Social engineering is a type of attack that uses human interaction and manipulation to achieve the attacker’s aims. It often involves persuading victims to compromise their security or break security best practices for the attacker’s financial or informational gain. Threat actors use social engineering to disguise themselves and their motives, often by acting as trusted individuals.
Ultimately, the key aim is to influence, to hack the mind — rather than a system. Many such exploits rely on people’s good nature or fear of negative situations. Social engineering is popular among attackers because it is easier to exploit people rather than network and software vulnerabilities.
Types of Social Engineering Attacks
While not an exhaustive list, the following are the key social engineering attacks to be aware of:
This is one of the most common types of social engineering attacks. It uses email and text messages to entice victims into clicking on malicious attachments or links to harmful websites.
This attack uses a false promise to entice a victim via greed or interest. Victims are lured into a trap that compromises their sensitive information or infects their devices. One example would be to leave a malware-infected flash drive in a public place. The victim may be interested in its contents and insert it into their device — unwittingly installing the malware.
In this attack, one actor lies to another to gain access to data. For example, an attacker may pretend to need financial or personal data to confirm the identity of the recipient.
Scareware involves victims being scared with false alarms and threats. Users might be deceived into thinking that their system is infected with malware. They then install the suggested software fix — but this software may be the malware itself, for example, a virus or spyware. Common examples are pop-up banners appearing in your browser, displaying text like “Your computer may be infected.” It will offer to install the fix, or will direct you to a malicious website.
5. Spear phishing and whaling
Like phishing, but the attack is specifically targeted at a particular individual or organization. Similarly, whaling attacks target high-profile employees, such as CEOs and directors.
Also known as piggybacking, tailgating is when an attacker walks into a secure building or office department by following someone with an access card. This attack presumes others will assume the attacker is allowed to be there.
How to Recognize Social Engineering Attacks
Because these attacks come in many different shapes and sizes — and rely on human fallibility — it can be very hard to identify social engineering attacks. Nonetheless, if you encounter any of the below be warned that these are major red flags, and suggest a social engineering attack is commencing:
- An unsolicited email or text message from someone you don’t know.
- The message is supposedly very urgent.
- The message requires you to click on a link or open an attachment.
- The message contains many typos and grammatical errors.
- Alternatively, you receive a call from someone you don’t know.
- The caller tries to obtain personal information from you.
- The caller is attempting to get you to download something.
- The caller similarly speaks with a great sense of urgency and/or aggression.
How to Protect Yourself from Social Engineering Attacks
Aside from keeping an eye out for the above warning signs, the following are good best practices to follow:
- Keep your operating system and cybersecurity software updated.
- Use multifactor authentication and/or a Password Manager.
- Don’t open emails and attachments from unknown sources.
- Set your spam filters to high.
- Delete and ignore any requests for financial information or passwords.
- If you suspect something during an interaction, be calm and take things slowly.
- Do your research when it comes to websites, companies, and individuals.
- Be careful about what you share on social media — utilize your privacy settings.
- If an employee of a company, make sure that you know the security policies.
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- By James Llanos Jr | December 23, 2022
- By Patricia A. Rarus | December 23, 2022
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