“Dear Friend, I am stranded here and need to get back to our country. I need a favor because I have been robbed of my bag containing my wallet, mobile phone, return tickets, and other valuables. I will like you to lend me a sum of $xxxxx or any amount you can afford to help me come home so that I can sort out my hotel bills and fly back home. I promise, that I pay you back with an extra $xxxxx amount as soon as I return home safely. Kindly let me know if you can be of help”.

“Dear Lucky winner, Congratulations, You have won $1 million in the Superior globe Jackpot. Kindly contact our agent immediately, for more details regarding your winning at this number 00000000.”

Sounds familiar? This is Social Engineering in a nutshell. Though the term has no affinity towards the good side of engineering and being social, it is primarily anti-social and destructive in nature. Social engineering is the process of manipulating the human mind to spill confidential and personal information. This is a well-formulated attack crafted by criminals or hackers to trick people into giving away vital information like passwords, bank information and etc. Apart from pulling data, the hacker also forces the gullible user to install a malicious bug and siphons out the necessary information without the user‘s realization. This is smart engineering wherein users release passwords on their own rather than being hacked.

What is Social Engineering?

Social Engineering is a term used to specify a wide set of malicious activities resulting from human interactions. Special Engineering employs psychological manipulation to mislead users to generate security errors or disclose sensitive information. 

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How Does Social Engineering Work?

A wide range of social engineering attempts is based on the direct communication between the attackers and the victims. Rather than employing brute force methods to breach your data, the attacker will usually try to persuade the user to compromise themselves. The attack cycle provides these criminals with a consistent method of misleading you. 

Types of Social Engineering Attacks: Tapping People for Details

Hacker interacts with people and gets the necessary details. This can happen in any of the following ways:

  • Pretending as a valid user of the system, the hacker accesses physically in the form of a helpful desk operator whose disguise is difficult to misinterpret, since they are designated to help employees.
  • An over-enthusiastic colleague could also impersonate and gain access to other’s systems, on the pretext of solving a problem.
  • The hacker can also pretend to be technical support staff from the organization’s vendor, explaining that he is troubleshooting a particular issue which will require the user to share the ID and password to resolve the problem. Gullible employees can fall trap to such requests if they are not alert.
  • Employees can also become victims if they leave important passwords and file names in pieces of paper or printouts and leave it unnoticed, to pave way to the hands of the hacker.

Gaining Access Indirectly, Through Computers

Phishing:

Messages that mimic or spoof banks, credit cards, or other online purchasing companies like Amazon, eBay are examples of phishing. Asking to verify information, false emails, and chats are different ways to capture confidential information. The process is made to look so real, that users when not alert become easy prey for such mails.

Baiting:

A free download of a movie or a music file embedded with a malicious code is an easy access for a hacker to target and obtain specific information. This happens with the victim’s system being infected with malicious software facilitating the hacker to approach deeper into the system.

Online Scams:

Pop-up windows flashing advertisements tempt victims to download or install virus-loaded software without them realizing it. Trojan worms, viruses, and capturing passwords form an integral part of the hacker’s schedule to infect other systems. In addition, baits are laid in social media platforms to share information, and job portals to name a few.

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Why is Social Engineering So Dangerous?

Human trust and confidence are the key aspects of social engineering. Attackers devote significant time and resources to researching the victim. Key insights are obtained, and a combination of words and actions, as well as technology are used to trick the target into trusting them before launching the attack. The presence of human error by authorized users, rather than a weakness in software or operating systems, makes social engineering so deadly.

Social Engineering Attack Lifecycle

Social engineering attacks occur in one or more steps and do not necessitate advanced cybersecurity understanding. The social engineering life cycle has various phases.

  • Investigation: It includes finding victims, acquiring information, and selecting attack methods such as phishing emails or phone calls. 
  • Hook: It entails fooling the victim(s) to get a footing by engineering the target and controlling the contact. 
  • Play: In the third phase,  the attacker executes the attack and obtains the victim's information. 
  • Exit: This is the final phase which indicates that after the successful attack by the Social Engineer, they stop the engagement by erasing all traces of malware and hiding tracks so they won't be found.

How Do Social Engineering Attacks Happen?

The base of social engineering is the direct communication between the attacker and the victim. Rather than employing brute force methods to breach your data, the attacker will usually try to persuade the user to compromise themselves.

The attack cycle provides these criminals with a consistent method of misleading you. Important steps of the social engineering attack cycle:

  • Prepare by acquiring background information on yourself or a bigger organization in which you are involved.
  • Infiltrate by forming a relationship or initiating an encounter that begins with trust.
  • To advance the attack, exploit the victim once trust and weakness have been developed.
  • Once the user has completed the desired activity, disconnect.

How to Spot Social Engineering Attacks?

Some of the most evident warning indicators are also the most difficult to detect because they masquerade as routine activities.

  • An unusual attachment or link: Email phishing and smishing (mobile phishing) frequently include an attachment or a link to a malicious website. 
  • An unusual request: Fraudsters may give themselves away by requesting something unusual. This is particularly apparent if the fraudster is impersonating another employee, such as the CFO or CEO.
  • A quick request or demand: Necessity is an excellent example of a psychological manipulation method.
  • An offer that is too good to be true: Blackmail or coercion is sometimes used by cybercriminals to extract information, particularly during the information-collecting stage of a social engineering assault.

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What Does a Social Engineering Attack Look Like?

Social engineering attack techniques

  • Baiting: Baiting attacks, as the name implies, use a false promise to spark a victim's avarice or curiosity. 
  • Pretexting: An attacker gathers information by telling a series of carefully designed lies.
  • Phishing: Phishing scams, one of the most common types of social engineering attacks, are email and text message campaigns designed to instill fear, interest, or urgency in victims.

Unusual Social Engineering Methods

In some situations, cybercriminals have employed sophisticated means to carry out their hacks, such as

  • Fax-based phishing: When one bank's customers got a phony email purporting to be from the bank, requesting them to confirm their access codes, the manner of confirmation was not through the typical email/Internet pathways. Instead, the consumer was instructed to print the form in the email, fill it out, and fax it to the cybercriminal's phone number.
  • Traditional postal virus distribution: In Japan, fraudsters exploited a home-delivery service to distribute Trojan-infected CDs. The discs were distributed to customers of a Japanese bank. The addresses of the clients had already been stolen from the bank's database.

Ways to Protect Yourself

Here are some crucial safeguards against all forms of cyberattacks:

  • Be cautious before in emails or messages.
  • Make use of two-factor authentication.
  • Create strong passwords.
  • Avoid revealing the names of your schools, pets, birthplace, or other personal information.
  • Never allow unauthorized users to join your primary Wi-Fi network.
  • Employ a VPN.
  • All network-connected devices and services should be secured and properly maintained.
  • Never leave your electronics unsecured in public.
  • Try to keep all of your software updated constantly.

Why is Social Engineering Effective?

Humans have evolved to act and behave in specific ways to build robust and coherent social systems. Trust is an essential component of cohesive societies and when trust reduces relationships fail.

Scammers understand human behavior and the importance of developing trusting connections. They also learn how to mislead people by posing as trustworthy or developing trust.

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Examples of Social Engineering Attacks

  • Phishing with a Spear: This email fraud is used to launch targeted attacks on people or businesses.
  • Pretexting: The perpetrator assumes a fictitious identity to deceive victims into providing information.
  • Tailgating: This attack is aimed against a person who can provide a criminal with physical entry to a secure building or area.

Tips to Remember

  • Spammers prefer that you act first and consider later. Be wary if the communication creates a sense of urgency or employs high-pressure sales methods; never let their haste influence your careful analysis.
  • Be wary of any unwanted texts. If the email appears to be from a company you use, conduct your investigation. 
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Conclusion

Hope this article was able to give you a clear understanding about social engineering and how to protect yourself from such attacks. If you are interested in enhancing your cybersecurity skills further, we would highly recommend you to check Simplilearn’s Advanced Executive Program in Cybersecurity. This program, in collaboration with IIIT Bangalore, can help you hone the right skills and make you job-ready in no time.

If you have any questions or doubts, feel free to post them in the comments section below. Our team will get back to you at the earliest.

About the Author

SimplilearnSimplilearn

Simplilearn is one of the world’s leading providers of online training for Digital Marketing, Cloud Computing, Project Management, Data Science, IT, Software Development, and many other emerging technologies.

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