Only three percent (3%) of all malware seeks to target technological vulnerability. The remaining 97%, use social engineering, and exploit human errors.

Two out of ten (2/10) employees will fall victim to social engineering attacks in 2020. 

How do you avoid human errors that lead to people becoming victims?     

How do you protect your organization against such attacks?

First of all, you have to start learning about it.

What is Social Engineering?

Social engineering is basically manipulating to get people sharing sensitive information.

It involves using psychological tricks to get victims to do what the cybercriminal wants.

Which they love, due to the simplicity of exploiting people’s tendency to make errors of judgment than to crack their technical safeguards.

Here’s a brief analogy:

If a thief wanted to access a castle, they would probably find it challenging to get through the defenses. 

However, if they pretended to be a member of the nobility and could pull it off, they might be granted access by a guard who is inclined to follow the nobles’ orders.

The thief would have to display trust indicators – perhaps some costly clothing, and an attitude that fooled the guard. Social engineering attacks use similar trust indicators. 

An attacker may pretend to be someone with authority such as a tax official who “reminds” you of a fine to be paid, or some top management official who wants a fund transfer.

A depressingly large number of people fall to such tactics. 

What’s more, social engineering is just getting more complicated and common over time.

Misconceptions About Social Engineering

  1. Firewall Protection is Enough: Actually, they’re not. Firewalls protect network systems may fail to protect against advanced phishing attempts.

  2. IT Professionals Are Immune to Cyber-attacks: Contrary to popular belief, IT help professionals are human. We are not immune to cyber-attacks as humans fail.

  3. Social Engineering Occurs Only Digitally: Social engineering plays a big role in brick-and-mortar businesses as well, occurring in-person, and via phone calls.

  4. Placing Full Faith in Anti-virus Software: Attackers regularly update their techniques to get past spam filters, and unless the antivirus is up-to-date, organizations may get compromised.

Social Engineering Fraud Scams
Image by mohamed Hassan from Pixabay

How Does Social Engineering Work? 

All types of social engineering attacks are mainly based on asking. Yes, cybercriminals ask their victims to hand their sensitive information without the use of force. Instead of breaking into, they ask the user to deliver them the keys.

Social engineering interactions between the cybercriminal and the victim are all about voluntary collaboration. So yes, the malicious party lies and uses fake information to convince his counterpart but the victims must fall pray first.

To fully understand how social engineering works, we have to examine the different types of social engineering:

  • Phishing: Phishing attacks count for 80% of all cybersecurity incidents, where the adversary pretends to be a legitimate or known entity to gain the victim’s trust. 
  • Victim-attacker relationship: The main aim here is to gain the victim’s trust by building a personal relationship to obtain information or finances. 
  • Scareware: This type of malware seeks to manipulate a user into buying unnecessary software or paying a ransom by creating a sense of urgency (Eg. IRS Scams)
  • Piggybacking: In Piggybacking or Tailgating, the unauthorized adversary follows an authorized individual into a restricted location. 
  • Baiting: As the name suggests, baiting consists of using an attractive bait to lure the victim into clicking a malicious link or conduct any other online or offline activities that will lead to having his or her data stolen.

    The adversary intentionally might as well leave a device such as a flash drive in a public place. Malware is installed if a curious victim plugs it on their desktop or laptop.
  • Quid Pro Quo:  Basically, offering services in exchange for information. Attackers may pretend to be from an institution such as the Social Security Administration and ask for a confirmation of the SSN to rectify “some error.” 

Preventing Social Engineering Attacks

To counter Social engineering, we must take a two-pronged approach that includes strengthening technical defenses and training employees.

To strengthen technical defenses, it’s essential to start placing an organization-wide password policy and an additional password management software that might help.

ID policies, physical documents shredding, and similars security safeguards are adequate when information is too risky for the public to see.

And eventual backups to be prepared for the feared lighting-strike attack (as ransomware).

Finally, along with regular email filtering solutions, organizations can employ dedicated anti-phishing solutions to prevent any kind of business email compromise.

Of course, all the technical defenses may still be bypassed.

You should, therefore, get dedicated training for employees.

Organizations and individuals alike must prioritize education, beginning with understanding what social engineering is and how the attack types operate. Even a basic understanding of the threats luring online can be effective enough to keep them at bay. Your security awareness training should be quality content, people-centric.

Summary

Social engineering in terms of cybersecurity is as old as the Internet and it will continue to exist because technology continues to be dependent on humans. And yes, we are very prone to be deceived.

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