Social Engineering Attack: Hack to Manipulate Human Psychology 

Social Engineering attacks

About 98% of the cyber attacks are deployed over the targeted users with the help of social engineering.

A Brief Guide on “What is Social Engineering Attack?”

Who said only manipulating code can help you in hacking into secure systems when being good at manipulating people can do the same job? Well this is how social engineering attacks work! Social engineering is an art of tricking and manipulating people into gaining their sensitive information fraudulently. 

Users are manipulated into revealing their confidential information so that the cyber fraudsters can get unauthorized access to their computer system. In the world of cybersecurity, social engineering practices work better and are more successful than technological exploits. This tactic helps in taking the advantage of human vulnerability to convince users to take actions such as clicking on malicious attachments or handing over their confidential data on phishing sites.  

The lifecycle of a social engineering attack  
The lifecycle of a social engineering attack  

In 2017’s cybersecurity research report it was found that 79% of the social engineering attacks were successful within one year and the rate of percentage has been steadily growing since then. Moreover, 62% of the businesses experienced phishing and social engineering attacks in 2018. The reason for these successful social engineering attacks is that this kind of cyber attack comes in various different techniques and can be performed wherever human interaction is involved. 

Common Social Engineering Techniques

Baiting

This social engineering technique uses false promises to pique greed or curiosity out of the victim. Targeted users are lured into a trap where cyber threat actors steal their sensitive information or gain unauthorized access into their system with malware. Baiting is kind of a real-world “Trojan Horse” and is quite similar to phishing attacks in many ways. Although in this technique the hacker or cyber threat actor tricks the targets with gift offers like free movie downloads or free music in return of their login credentials to a certain site. 

Invoice Fraud

A commonly used tactic for gaining access to the email address of a potential victim. The invoice fraud is used for tricking recipients into believing that there is an outstanding invoice that requires immediate payment. Infamously known as Business Email Compromise (BEC) attack, it is mostly deployed on employees in an organization to trick them into fraudulent transactions. Hackers typically impersonate as legitimate vendors to scam employees into wiring huge amounts of money to their account.

Phishing

Phishing is the most widely used social engineering technique in which cyber threat actors delude and deceit targeted users to obtain their private data. The fraudsters impersonate as a legitimate identity or sender to send emails with an aim to trick email recipients into divulging sensitive information or wiring money into other accounts. These phishing emails mainly consist of malicious attachments or links that redirect to a compromised website that asks for user’s financial or confidential information. 

Vishing

Vishing or voice phishing is a telephonic social engineering attack to gain access to confidential information such as credit card details or user credentials. Just like phishing and SMS phishing, vishing is a social engineering technique in which the scammer phone calls the targeted user by claiming to be an agent from a legitimate firm in order to induce victim to reveal their personal information such as bank or financial details. 

These social engineering techniques further shape into diverse threats of social engineering which exploit confidential data and revenue of organizations. Proceed below to understand the major threats of social engineering. 

What are the Threats of Social Engineering? 

  • Quid pro quo 

This social engineering attack involves hackers requesting or asking for login credentials or critical data in exchange for a service. These fraudsters pose as technology experts or technical customer support executives to offer free IT assistance in exchange for users’ login credentials or sensitive information. Quid pro quo is often considered as a subcategory of baiting technique but the only difference is that this social engineering threat holds more chances of being successful in getting user’s confidential information. 

  • Tailgating 

Tailgating aka piggybacking is slightly different from other threats of social engineering as it is a physical attack vector.

Tailgating: social engineering attack  
Don’t be so oblivious to obvious

In tailgating, the social engineer asks for access in the restricted area of an organization by fraud means. For example, in large organizations where employees are less likely to know all of their co-workers, hackers utilize such opportunities to get access to the organization’s restricted area or digital space. The Hacker can pretend to have forgotten the identity card or might end up asking to borrow an employee’s machine.

  • Scareware 

With the growing fear culture in cybersecurity, scareware is regarded as one of the successful threats of social engineering. Scareware addresses the victim’s anxiety and triggers fear in them to install the malicious software in the victim’s computer system. This social engineering threat is often seen in the pop-ups that inform targets about their machine being infected with viruses. This scareware can appear to be convincing as though they have come from a legitimate antivirus software company. The cyber threat actors hold a good sense of urgency to manipulate the targeted individuals to quickly download their software (which would be ironically malicious in nature) to get rid of the virus that has infected the user’s system.

  • Pretexting

In pretexting social engineering attack the attacker uses the same technique of posing as a legitimate and trusted identity. The imposter could pretend to be a bank official or member of the IT department of an organization or any other individual who holds senior authority over the target. By impersonating someone from a renowned source makes it becomes easy for the hacker to gain sensitive and crucial information from the targeted user easily. Pretexting is also used for uncovering security vulnerabilities or getting unauthorized access into an organization’s IT infrastructure. 

  • Spear Phishing

Spear phishing is a specific social engineering attack that is designed with the purpose of specifically attacking an individual user or an organization. This cyber threat appears to be more realistic and authentic in nature to dupe the targeted individual. The attackers often use the personal information of the individual to hook their curiosity and trust before stealing information or installing malware in their system. For attempting this attack, hackers scrap individual’s data from social media sites, email newsletters, online leaks or official articles. 

Best Practices to Prevent Social Engineering Attack

From the above-mentioned social engineering techniques and threats of social engineering attacks, it can be concluded that none of these are going to stop growing. However, in order to secure your organization, it is essential to follow these social engineering prevention practices:

  1. Avoid responding to emails that ask for financial information or even username and password.
  2. Use phishing incident response tool to report suspicious looking emails.
  3. Always check for the HTTPS in the URL in order to spot if a website is fake or not.
  4. Security administrators should implement cybersecurity awareness training for employees to educate them about the dangers of falling victim to social engineering attacks.
  5. In case you ever find any stray flash drive, never attach it into your system rather. Make sure to get it checked with security admin for viruses on an isolated machine. 
  6. Keep all the security patches up to date to mitigate the chances of cyber attacks.
  7. Secure your professional and personal accounts with strong and complex passwords.
  8. Defend domain forgery with email domain authentication protocols such as DMARC, SPF and DKIM.

Social engineering is an ever-evolving art of manipulating humans to gain unauthorized access to their sensitive data. There are several other threats of social engineering and social engineering techniques used for fooling targeted users into revealing their confidential information. Organizations should follow the best cybersecurity practices as counter measures against social engineering attacks.

Have you ever encountered any situation where you might have fallen or almost have fallen victim to a social engineering attack? Share your experience with us by letting us know in the comment section below. Thank you for sparing your valuable time here, hope you had a good read!

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