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Social Engineering: Techniques & Prevention

Social engineering is the psychological manipulation of the target (employees or individuals) by cybercriminals into performing actions or revealing confidential information. It relies mainly on social interaction to gain access to the network rather than using advanced technologies. This method uses the trust and curiosity of the user and lures them into opening a link or attachment that contains malicious content.

What Social Engineering looks like?

Social Engineering might take many forms as explained below:

  1. Email from a friend

Once a hacker has gained access to a social media account or email of an individual, they get access to all their contact list. The hacker then sends messages or posts to the person’s friends. As the message comes from a trusted friend, it is most likely to be read and this message might contain malicious links or attachments.

  1. Email from a trusted source

The most damaging and widespread security attack faced by all organizations is an email attack or phishing attack. These are fraudulent attempts to steal information by sending emails to the target that appear to be from genuine sources. The target is then lured into clicking the malicious link which leads to the installation of the malware.

  1. Response to a question

This comes as a response to a question which you might have posted in social forums or a question you never had. This comes pretending to be from a genuine source, for eg: from a company whose service you are using. So, even if you didn’t ask a question to them, you might need help for some other service and there is a good chance that you will respond. The hacker will then get authentication details and other sensitive information from you and hacks your network.

Social Engineering: Techniques

There are several social engineering techniques used by the attackers, some of which are listed below:

  1. Phishing: The most damaging and widespread security attack faced by organizations is phishing attacks. Phishing attacks are referred to as the fraudulent attempt to steal information by sending emails to the target that appear to be from genuine sources. The target is then lured into clicking the malicious link which leads to the installation of the malware. Prevention of these phishing attacks is possible only by proper awareness to the employees on how phishing works. The employees must take extra precautions not to open any suspicious emails or links.

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  1. Pretexting: Pretexting is a social engineering technique, where the criminal comes up with a fabricated scenario or pretext in order to gain the target’s trust and lures them into giving the information. The attacker introduces themselves as higher authority officials like bankers, police officers, etc. who have the right to get the sensitive information. In this technique, the attacker first does a thorough investigation of the target’s personal as well as professional life. With the help of the collected information, a powerful pretext is created where the target is convinced that the hacker is there to help them in some way.
  2. Baiting: Baiting is a social engineering technique that heavily relies on psychological manipulation to accomplish malicious activities. Here, the hacker approaches with attractive offers and false promises, preying upon the curiosity and greed of the target. Baiting is also done with physical devices like USBs or flash drives which when inserted into the system makes it infected with malware and gives access to the hacker.
  3. Scareware: Scareware is a type of social engineering technique where the attacker scares the victim into buying or installing useless or malicious software in their system. This installed software serves as a gateway for the hacker to enter the system/network. Scareware is mostly found as pop-ups, that warn the user to install software – for eg: antivirus software for security.
  4. Ransomware: Ransomware is a type of malware that encrypts the user data, makes it inaccessible and then demands a ransom from the victim for decrypting the data. The ransom amount varies greatly for individuals and organizations and is usually paid as virtual currency, like bitcoin. Imagine that you are working on your home computer and suddenly notice that the system is too slow. You are not able to access your files and are getting a lot of error messages. Then you find pop-ups and messages on your computer, saying that your files are encrypted, and you need to pay a ransom amount to get your decryption key. This is what ransomware does to your system.

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How Social Engineering Works?

  1. Information gathering: The first step in social engineering is information gathering. The attackers acquire as much knowledge as possible about the target through company websites and social media.
  2. Attack planning: After getting the required knowledge, the technique to be used for the attack is planned based on the acquired information.
  3. Acquiring necessary tools: The attacker acquires the necessary tools required for the attack like computer programs or some kind of software.
  4. Exploitation: The next step is the exploitation of weakness or vulnerability in the target system.
  5. Attack: The cyberattack is done by entering the system and guessing the passwords through the gathered information.

Prevention Tips

  1. Do not disclose your password or any other sensitive information via email or phone calls.
  2. Always choose a strong password and change the passwords regularly.
  3. Check the source of all the emails before taking any action.
  4. Reject help offers and requests coming from suspicious sources.
  5. Never let the urgency in an email overcome you, take it slow.
  6. Backup all the critical information and update the system/software regularly.
  7. If you receive messages/ emails offering prizes from foreign numbers, stay away from it.
  8. Do not install any software from untrusted sources or through email links.

Cybersecurity has become a primary concern for every organization. A number of vendors are providing social engineering exercises to organizations as well as individuals. The best way to stay protected from social engineering is to enhance your security measures and provide employee awareness training.