To acquire illegal access to a system, network, or physical place or for financial benefit, social engineering attackers rely primarily on human interaction. They often manipulate targets into breaching regular security processes and best practices.Through deception and social engineering, threat actors pose as trustworthy persons or reputable sources of information in order to achieve their goals. The goal is to persuade, deceive, or intimidate users into disclosing confidential information or granting unauthorised access.
To acquire illegal access to a system, network, or physical place or for financial benefit, social engineering attackers rely primarily on human interaction. They often manipulate targets into breaching regular security processes and best practices.
Through deception and social engineering, threat actors pose as trustworthy persons or reputable sources of information in order to achieve their goals. The goal is to persuade, deceive, or intimidate users into disclosing confidential information or granting unauthorised access.
The willingness or fear of victims to cooperate or be prosecuted is the basis of many social engineering attacks. The intruder could pose as a trusted colleague, claiming to have an emergency that demands immediate access to more network resources.
Social engineering attacks exploit the different ways that our mind works. For example:
Helping mentality - We can't help but work together since we are social beings. As a general rule, we are willing to help others who appear to be struggling. To take advantage of this, a social engineer could pose as a low-level employee seeking credentials, access, or documents. They hope the victim would feel bad for them and offer to help them.
Rule abiding - Organisational hierarchies are the norm in both the public and private sectors. Some people are at the top of the hierarchy, while others are at the very bottom. When it comes to authority, we have a tendency to pay attention to (and even obey) those who are higher up. Using this vulnerability, attackers can pose as higher-ups in the organisation and issue orders to lower-level staff.
Trust and well-being - Trusting that other people are sincere makes for a more pleasant (and simpler) life. As a result, we put faith in people's statements. For example, a person's natural inclination may be to trust a caller who presents themselves as a representative from a trusted institution such as a bank or phone provider. This is something social engineers can and will use to their advantage.
Desire to know - As we learn about the world around us, we often learn by trial and error. This is a common vulnerability that social engineers target when trying to steal passwords or install malware. They exploit the curious nature of people to know more about things and then unleash the attack by sending phishing emails or links.
Phishing occurs when an attacker sends a malicious email that looks and feels like it came from a reliable source but is actually a scam. The email's goal is to get the target to reveal sensitive information or click on a link that would download malware. There are different types of phishing — vishing, spear phishing, whaling, etc. — that are essentially the same but carried out via different mediums and methods.
In this type of attack, the social engineer makes a false offer of assistance or information in exchange for the target's cooperation. A hacker may, for instance, pose as a technical support agent who is returning a support ticket by calling a random set of phone lines within a company.
If the hacker is persistent enough, they will find someone with an actual technical problem whom they can pretend to help. The hacker can use this interaction to get the victim to type in the commands to activate malware or obtain sensitive information such as passwords.
Tailgating is the practice carried out by a hacker of following a person with a valid access card into a secure building. For this strategy to work, it is assumed that the person who has permission to enter the building will be kind enough to keep the doors open for the person who is following behind them, believing that the attacker is a trusted person.
Trash diving is a social engineering attack in which an attacker scavenges through a company's garbage in search of sensitive information, such as passwords, access codes written on post-it notes, or pieces of paper. It can also be the attempt to discover the deleted files within a discarded enterprise machine or hard disk, hoping to find something that could grant them access to the company network.
Whether you're in the workplace, on the road, or at home, there are steps you can take to protect yourself from social engineering.
Phishing attacks involve the sending of emails that look like they came from a reputable source, such as a bank, social media platform, or online retailer, to gain access to sensitive information. The emails will typically describe a story to convince you to click on the fraudulent link.
To protect yourself from social engineering attacks like this one, it's a good idea to verify the email's authenticity with the supposed sender. Don't forget that reputable financial institutions won't email you asking for personal information or authorisation credentials.
Use multi-factor authentication (MFA) to gain entry to sensitive accounts (e.g., a confirmation code sent through text message or voice recognition). Passwords are essential for security, but we know now that they aren't enough. As a result, it is much more likely that an unauthorised third party will be able to gain access to your accounts by guessing your password.
It is possible to socially engineer your way into the passwords. There must be multiple independent ways to prove your identity before granting access. For instance, a biometric scan, secret questions, or a one-time password.
Reduce the flow of traffic by setting up and maintaining protective measures, including anti-virus software, firewalls, and email filters. Even if you already have a firewall in place, a next-generation web application cloud-based firewall offers a far better defence against social engineering attacks.
Unlike the more commonplace on-premises web application firewall (WAF), the web-based kind has some unique challenges. Finally, make use of the anti-phishing tools included in your email program and web browser.
A pen test, in which vulnerabilities in your system are actively sought out and attempted to be exploited, is the most successful method for thwarting social engineering assaults. Your vulnerability to social engineering attacks and the systems or personnel that you need to focus on protecting will become clear if your pen-tester is successful in compromising your critical system.
One of the best ways a company or individual may protect themselves from social engineering attacks is to raise awareness of the issue through a security awareness program. Sadly, security awareness training is often only done once a year to fulfil a compliance need.
Studies have shown that after a month, the average person has forgotten 97–98 per cent of what they have learnt. This means that if you aren't actively involving and educating your staff about new dangers at least once every three months, you're falling short.
Acquaint them with your company's phishing reporting protocols and teach them how to recognise and report phishing attempts. If you don't already have a system in place for employees to report questionable emails, you should make it a priority to implement one, even if it's only a separate inbox.
At the end of the day, it's crucial to foster an environment where open communication and teamwork thrive. Employees should feel safe coming to you with security concerns without worrying about repercussions.
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