Since the dawn of the Internet and its implementation in business, cybersecurity has represented a major priority for those who manage and transmit valuable digital data, especially for business purposes.

For decades, cybersecurity experts have been battling hackers that aim to profit in illicit ways, mainly by stealing sensitive information and blackmailing their victims. One of the main, most common resources to get this done has been through social engineering methods.

In the following lines, we will address everything you need to know about social engineering and how it could hit your organization.

What is Social Engineering?

Let’s begin with the basics and that is what social engineering actually is. This is an approach to cybersecurity crime where hackers deceive users in order to access sensitive information, using tools such as manipulation, psychology, and identity fraud.

Social engineering attacks are based on the significant margin of error generated by human intervention. People can be tricked to think almost anything by using the right pieces of information and many cybercriminals can be very talented in this.

The Work Behind Social Engineering

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.

Types of Social Engineering Attacks

Phishing

Phishing is the most common type of social engineering attack and it consists in messages sent to the potential victim with false information about their identity and purpose. Depending on the attempt, each message will be crafted to catch the user’s interest and will suggest his or her collaboration to provide further personal information.

Another element in phishing is that often times the cybercriminal uses plausible information to deceive the victim. For example, the malicious party may steal access to a bank’s email addresses and with them, reach the bank’s clients to ask them for sensitive information. By having a bank’s email address, the cybercriminal can make solid progress in creating trust with the victim.

Sub-types of phishing attacks are spear-phishing and whaling attacks. The first consists in highly convincing messages that use detailed information to craft the message, many times conducting identity fraud as well; the latter, on the other hand, is spear-phishing taken to the next level in order to attack high-profile victims, such as big corporations or public institutions.

Baiting

As the name suggests, baiting consists in using an attractive bait to lure the victim into clicking a malicious link or conduct any other online activities that will lead to having his or her data stolen.

For example, the cybercriminal distributes information about free software online, a piece of software that may solve the victim’s ongoing problems at home or the office. Of course, this piece of free software is the ideal channel to penetrate the victim’s defense lines and infect his or her devices.

Once infected with malware, the cybercriminal can steal data from the victim’s device, lock it down for ransom, or directly control it to cause more damage.

Watering Hole

Finally, we have watering hole attacks that consist in highly-complex attempts to infect the victims’ devices by luring them into using a wide array of previously selected and infected websites.

Watering hole attacks are so complex that most cybersecurity experts agree that individual cybercriminals are not able to properly conduct them. Instead, this type of attack is often linked to high-profile cybercrime organizations and state-sponsored attacks.

After studying the victim, the cybercriminals conduct an infection campaign at scale, injecting malicious code in a series of websites that the victim will probably visit. A lot of research is needed but when conducted properly, it’s virtually impossible to prevent.

Education as the First Line of Defense

As we mentioned before, social engineering attacks profit from the margin of error created by human intervention; this meaning that individuals will always be responsible for falling as victims.

Yes, it’s an unfortunate reality. The companies can make optimum use of all kinds of state-of-the-art cybersecurity methods that will, for sure, protect the organizations from attacks. Yet, if the individuals who intervene make mistakes and buy into the malicious parties’ deceptions, data will be at risk.

Because of this, 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.

The Bottom Line

At My IT Guy, we always recommend our clients to invest in proper cybersecurity training for the staff. Even basic education can go a long way in preventing unfortunate situations for the entire organization.

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. Therefore, it’s on us to be aware enough of the threats and behave in a safe fashion, especially when it comes to sensitive data.

If you want to know more about social engineering and how you can protect your organization, hit us a message.