to their accounts to complete their crimes.
Even employees can receive these emails as a try from the hackers to control’s company account rather than hacking the whole system.
This process can accomplish in just one step or more. But it comes after a series of stalking the victims and investigating any gaps in the network security system or any potential entry points to process the cybercrime.
Sometimes, when the hacker aims to penetrate individuals’ accounts, he strives to know personal information about his victims, such as their full names, occupation, and address. Then he makes use of this information to trick his targets into gaining their trust and then give away more valuable information to secretly install malicious software to control their computers or maybe access directly to their bank account.
So, if we need to set a step-by-step process of social engineering, it will be like that:
- Choose and Investigate
The attacker wants to identify his victims by gathering enough information about their backgrounds, preferences, and maybe their lifestyles. Hackers often use social media to delve into such details. Through this searching step, the attacker is most likely to know the best method he should select to commit his crime.
- Communicate with the target
Deceiving the victim is all that the attacker considers now. He engages the target for the sake of knowing much about him. Since the types of information these criminals seek to vary, their attack methods also vary. Attackers might use an emotional tone to encourage a victim to talk more. They might make up a story to gain the target’s empathy— or they tell victims that they have won a lottery or competition and to receive the gift, they have to send some bank account details.
The only purpose is to take control of the interaction to elicit what they want from the intended victims.
- Execute the attack
The attacker now gains a foothold and can implement his attack using what he has gathered. So, there is no need to wait. Then the crime is done using key information, whether gaining unauthorised access to entry points, stealing data or money or just placing a virus or malicious program to use later.
- Clear attack traces
Once the hacker successfully socially engineered his purpose, it’s time to remove any specious traces and bring the system to a natural end. Often, victims find out the crime in this step which makes catching the attacker close to impossible.
These kinds of crimes are dangerous because exploiters rely on social behaviour and natural tendencies rather than taking advantage of vulgarities in software systems. That’s why it’s unpredicted. In addition, human reactions change based on multiple forces, making it harder to identify the malware from the beginning.
But why does social engineering become so popular?
Hackers find that pushing people to trust them is more accessible than trying to hack systems unless you don’t lay the robust cyber security infrastructure. Our human inclination tends to attract special offers and proposals made by exploiters.
To sum up: Social engineers conduct profound analysis to identify their victim’s behaviours and how they react when exposed to a fake offer and then use psychology manipulating. The attacks are designed to reveal offers that seem too good to be true. Once the victim clicks through a link or gives away some sensitive information, the hacker is ready to exploit this information to execute cyber crimes.
Types of Social Engineering Attacks
Just open your spam folder on your email, and you’ll find many samples of how social engineers conduct their attacks. But remember, don’t open any links. Or, if you are an avid internet user, you have encountered some intriguing pop-ups congratulating you that you have won a trip to Paris, or maybe you’ve been accepted in a position you have never applied to, or something similar.
But it’s not just the case in social engineering.
Here are the most common attack types these exploiters occasionally use to target their victims.
As its name suggests, it’s a trap to lure users’ curiosity by fake promises.
It happens when the hacker sends out an email including a link like an ad for a job opportunity or urging you to download anti-virus (ironic, hu?) or invest in stock to earn billions.
Indeed, baiting scams may take various forms, and some fictitious applications are just a technique to get malware installed on users’ devices without them even realising they’ve done so.
Hackers often place these appealing advertisements in areas where users are sure to notice them. Your click means the malware has landed on your computer. Now, you have to search for a cyber security specialist to determine whether your network has been harmed.
Scareware is another way of attacking your computer system by displaying a fake alert scaring you that your computer is hacked, and you should take action to stop this invasion. It has no real benefit— except for the hackers, of course. It’s just a way to target victims.
Since social engineering insults can be conducted anywhere where human interactions are involved, scareware can be found on any website while using your browser to search for something. It can be a banner ad appearing around the internet or an email sent directly to your inbox.
These ads will direct you to download malicious software, which will be a window for the criminal to get into your computer, or it can be malware in itself.
It’s one of the most common social engineering tactics. In this, victims are tricked into providing confidential information by sending emails or SMS, queuing up the sense of urgency to not miss out on a lucrative deal or apply for a dream scholarship.
You have encountered at least one phishing message each week. These scams pretend to be banks, other financial institutions, or government entities.
They entice the sense of fear claiming that you haven’t paid taxes yet and you should click the link below to repay now. Or you have violated a specific policy, and it’s a matter of death and life— fix the problem directly by settling overdue payment.
Asking to change the password is expected as well. But the only purpose of these phishing messages is to breach your data.
Spear fishing is also a way of stealing information from individuals. But hackers here seem more professional than anything else. They target specific people who possess detailed information or companies, creating well-designed yet toiling emails to make their victims less suspected.
The hacker might impersonate an IT specialist, a supplier offering exclusive prices, or just a client who wants to make a deal with you or your company.
Scammers don’t just conduct virtual communication with their targets. Sometimes, they rely on physical interactions. For example, someone calls you impersonating that he works with you, asking for a password of specific accounts to handle a task.
Here, the hacker has to investigate his victims deeply to encourage you to trust him; then, you are most likely to provide him with crucial information. For example, he would know your work, name, and coworkers’ name.
It seems that there is no reason for doubting him. But, you should!
Social Engineering Prevention
Eventually, every corporation will need to strengthen its standards and approaches to boost its technical defence systems to keep its computers and networks guarded and secure. Here we will go through 8 effective ways to prevent social engineering attacks.
Identify Social Engineering Emails
Social engineering email, ads, and websites look similar to sites and services you already use.
For example, fake emails look typical to an official email sent by legitimate sources such as Google, Amazon or your bank. But they are not.
So, never send personal information via email unless you’re sure who you’re sending it to.
And don’t reply to the message since the email can be forged. Instead, go to the entity’s official website in question and find another email to connect with the institution and ask about the email you’ve received.
Important: legitimate companies like your financial provider or Google never ask for your password or bank information or send unsolicited emails. Emails like this one should be taken with a grain of salt unless you can verify that the information in it is accurate.
Verify By Checking the Source
Let’s face it: cyber attacks can never vanish. Much worse, there’re new malware templates to adapt to the latest security technologies every day. (230,000 malware is produced daily, as stated by Indusface)
But we can use proactive ways to minimise the possibility of being attacked by exploiters and use advanced security measures.
The simple approach to preventing social engineering attacks is to think twice about where the communication is coming from. It’s not just about emails. It’s about anything plugin in your computer or system like a USB you don’t know where it comes from or even a call from someone pretending they know you very well, and your bank account should be updated with a new password—being specious about all of these.
Fortunately, you can check the source with ease. Just double-check the email or maybe copy the message and search on Google. You’ll be shocked when finding other people have received the same email.
If feasible, get in touch with customer service at the organisation in issue to confirm if the call, message, or email you received is real or a forgery.
Increase Security Awareness
When we think about cyber security, most business owners or entrepreneurs think of how to defend against hackers who exploit technological weakness to attack the network. However, a few think about how hackers take advantage of the end-user weakness to commit these attacks and steal data.
According to Indusface, 50% of links received by emails ended up to a malicious or phishing website. In addition, intruders often use business emails as an entry point to get into corporate networks.
That’s why preparing your employees to know this kind of fraud is critical.
Investing in state-of-art firewalls and security systems will have a big payoff for sure, but designing a security awareness programme for your staff should be included in your plan.
These programs will help your employees to identify the phishing emails, never download files from unknown addresses, and never provide anyone with passwords and usernames even if they pose as an IT employee.
Stimaute Phishing Emails
Stimulating samples of phishing emails should be integrated into a comprehensive training program for your employees. They will not recognise how hackers ideally use sources and make significant efforts to get through any defence systems unless they have encountered such emails.
You may find it daunting to design a series of painstakingly crafted emails to test your staff’s resiliency, but it’s essential to know how much of an impact your security sessions have had on them.
This assessment will alarm you about the areas you should discuss with your employees to defend against any increasingly effective social engineering attempts.
For example: Send enticing phishing emails to your workers, claiming to be an IT consultant and requesting that they provide you with their usernames and passwords. Then sit back and see how many people reply. Please make a list of things they should and shouldn’t do, and then go through it.
Multi-Facets Verification and Filtering
Human behaviour can not be measured preciously. Our reactions vary depending on different factors like our background, experience, characters, or even mood. One day you might encounter a challenging situation that pushes you to search for something excited, like checking a spoof email or hyperlink. Another day you might be out of focus, and you are most likely to download a program from an unreliable source.
Flaws of human behaviour can appear all the time. Upon realising that, adopting several ways of authentication is a must. It doesn’t make sense to use a strong password since strong is a subject matter. What you think is vital could be easily guessed by avid hackers.
Instead, add security steps like OTP code or biometric access, or other security questions.
Meanwhile, using high-tech filtering tools to flag any misleading emails as spam. Then, when workers open these emails, you won’t have to worry about putting your company’s confidential information in danger. In most cases, people won’t even know about it since a reputable email gateway can recognise 99 per cent of bogus communications, and they’ll put them in the junk folder.
Pay Close Attention to Website URL
If you want to download any program or software, don’t take it for granted and go directly to the first link of Google results. Then, take enough time to make sure that you’re on the company’s official website that provides the program.
However, hackers killed it and became smart enough to generate a URL that looks similar to the official one; you can trust only websites that start with HTTP.
And when you enter your personal data, have a look again at the URL. It should show (s) followed by HTTP, indicating that this page is encrypted and secured, and just now, you can register without concerns.
Social engineering tactics mainly depend on human weakness, so don’t be weak. Or in other words, don’t let people take advantage of your inability to take the right action. It’s time to ask questions.
If you have received a call from your bank out of the blue, they at least should know your full name. But what if the person on the other side knows your name, they need to ask you additional questions to confirm you’re the right person. Here’s your chance to test his mettle by giving him incorrect information and seeing how he reacts.
If any specious actions show up, then you should be wary.
In the case of emails, attackers always provoke a sense of urgency, “Exclusive offers for now only,” “Click on the link now,” and “You need to pay now!”. Of course, most marketing messages depend on this tone, but hackers will immediately respond because they don’t want you or your team to think hard about what’s going on.
Taking a few minutes to realise what’s happening will help you break the loop, ask around or even call the company, as we mentioned before.
Important: When you get an email from an organisation or a person, remember that there is another way to get in touch with them. A call or WhatsApp works as well, right?
Constantly Keep Your Eyes on Your System
Keep your system monitored all the time to find out if your network gets affected by any malware downloading by mistake.
The thing is that being targeted by socially engineering attacks takes only one human error. The most effective defence strategy is to stay informed and be aware of what red flags you should look for.
Tracking your employee’s activity within your company network will decline the chances of being a target to blackmailers. Scan your internal and external systems to figure out if attackers can use any bugs to install malicious software.
We have to be aware of cyber attacks and invest heavily in defence systems, but what about hackers who target us, not the network! We need to take social engineering attacks seriously more than anytime before. Contact us if you have any questions.