What is Social Engineering?
To put it simply, social engineering is the act of social manipulation to gain sensitive or confidential information from an individual. The methods vary from a scam as common as a phishing email from a “Nigerian prince” to perhaps something more complex, such as the coordinated Twitter attack that happened.
Social engineering attacks do not require any technical skills, advanced systems, or cybersecurity understanding. All they need to be successful is a little knowledge of human error and behavior and they’ve quickly cracked the code to access your most valuable information.
The important thing to remember about social engineering is that no matter how secure you believe your information may be, as long as your password or other confidential information is a shared secret, you could fall victim to a social engineering attack.
How Social Engineering Works
Social engineering is an effective form of attack because it is difficult to detect and rely on human error. Social engineering uses a variety of tactics to exploit and trick users into disclosing personal or confidential information, such as posing as a friend or loved one in an emergency and requiring banking information, or an urgent email from a CEO asking gift cards to be purchased ASAP.
The one thing all social engineering tactics have in common is that the attacker uses emotional manipulation to gain access to your data. The information that is stolen from the user is then used for a variety of nefarious purposes, such as financial theft, blackmail, or even to steal the victims identity.
Social engineering attacks may look very different depending on the method the adversary uses. Let’s look at some examples of social engineering.
Examples of Social Engineering
- Pretending to be an authority figure. Social engineering is commonly seen as an attacker attempting to impersonate someone you may know personally or a representative from an organization. This impersonator will try to lure you with concerns regarding your account and needing your SSN to verify, or your password to confirm your account. Once that information is obtained, the attacker has all they need to steal your most valuable information.
- Pretending to be a coworker. This is another targeted form of a social engineering attack, usually with the intent to harm a specific business. It may come in the form of a spoofed email from the “CEO” to a lower level employee asking them to send confident financial information ASAP, or perhaps from a fellow “teammate” requesting your password to a private document.
- Catfishing and pretending to be a love interest. Many older generations fall prey to this common social engineering tactic, where one pretends to be a potential romantic partner and steals financial information, credentials, or other personal information. They may even stealthily install malware.
These are just a few examples, but by and large, anything that involves social manipulation is a form of social engineering.
How to Protect against Social Engineering attacks
Social engineering attacks are one of the most frequently executed cyberattacks because of the lack of advanced knowledge needed and the high success rates. Training your employees is an essential aspect to protecting against these attacks, but what more can an organization do to guard their most mission-critical applications and systems?
- Eliminate passwords: The ONLY way to ensure the prevention of password-based attacks is through eliminating passwords. Learn more about passwordless authentication today and keep your most critical applications secure.
- Test and train: Test your employees regularly through generated phishing emails, either through your IT department or a penetration testing company. Make sure your open rates and click through rates stay low to prevent these kinds of attacks in the real world, and provide easily accessible education for those that fail. Training and testing are necessary to prepare your employees in case of attack.
- Use anti-phishing software: Anti-phishing software is a type of security software that looks for signs of phishing and quarantines these emails. By preventing these emails from ever even reaching your employees, you can prevent any human error that may occur.
- Backup systems and applications: It is likely that at some point, an employee will make an error and fall prey to a social engineering attack. Making sure your confidential business and financial information is safely protected will help to prevent any additional damage.
Social engineering attacks will continue as long as passwords are still in use. The best thing you can do to protect your organization is eliminate them.