Common Social Engineering Attacks and How to Prevent Them
Organizations from all over the world are experiencing an increase in social engineering attacks, both in number and in sophistication. Hackers are devising more clever methods of fooling individuals or employees into giving up sensitive data that can be used to breach the company. As such, organizations need extra due diligence to counter these social engineering attacks.
When it comes to social engineering attacks, they usually involve some type of psychological manipulation designed to fool the target into giving up sensitive data. It is typically done through email or similar forms of communication to invoke a feeling of urgency or fear. This leads the victim to take an action that the attacker wants, such as clicking a link or divulging information without thinking about it. Since this is designed to attack human emotions, it is sometimes difficult to detect and prevent these.
The best defense against social engineering attacks is to keep employees educated and mindful.
Here are a few of the best ways to tackle social engineering attacks, coming from experts in the cybersecurity field.
Social Engineering Techniques
A common technique for social engineering attacks is an email designed specifically for the target person. It tends to look professional and legitimate, seemingly coming from an organization associated with the user, such as a vendor company or maybe even a bank. Hackers can usually copy the actual styles of emails from such companies.
The content would be designed to create a sense of urgency, such as saying that their account is compromised and they need to change their passwords immediately by clicking on the link provided. This is where the main difference comes in. In actual emails, the link would direct to the actual, secure website of the sender. In social engineering attacks, however, it would lead to a malicious website, which would then steal the victim’s username and password once they enter it.
This can sometimes be done through other forms of communication as well, such as over the telephone. The attacker will say official-sounding statements to get the victim to trust them.
Simply put, all social engineering attacks are based on establishing trust with the victim. This is done using information that the victim will think is official, but in reality, the attacker simply researched that information through the internet and social media accounts. By mentioning things like common names of friends, workmates, or colleagues, the victim is lulled into a false sense of security, which the attacker takes advantage of.
According to the technical director of Symantec Security Response, most attackers do not target technical vulnerabilities in software and systems in order to penetrate an organization. They have found that social engineering attacks give them a better chance to achieve their goals, as people are easier to target than complex algorithms that can easily detect an attack.
How Social Engineering Attacks Can Harm an Organization
Companies and organizations run on data that they use for their business. This can include sensitive information from their customers, finances, and operations. When social engineering attacks target an employee, they are trying to get to the data within the organization. Once they have that, they can do several things.
Sell the Data
The attackers can sell the data they are able to steal from the organization. This is evident with the LinkedIn data breach of 2016, wherein a Russian hacker by the name of “Peace” stole approximately 117 million accounts and sold it on the dark web.
Not only did this lead to the company losing face, they also lost money through lost revenue and lawsuits.
If a hacker gains access to a company’s system using social engineering attacks, they can install a ransomware, which is a malicious software designed to hold files, data, or even programs inaccessible until the attacker is paid a certain amount. Once this is paid, they will supposedly provide a key to open the locked files or data.
This can be inhibiting to a company or organization, as it can lead to either loss of money or resources due to the amount of time and effort needed to deal with the situation.
Defending Against Social Engineering Attacks
There are many ways that a hacker can deal damage to a company when they get access to their networks through social engineering attacks. Money, resources, time, and reputation are all on the line. This is why it is important to defend yourself against these attacks. But how?
The best defense against social engineering attacks is education. Educate your employees about these types of attacks and what to look for in order to identify a potential threat. They should also be taught to report any suspicious communication they receive if they have any doubt about its authenticity.
By creating proper protocols and security policies, companies can significantly decrease the chances of social engineering attacks from succeeding.
Kevin Jones951 Posts
Kevin Jones, Ph.D., is a research associate and a Cyber Security Author with experience in Penetration Testing, Vulnerability Assessments, Monitoring solutions, Surveillance and Offensive technologies etc. Currently, he is a freelance writer on latest security news and other happenings. He has authored numerous articles and exploits which can be found on popular sites like hackercombat.com and others.