Humans are prone to be deceived. In one way or another, we have been tricked by someone online with a hidden agenda, one trying to influence us by telling lies or by using a fake identity. The more these people knew about us, the greater their deception.

In the era of the Internet, this has been constantly occurring and there are no signs of it stopping any time soon. Malicious agents online have a plethora of resources to lie us and it depends on us to be victims or not.

Social engineering has been a key part of IT security since the dawn of the web. Cybercriminals have been lying online to steal sensitive information like Social Security numbers, passwords, and credit card information. And yes, they have been wildly successful.

At My IT Guy, our team decided to address social engineering in order to explain to our readers what this term actually comprehends, what types of attacks exist under its umbrella, and what organizations can do to protect themselves.

What is Social Engineering?

Social engineering attacks are based on human behavior, basically how we do interact with others. When we engage with someone else and there is a baseline of trust, we become willing to help. Here is when our willingness to collaboration becomes a threat for ourselves.

It’s all about trust and deception. Users are “seduced” to break basic security norms and procedures, circumstances that make them vulnerable and exposed.

The attacker takes a false identity and approaches the victim to convince him or her about a fraudulent situation. For example, the malicious agent may communicate the victim that his or her bank account has been compromised and as a bank employee (someone the victim is supposed to trust in order to solve this problem), he can help but first, he needs access credentials to the account.

In a panic, the victim provides this information and now the hacker can freely access to his or her bank account.

Social engineering, as we all can imagine, takes a lot of work on the attacker’s side, as he or she must research the target and gather key insights before approaching. Personal and business information will be used by the hacker to tailor the attack in great detail, adding features that will increase its effectiveness and degree of influence.

Types of Social Engineering Attacks

There is a wide array of attacks based on social engineering that IT professionals are encountering every day. These attacks go from the most basic, ineffective attempts to the most complex, well-elaborated devices that succeed in stealing valuable data from individuals and companies.

And because social engineering is about tricking us into the hackers’ trap, the options to lure us are many. 

Baiting

A more “physical” type of attack, the baiting type consists in leaving a portable storage device such as a pen drive in a place where the victim can find it. Such storage would contain malware and the goal is to infect the user’s computer when he or she connects the hacker’s device, stealing data this way.

Phishing and Spear Phishing

A phishing attack consists in communicating with the potential victim with a fake identity and ask for sensitive information as usernames and passwords. The difference between phishing and spear phishing is that the latter uses verified information to create the deceptive argument that will be used to influence the potential victim, while the former is often more careless in this sense, using somehow generic information.

Scareware

This method consists in making the victim believe that his or her computer has been infected by malware. The situation quickly develops for the malicious agent to offer a solution to this infection. In a panic, the victim proceeds to accept the solution proposed and downloads an executable. If the user falls into the trap, he or she would be downloading the actual malware that would, therefore, steal data from the device. This is similar to rogue-type attacks which are more oriented to blackmail.

Vishing

Vishing is more related to offline than online. This method literally means voice phishing and consists in tricking the potential victim over the phone in order for he or she to deliver sensitive information to the malicious party.

Water-Holing

While it demands a lot of technical work on the hacker’s side, water-holing attacks can be really dangerous. They consist of compromising a pre-defined group of websites and web apps that the target or targets use on a frequent basis. By hacking different platforms, the malicious agents can continually gather sensitive data from the victim until he or she has enough to access other platforms in the victim’s name, as his or her bank account.

How to Beat Social Engineering?

The best way to protect an organization from social engineering attacks is to conduct dynamic pen tests, also known as ethical hacking. The idea is to put to test the organization’s current structure and its members. This way, the IT team can identify the company’s weaknesses and who and why are more exposed to fall as victims. 

Security training, focusing on awareness, is also essential to prevent successful attacks as the whole team is prepared to identify the threats on time. Understanding how these attacks look and work will bring the most benefits.

Besides the human factor, which is central here, it’s also key to have solid security solutions fully operative. Gateways for email communications and web browsing can block attacks beforehand and ideally prevent the first contact between the malicious agent and the potential victim within the organization.

At My IT Guy, our team can help you to implement the right solutions to prevent and fight back social engineering in your organization. If you have any questions, send us a message today.