Social engineering encompasses various manipulation techniques to trick users and steal their personal information, money, login credentials, and more. At the core of social engineering is exploiting people’s good intentions and human faults, which is why a successful attack requires an understanding of human psychology. Social engineering attacks use human interaction to deceive targets.
Both individual users and organizations are tempting targets for social engineering attacks. Employees of large companies and organizations are often targeted by social engineers to gain access to confidential business information, computer systems and other valuable assets. A single mistake can expose the entire organization to attacks, so employee training and cyber awareness education are needed to protect the whole organization.
Most social engineering attacks follow a similar pattern:
The goals of social engineering attacks include gaining access to confidential information, directing the user to malicious websites, getting the victim to download a virus or send money to the attacker. To get their victims to do as they please, social engineers often claim to be someone the victim trusts. This can be their boss, a governmental entity, or someone the victim knows in real life. Some social engineering attacks are used to gain access to a physical device or the targeted organization’s premises.
Often social engineers rely on a sense of urgency, so that their targets do not have time to think. Criminals can also threaten or blackmail the victim to do as they are told. Social engineering attacks are often well-planned scams. The attacker can gather information about their victim before making first contact. The attacks can also target many victims simultaneously.
Because all social engineering techniques rely heavily on people behaving in a predictable manner, social engineering has been referred to as
human hacking. By pulling the right strings, online criminals and scammers can make their victims do things that most would consider unlikely — until they become a victim themselves.
Because social engineering relies on human error, attacks cannot be prevented only by fixing errors in software. Luckily, individual users and organizations can do a lot to stop a social engineering attack.
Social engineering tactics vary and are tailored based on the attacker’s target and goals. Understanding different techniques used by online criminals is at the core of preventing social engineering attacks.
One of the most common types of social engineering attacks is phishing which involves deceiving the victim to give away personal or financial information that can be exploited by the attacker. The goal can also be to get the victim to download a file or software infected with malware. Although phishing is often done by sending the target an email, there are other methods of carrying out a phishing attack.
phishing. Therefore, it relies on voice-based formats, such as phone calls, to deceive people and gather valuable information. For example, many romance scams are done via phone calls. The fraudster seduces their target on the phone after finding information about them online. In reality, the attacker is only after the victim’s money, who sends it to their assumed newfound love.
In a social engineering attack known as pretexting, the attacker fabricates a situation, or a pretext, to deceive the victim into giving away information or carry out a certain action. Here the key is impersonating an authority figure, the victim’s coworker or someone else the target of pretexting would trust. Once the criminal has established the target’s trust, they are more likely to get them to reveal sensitive information, click a link or send money. In pretexting, creating a convincing story is key so as not to raise any suspicion.
Baiting often involves some kind of physical media that is infected with malware. This could be a flash drive or a CD, for instance, that the criminal leaves in a public place or the targeted organization’s premises. Here social engineers rely on people’s curiosity which can be poked even further by including a tempting logo or label in the piece of malware-infested physical media.
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