Social engineers have found numerous approaches to exploit victims of their personal information. With the continuous increase of new cyber threats, society should be constantly informed and educated on how to distinguish and prevent them. Due to the direct interaction with the human user, social engineering is one of the most powerful methods of network penetration. Its success rate depends highly on the targeted individual’s knowledge and awareness. If they are oblivious of their tactics, then this makes the attacker’s job easy. Unfortunately, many fall for their schemes.
Social engineering depends on human interactions and the flaws of humans. According to attackers, humans are the gateway to easy hacking. So, what is a social engineer and what are their tactics?
What is Social Engineering?
Social Engineering is a type of psychological manipulation that’s used to lure people into giving away personal information or to do certain acts. These criminals conduct their attacks through SMS, phone calls, emails and social media. Social Engineering depends on human interaction, which means the success and failure of the attack relies on the intended victim. According to Cybint Solutions, 95% of cybersecurity breaches are due to human error. Also, a message relayed by the convicted hacker, Kevin Mitnick, emphasized the importance of how companies should consecrate more time in educating their workforce on cybersecurity awareness and how to protect themselves against cyberattacks. If an employee or an individual is not educated on how to spot cyber intrusions, then attackers will continue to succeed in their attacks.
These attackers do not have specific targets, they attack normal individuals in society or someone who works for a big corporation. Social engineering is one of most used hacking techniques, through lying, impersonation and psychological tricks these attackers obtain data and gain unauthorized access to personal or company related information.
Social Engineering is not solely virtual it could also occur in the physical world. For example, a hacker could visit a company act as an employee and through social skills gain access to a server and hack into their systems without raising suspicion. For both ways, thorough research is done before the attack is made. There are different stages the attacker goes through to successfully pull off their attack:
The 4 stages of Social Engineering:
1- Research: When a social engineer is set on a new victim, they begin to research about the person to find every detail that could be used to their advantage. This is a crucial stage that will make or break their attack. Because, if the victim does not comply due to suspicion this could hinder their attack and even cause the attacker to pull the plug on their plan. This process takes weeks or months until the attacker feels confident in executing.
2- Planning: After they gathered enough information, they start planning how to carry out their attack either by email, phone call, SMS or through social media. Then, they initiate contact with the victim. This reveals how the attacker could go on about his plan depending on the victim’s character and response. This stage goes on for weeks to establish a relationship with their victim and to gain their trust.
3- Exploitation: As the relationship progresses, the attacker will gradually try encouraging the victim to disclose personal information or information about their organization. They achieve this by using one of their many tactics.
4- Execution: After a successful bond is created, the attacker will launch their attack and obtain the data or access their systems and accounts without raising the victims’ suspicion. Usually, when the attack is initiated the victim does not realize what had hit them and by then the attacker has already erased their trace and remains incognito.
Commonly used tactics:
Pretexting: This technique is when the attacker creates a narrative which is a series of lies to tell the victim. The story is created after the attacker accumulates information about the individual. The attacker contacts the person and starts using psychologically manipulative tactics to gain their trust. They could also impersonate a co-worker or a representative from a bank, tax official, etc. to make the call seem legit. These criminals need to gain their victims’ trust before asking for sensitive info and using industry lingo helps. Many were able to achieve their goal of retrieving social security numbers, passwords even financial information through this tactic.
Baiting: This technique could be conducted online or in the physical world. Baiting is when the attacker entices their victim into downloading malware disguised as a free music playlist or free movie subscription. And in the physical world these attackers could possible distribute infected flash drives throughout an organization as a gift for their employees tempting them to grab one, this leads to them inserting the flash drive into the company computer and unintentionally download malwares.
Tailgating: Is when the attacker is seeking entry to a restricted area, where access is unattended or controlled by electronic access control, they can simply walk in behind a person who has legitimate access. Tailgating is ineffective in some organizational environments, such as those where all employees must swipe a card to enter a building. In mid-sized businesses, on the other hand, attackers will strike up conversations with employees and use this display of familiarity to get past the front desk.
How to prevent this:
Investing in your employees and yourself on raising the level of Cybersecurity Awareness will be beneficial all around! Companies and organizations should start focusing on improving the security of their human factor. The most effective way to avoid cyber-attacks is by familiarizing employees and yourself on the latest types of attacks and the best practices on how to avoid them.
When receiving an email or a call, nothing is predictable. You will always be exposed to many kinds of attacks, but being aware of them will give you an upper hand. With social engineers, the best way to avoid being tricked by them is to able to distinguish their tactics. Cybersecurity threats will continue to evolve, but its users who should be a step ahead and take the necessary precautions.
Educate yourself and be a step ahead of social engineers!
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