Social Engineering Attack - What Is It and How to Secure Yourself

By Haseeb Awan

Cyber attacks, ranging from DDoS attacks to phishing attacks, are becoming more common. And if you own a smartphone, tablet, computer, or another device, you are likely to be attacked by phishing, malware, MitM, and other cyber attacks. Most cyber-attacks involve social engineering that exploits the psychological weakness of the victims. 

In addition, cyber criminals are becoming more sophisticated in their attacks due to the advancement in network security at businesses and many homes. In this blog, we'll look at what social engineering is, its most common forms, and how you can better protect yourself from it.

Let's begin!

What is Social Engineering Attack?

When we think about network security, most of us think about protection from hackers who use technical vulnerabilities to attack data networks. But there is another strategy to hack into organizations: taking advantage of people’s weaknesses. This strategy is known as Social Engineering, also called human hacking.

In other words, social engineering attacks occur when an attacker manipulates the target using clever methods to trick them into divulging personal information. The attackers usually look for confidential information such as credit card numbers, bank details, passwords, or access to your computer or smartphones to secretly deploy malware, etc., so they can steal money from you, and some cases lead to identity theft.

Targets for a social engineering attack can range from business executives to high-school students. Even the most experienced IT professional can fall victim to this type of attack. Social engineering statistics show that tricking people is a very efficient way for hackers to obtain credentials, access data, and launch expansive attacks.

Let's look at these stats to see the staggering impact of social engineering worldwide.

  • Social engineering accounts for more than 70 percent of all data breaches.
  • More than 90 percent of cyberattacks rely on socially engineered attacks.
  • 60% of IT experts cite that new employees are susceptible to social engineering attacks.

It's easier to deceive people than to infiltrate a secure network; therefore, it is not surprising that most data breaches are due to identity theft and social engineering attacks.

Types of Social Engineering Attacks

Here are the most common types of social engineering attacks, and to prevent these attacks, you need to understand what they are. 

Phishing Attacks

Phishing is an effective type of social engineering attack. Phishing attacks typically use spoofed email addresses and links to give login credentials and other personal information. We have written a detailed article on phishing attacks; however,  the main goal of phishing attacks is to impersonate someone over email or text to encourage you to provide private information or click on links that redirect to malicious websites.

Variations of phishing scams and attacks include:

  • Spear Phishing: Hackers use spear-phishing to target an individual within an organization, sending an email that purports to be from a VIP in the company or, in most cases, from a bank, asking to share confidential information.
  • Angler Phishing: Social engineering uses angler phishing to target big fish within organizations like CEOs, CFOs, and other VIPs. Angler phishing attacks are usually carried out through social media spoofed customer service accounts.
Read, How to Get Rid of Phishing Scams.

Vishing and Smishing

Vishing is short for voice phishing that cybercriminals use to lure the target into handing in their login credentials or giving access to the victim's computer over a phone call. 

Smishing stands for SMS phishing, which uses SMS to retrieve confidential information. Fraudsters usually send links via SMS that, when clicked on, redirect to a malicious website to collect private information or install malware on the victim's phone.

Baiting

Hackers use baiting to trick victims into giving sensitive information by promising something in return for free. Baiting attacks leverage the promise of a gift card if the target victim clicks on the link. Alternatively, social engineers use physical media like USB sticks loaded with malware. 

Pretexting

Social engineers use pretexting attacks by creating a scenario that compels the target to their orders. For instance, the attacker might impersonate a high-up within the organization to gain attention and persuade the victim into sharing information. 

Scarecrow

Scarecrow is a type of social engineering in which a hacker adds malicious code to a website that causes pop-ups falsely alerting about a virus installed on your system. The virus alerts pop-up usually asks to purchase or install the security software to deal with this urgent security issue. If the victim installs the software laced with malware, the attack most likely steals information and installs real viruses on your system.

How to Secure Your Business from Social Engineering Attacks

Social engineering attacks pose a critical security threat to businesses, so prioritize and mitigate attacks as part of your cyber security policy. However, social engineering attacks are not easy to suppress because they are specifically designed to play with a person's natural traits, such as curiosity and manipulation.

Preventing attacks by social engineering requires a better understanding of how social engineering works, combining technological security tools.

Here are a few practical tips to protect yourself from online manipulation.

Social Engineering Training:

The first line of defense against different types of social engineering attacks is training. Through comprehensive social engineering training of staff and management, all employees in an organization would be able to recognize common social engineering tactics. 

In-depth knowledge of social engineering helps individuals understand psychological triggers that scammers use to abuse people.

Spot the Signs and Check the Source

Hackers are just as capable of manipulating human vulnerabilities as they exploit software code vulnerabilities. If you learn to spot the signs of social engineering, you can avoid becoming the victim of social engineering attacks.

Furthermore, it is not difficult to spot and verify the source. For example, check the email header and the links attached with an email if you receive an email. It is easy to see spoofed hyperlinks by simply hovering the cursor over the link. Check for grammar and spelling mistakes as email filled with errors is likely fake. 

Secure Your Devices

It is necessary to ensure the security of the device you use to mitigate the impact of social engineering attacks. Whether you use the smartphone or home or work network, always keep your anti-virus software up to date. Timely updates of anti-malware software prevent the installation of phishing scams.

Never use the Same Password

Create different passwords for different accounts and avoid using the same passwords. Using the same passwords makes social media and other online accounts vulnerable to social engineering attacks. You can use password managers like Authy, LastPass, and Google authenticator.

In case of stolen or leaked passwords, change your password immediately.

Don’t Share Personal Information Online

It is better to be stingy about sharing your password and personal information on social media platforms. Cyber criminals can steal your personal information to use it for identity theft later or infiltrate one of your accounts. Scammers also use personal information to gain your trust in other social engineering attacks.

Double Check Your Business Communications

Always double-check your business communications, and don't assume that every corporate email is secure. If you receive an email from your co-worker that looks off, do not reply; get in touch with that co-worker over a phone call or text message and confirm if they have sent you the email.

Final Thoughts

As online threats continue to grow, cyber criminals keep a close eye on the VIPs and executives within an organization. The best protection against social engineering and other cyber attacks is training and knowledge. The business needs to keep a close eye on the cyber exposure of all employees to solve pivotal security threats.

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