Why Social Engineering Attacks Are Not So Friendly

Learn how to protect yourself from social engineering threats like phishing

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Social Engineering

In 2021, an estimated 302 million Americans used the internet at least once per month. Amid our technologically reliant era, this is no surprise. As the number of internet users continues to rise, however, so will the number of cyberattacks. One of the most common and most effective types of attacks available to hackers is social engineering.

Utilizing techniques such as phishing, pretexting, and baiting, social engineering attacks often make the victim think they are being contacted by a reputable source and are needed to help with an urgent task. There are many types of specific attacks that can fall under the umbrella of social engineering, but the one thing they all have in common is that they seek to gain access to sensitive information by trying to force human error. Security systems are more difficult to hack than ever before, but people still need access to these systems and can be misled. 

So, what should you do if you suspect you are experiencing a social engineering attack? Social engineering attacks work because they manipulate our trust in people. Education and awareness are the first lines of defense. For basic knowledge concerning what is the best way to protect against social engineering, Quizlet offers a crash course. Some flashcards cover definitions and multiple-choice questions like, “Which of the following is a defense for social engineering?” These offer a good foundation for understanding how to prevent social engineering. 

This article will go over a variety of different social engineering tactics and how to defend yourself and your business from the attacks. Some of the concepts covered will be how to prevent baiting, social engineering example lists, common phishing techniques, social engineering signs, general awareness of the threats, and more. 

Social Engineering Attack

The first thing to understand is the different types of social engineering attack methods. A common misconception is that all social engineering attacks happen online. There are physical social engineering attacks, like baiting, that involve a physical flash drive being inserted into a computer then wreaking havoc. But before getting into any more specific social engineering attack examples, here are 10 approaches on how to prevent social engineering attack techniques from breaking into your sensitive data.

  1. Security Awareness Training. People are the target of social engineering attacks. The more they know, the better.
  2. Multi-Factor Authentication. When there are multiple steps to verifying the identity of those accessing your systems, hackers have less chance of actually getting through your defenses.
  3. Verify Identities of Email Senders. Many attacks come from hackers pretending to be trusted sources, like banks or coworkers. Always verify the identity of the senders before taking any action they request of you.
  4. Constant Monitoring of Critical Systems. You know what and where your most sensitive information is held, so keep an eye on it around the clock. 
  5. Incorporate a cloud-based WAF. Web application firewalls, or WAFs, are a next-gen method of securing cloud-based data. Many these days are specifically designed to combat social engineering attacks.
  6. Phishing Simulations. Phishing is one of the most common attacks around. Running simulations with your staff can help them identify when they are being targeted and how to go about preventing any damage.
  7. Check for SSL Certificates. SSL Certificates are obtained when a site actively encrypts and protects data. URLs with https:// are encrypted while those that start with http:// are not.
  8. Penetration Tests. Pen-tests are help identify how and where a hacker will attack your systems and offer ways to protect the most vulnerable points in your security.
  9. Minimize Digital Footprint. Oversharing personal information online, especially on social media, is how hackers find and target potential victims. Setting your accounts to “friends only” or “private” is a good way to help stop this. 
  10. Utilize Spam Filters. Most email providers offer a great first line of defense against social engineering attacks. Turning on your spam filter will help keep suspicious emails at bay.

Social Engineering Examples

Now that you know some ways to protect against social engineering attacks, it is important to know what you are up against. There are only a handful of examples of social engineering attacks but there are countless ways for hackers to use these few methods. Once you are familiar with the 5 or 6 social engineering examples, you can determine which of the preventative measures listed above will be most effective. This section will cover some of the techniques, and phishing will be a section in itself due to the frequency of phishing attacks.

Baiting is a popular method and has been mentioned a few times above already, but what exactly is it? Luring in victims with promises of money or valuable information a person might want, then infects a system quickly when the victim takes the bait. It can be done virtually with ads and emails promising money or rewards, but also physically with flash drives being left in places for victims to easily find. A flash drive labeled “Payroll Changes for Q3” might be enough to entice a curious employee to plug it into their computer. The minute the drive is in, the malware can start harming the system.

Another common method is called piggybacking, or tailgating. Social engineering simplified, tailgating is when a person physically follows authorized personnel into an area they do not belong without being noticed. Piggybacking is the same, but the person is aware they are letting in the attacker. It can be as simple as holding a door for someone holding heavy boxes or equipment. You are just being polite and now they have access to all they need to steal valuable information at will. 

A type of request that could indicate social engineering is a request for login credentials in exchange for help. Quid pro quo means “something for something” in Latin, and is another popular tactic for hackers. They might impersonate the IT department and offer to help with your recent email issues, but they will need your credentials to do so. 

Companies have also recently reported attackers using website contact forms to make initial contact with potential victims. These types of attacks provide a false sense of security and lure victims into downloading extremely stealthy malware and infecting entire networks in minutes. 

The creativity of the hackers using social engineering techniques are what makes it difficult to find ways to recognize social engineering. To test yourself in identifying that which is an example of social engineering, Quizlet can be a helpful resource

Social Engineering Phishing

One of the most common methods of social engineering, phishing is something many people have experienced before. People often ask about the difference between social engineering vs. phishing because they don’t realize phishing is the most common form of social engineering. Phishing examples include pretexting, smishing, vishing, spear phishing, and whaling.  

Phishing refers to an email from someone pretending to be a trusted company, department, or individual to extract sensitive information. It is a widespread approach, often targeting entire departments or entire staff to hopefully reel in one victim. Spearphishing is when this approach zeros in on a specific individual or two that have been deemed “easy targets.” Whaling is when spearphishing targets the “big fish” of a company like the CEO and CFO.

Smishing and pretexting often go hand in hand because they rely on SMS messaging to extract data. Hackers start by sending texts from reputable sources to get your login credentials or sensitive personal data. The difference is that in pretexting, social engineering attackers pretend to be an authoritative figure ( a police investigator or a manager from within the company), and in smishing the attackers are trusted companies (credit card companies, banks, IRS). 

Another branch of phishing is vishing. Social engineering actors will call the victim’s phones, again pretending to be a trusted entity, and ask for sensitive information to be given over the phone. They often target older people and small businesses to scare them into divulging valuable information. Of all the social engineering attacks examples given in this article, it is clear phishing remains one of the most popular.

What is Social Engineering in Cyber Security

Now, you may be more familiar with some common examples of social engineering, but what is social engineering in cyber security? Why do cyber attackers commonly use social engineering attacks? Why do cyber attackers commonly use social engineering attacks on small businesses? It is important to remember that social engineering is designed to attack the one weak point every company has when it comes to cyber security; people. Smaller businesses usually don’t have the training to recognize these types of cyber threats. No matter how robust your internal cyber security may be, not every person who needs access to your systems is a security expert. 

A staple in any cyber security strategy should be user education. Teaching your employees to know what is social engineering attack protocol only helps in protecting everyone. Knowing that a type of request that could indicate social engineering is a request for secure login credentials is just one example of information every employee should have to better protect your system, your employees, and your clients. 

Types of Social Engineering Attacks

This article was designed to give you the information to answer questions like, “Why do cyber attackers commonly use social engineering attacks?” “What type of social engineering targets particular individuals groups of people or organizations?” and “How can you protect yourself from social engineering?” 

You know the between a baiting attack and pretexting social engineering tactics as well as all the other common types of social engineering attacks. You also know some details about the attacks, like how tailgating is a social engineering technique where the bad guys physically follow employees into secure locations. For extensive detail, here is research on different types of social engineering attacks (PDF)

The only knowledge left for you to obtain is knowing where your systems are most vulnerable and which types of attacks. Trava’s risk assessment and vulnerability scans can help you pinpoint where your security needs the most help. Contact Trava to get your security quote today!

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