What is social engineering and are you at risk?
Effective social engineering attacks can be nearly impossible to detect. Attackers use deceptive techniques that play on human precepts to manipulate others into revealing valuable personal information.
Here, we’ll examine how social engineering works and look at specific examples of known scams. So read on to learn how to prevent social engineering from happening to you.
What is social engineering?
We can define social engineering as a psychological attack that exploits human behavior or our cognitive precepts.
It usually involves tricking people into unknowingly disclosing confidential information that can be used for corrupt or criminal purposes.
Therefore, hackers use social engineering techniques to extract personal information that can be used for identity theft or other fraud or crimes.
At a time when people are increasingly savvy online, social engineering requires some subtlety.
It is usually a multi-step plan to first gain trust and then access targeted information.
Unlike cybersecurity attacks that exploit computer code and software structures. That is, social engineering attacks are based on the fact that humans make mistakes and can be manipulated.
Social engineering attacks often target sensitive information. Such as login credentials, social security numbers, bank details or other personal information.
How does social engineering exactly work?
Social engineering scams can happen during in-person and phone interactions, but they often happen online.
In fact, social engineering underpins a wide variety of cyberattacks because it is easier to carry out online.
In the physical world, we are able to evaluate our interactions with people based on the information we receive through our senses.
Observing someone’s mannerisms and listening to their tone of voice gives us clues as to whether something is suspicious or not.
When we are online, we often interact with faceless companies that process our payments and send our messages.
That means we have to rely on familiar graphics or marks and a recognizable pattern of clicks and confirmations to signal that everything looks normal.
Social engineering tactics often work like a cycle:
First, an attacker gathers basic information also known as profiling and chooses an entry point.
The attacker then initiates contact and establishes a connection.
Once the connection is made and the attacker is seen as a trusted source, the attacker exploits the target.
Anyway, after the sensitive information is obtained, the attacker disconnects and disappears.
Social engineering involves manipulating someone to divulge confidential information.
Social engineering attacks exploit people’s trust.
To complete the cycle, attackers often employ social engineering techniques, such as engaging and intensifying your emotions.
When your emotions are high, you are less likely to think logically and more likely to be manipulated.
Let’s look at a classic example of social engineering. However scammers can obtain a list of people who play online gambling.
They assume that these people will respond to a message that arouses curiosity, enthusiasm, urgency, or fear.
Scammers impersonate a lottery company by imitating its font, logo, and colors.
The message congratulates the victims and invites them to accept their limited-time prize by submitting some personal information to claim.
Unfortunately, the prize is really for the scammers: sensitive personal information that can be resold on the dark web or used to gain access to personal accounts.
Why are online social engineering attacks so dangerous?
Social engineering attacks can be very dangerous for individuals and companies because in both cases large amounts of money can be taken from the victim.
Attackers target finance department employees posing as higher-level employees.
Hackers sent emails from fake corporate email accounts. But convincing, requesting an account change. Soon this successfully tricked accountants into transferring large sums of money into accounts controlled by the colluding hackers.
For most people, losing any amount of money can be a major setback. But having your personal information compromised can be even more dangerous.
If an attacker obtains your login credentials, social security number or bank details, they can keep for their own use or sell on the dark web. Incidentally, where it can be purchased and exploited by third parties, leading to identity theft or other damage in the future.
Detecting a social engineering attack
To detect an attempted online social engineering attack, it is helpful to know the different techniques attackers use to influence their victims.
People react to authority and are more likely to comply when requests come from a respected source.
That’s why cybercrimes often impersonate well-known companies or government agencies, such as the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) in the United States.
Always carefully read emails that claim to be from the government or other official sources. Although the IRS knows your personal information, such as your name, address, and social security number, they never ask you to email it.
A more subtle tactic exploits sympathy. That is, as humans, we are more likely to trust people we find attractive and likeable, which can work wonders for peer-to-peer selling.
Intruders can pose as an attractive person on social media and use a compliment as an excuse to make contact.
When the victim is flattered, they are more receptive to the attacker’s request, which could be a donation to their “charity” or some other scam.
Knowing how we can be influenced makes it easier to recognize the warning signs of social engineering.
Requests for certain types of information such as login details, banking information or your address should also always raise concerns.
Put emotion aside and watch carefully who is asking for your details – this can keep you from getting scammed.
Too good to be true!
A classic social engineering move is to offer something very tempting that motivates the victim to reveal some information or take some action.
The most common types of online social engineering attacks
Creative scammers have created many types of social engineering attacks, using different techniques and entry points to gain access to targeted information.
Unfortunately, these deception techniques are all too common.
But learning about the variety of social engineering tactics out there will help you recognize an attempt if you find one yourself.
You can think of spam simply as a tab in your email inbox, but not all spam emails are successfully filtered out of sight.
Well-crafted spam emails can pass through the mail server’s screens and enter your inbox, where they can appear as a trusted message.
Social engineering emails often try to trick you into clicking on links to fake websites. So download malicious attachments or reply with the kind of information the sender is looking for.
Reading about email security can help prepare and identify the difference between sneaky spam email and trusted sources.
Just like we put bait in cheese mouse traps, an attacker using bait social engineering leaves something attractive in view of their target.
Sometimes it’s a physical item, like a USB flash drive left in a public place labeled “confidential” to pique someone’s curiosity.
Once the flash drive is inserted into the victim’s computer and opened, the malware infiltrates and infects the host device as well as any connected servers.
Baiting can also take place online, with something like downloading a movie used as bait. Once the file is downloaded and opened, the hidden malware gains access to the computer.
Probably the most common type of social engineering, phishing happens when an attacker impersonates a legitimate company or organization. So it targets a victim via email, chat or online advertisements.
The email or message often directs the victim to a fake landing page, complete with the correct graphics from the company.
The page asks for login verification or requests a password change due to suspicious activity.
If the victim complies, the attacker will have access to this login data and can use it to try to login to other websites. That is, depending on how often the victim uses different passwords for different websites.
Catfishing is another common social engineering strategy in the phishing category. Therefore, cat fishing involves impersonating a desirable person on a dating site or social media platform. And then woo potential victims.
Strong emotions are a part of any romance, and these emotions can cloud intuition and cloud warning signs. Once the victim is trapped, the fisherman will create a scenario to exploit him for money.
Social engineering phishing scams are often sent to hundreds of potential victims in the hope that someone will click on the link. But sometimes the attacker does background research on his potential victims, narrowing them down to a specific group of people or even one person.
This type of focused or narrow attack is known as spear phishing and is significantly more effective than you might think.
In fact, 50% of people targeted open spear phishing emails, compared to an open rate of just 3% for regular phishing messages.
The pretense of social engineering attacks involves inventing a scenario, or pretext, to target the victim.
The attacker usually impersonates someone in authority who can request information. An effective pretext attack requires background research and preparation on the part of the attacker.
They need to be able to accurately answer the victim’s questions and appear legitimate.
A common example of a pretext is when an attacker impersonates someone in a company’s IT department.
The attacker reaches a company employee, identifies himself and requests remote access to the computer or login credentials to update software.
Depending on who the target is, the attacker could have access to all of the company’s financial records or employee data.
They can hold this information hostage using ransomware or use it to carry out the next step in a scheme.
Vishing is the same concept as phishing, but conducted over the phone – that is, voice phishing.
In a vishing attack, the phone number used will often be blocked or disguised as coming from a help desk or support center.
Sometimes voice changing technology is used to try to imitate a specific person.
A vishing attack usually aims to manipulate victims into revealing their login information or gaining access to the victim’s computer.
Attackers often impersonate someone from customer service or technical support. Calling to install an update or fix a bug that requires the victim to grant access or reset their login credentials.
Quid pro quo
Quid pro quo means exchanging something for something else. So attackers are happy to offer you something in a quid pro quo social engineering attack. And in return, they expect to get your login credentials or access to your computer.
Help is commonly offered in quid pro quo attacks, whether it’s technical assistance, accessing a special document, or solving a problem you didn’t even know you had.
The six principles of persuasion
According to Chris Poulin, who was an X-Force strategist at IBM, wrote about the 06 principles of persuasion, trust allows others to influence us. Anyway, the interesting part is that the reverse is also true: a skillful influence can generate trust.
Usually people are motivated more by what other people do than by a perceived or even quantifiable benefit. For example, people are more likely to become a member of a club knowing that other people of equal or greater financial status are also members of that club.
We all know this. Someone gives us a gift and we feel obligated to reciprocate.
We all know this ruse. If we can’t have it, we want even more. Con artists have known about this psychological ploy for a long time… And we still fall for many of the same scams after centuries of victimization, says Poulin.
People tend to follow the example of trusted experts. Many cybercriminals understand that it is important to make it clear that they are trusted and well-informed authorities to their victims before trying to influence them.
Science tells us that there are three essential factors for liking:
1st We like people who are similar to us.
2º We like people who praise us.
3º We like people who cooperate with us towards mutual goals.
People tend to build trust in those they are attracted to, both physically and emotionally. So this is a simple principle that works well and has potent implications that cybercriminals are more than willing to exploit.
The aforementioned example of towel reuse is a consensus in action in particular, the use of “countless others”.
Cybercriminals also understand that the first connections are the most important. Especially once they are in hand, other people in similar positions or organizations are more likely to follow suit.
Now that you know the common psychological techniques used in social engineering attacks, you can share this information with users. Above all, make sure your team is alert and ready to defend against these attacks.
Who is at greatest risk of being victims of social engineering?
In reality, we are all vulnerable to social engineering attacks. We are all humans with emotions that can be stimulated. Yet we all react to beauty and authority and can be tempted by urgency and reward.
We should not think of these qualities as weaknesses. After all, we developed them for evolutionary reasons. Instead, we must learn how others can manipulate them and train ourselves to detect the warning signs.
Seniors are often the target of social engineering attacks because they are not always familiar with modern technology and are less likely to notice anything suspicious.
Tips to avoid becoming a victim of social engineering
Just as you can practice good habits to prevent shoplifting, you can learn helpful tips and practices for preventing social engineering.
And if in addition to these tips you want to know more about having more security on your IoT devices, stay tuned to this article: IoT internet of things, security and its challenges.
Report and delete suspicious emails
Found someone phishing in your inbox? Don’t just mark the suspicious email as spam.
Depending on the content of the email, you should take action by reporting the Internet scam. so a good follow-up action is to read up on how to report cybercrime to prepare for the future.
If you use Gmail, there is a built-in way to report phishing. Then go to the top right corner of the email and click on the three vertical dots next to “reply”.
Then select “Report phishing” from the drop-down menu.
You can also take preventative security measures by learning how to prevent spam email from reaching your inbox.
Use a private Wi-Fi or VPN connection whenever possible
Even if connecting to the airport’s free Wi-Fi and responding to work emails seems like a better idea than a horrible pizza at the food court. Above all, remember that the Wi-Fi network will not be a private connection.
Many other people will be sharing the same network as you, and this makes your personal or work information vulnerable to attack.
When accessing sensitive information, especially private details like your online banking credentials, be sure to always use a private connection.
Another great tool to use is a VPN (Virtual Private Network). So a VPN like AVG Secure VPN encrypts your internet connection so you can use public Wi-Fi safely.
It also disguises your IP address so that your online activity cannot be linked to your real identity and location. So installing a VPN offers an extra layer of protection against malicious intent at home and in public.
Implement multi-factor authentication
Using two-factor authentication can keep you out of the group of Internet users that hackers love to have.
Two-factor authentication requires you to verify your identity in two separate places. Just like on computer and phone, or even with a physical security key.
It is unlikely that a hacker can access your computer and phone at the same time. So multi-factor authentication is a big hurdle to prevent someone from gaining access to your accounts.
Seeing an authentication prompt on your phone when you haven’t tried to log in to your computer is also a sign that something suspicious is going on.
Always use strong passwords
If you fall into a social engineering trap and the attacker gains access to your login information. That is, you don’t want them to be able to use it to access your other password-protected accounts.
This means you shouldn’t use the same passwords on different accounts and you should always create strong passwords.
Being lazy with creating passwords is like sealing the door with duct tape instead of locking it. This is not very effective in the event of an attack.
If you’re not ready to memorize a dozen different complex passwords, try a password manager .
Use an antivirus in the fight against social engineering
It might seem like the internet is infested with bad guys trying to manipulate your emotions long enough to steal your data.
But preventative measures go a long way in the battle against social engineering threats.
Reading existing social engineering techniques makes it much easier to spot them in action and makes you less likely to take the bait.
Aside from education, one of the best preventative measures you can take against social engineering is to use strong antivirus software.
AVG antivirus free scans your computer and network, detecting and preventing any viruses, spyware, ransomware or other malware that a hacker might be trying to introduce. So it also blocks unsafe email attachments, links and downloads so that you won’t even be able to click on them by mistake.
We’re all human, trying to browse the internet with whatever prejudices we may have, so it’s nice to have an extra layer of security in case we fall victim.
What did you think about knowing and knowing a little more about social engineering attacks?
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