Social Engineers, go Phish!
A cyberattack occurs around every 11 seconds, and organizations lose an average of $13 million annually due to cybercrime.
People often think about cybersecurity as a technical field. But if you’re looking to protect your team, you should know that the human component is as essential, if not more critical, than the technical component.
According to CISA, over 90% of Cyberattacks start with phishing. Successful breaches typically involve social engineering and exploit human psychological vulnerabilities rather than technological loopholes or software vulnerabilities.
In just a few minutes, you can learn how social engineering works, what exactly phishing is, and how to protect yourself and your team from the vast majority of cyberattacks. We will take you inside the mind of America’s most common cyber criminal and explore the various tactics and techniques they use to take advantage of the human brain.
Table of Contents:
- What is Social Engineering
- Tactics: Understanding the Psychology Hackers Use
- Techniques Employed in Social Engineering Attacks
- How to Protect Yourself and Your Organization
What is Social Engineering:
Social Engineering is the art of coercing individuals into divulging confidential or sensitive information. Unlike traditional hacking or malware attacks, this assault focuses on human error and psychological manipulation to achieve its objectives. It exploits human psychology rather than technical vulnerabilities, making it a unique and tricky threat.
Tactics: Understanding the Psychology Hackers Use
Social engineering attacks often employ psychological manipulation to exploit human emotions such as fear, curiosity, desire, or guilt. Attackers aim to evoke strong emotions in order to impair clear thinking and prompt impulsive actions. This, in turn, facilitates attackers in obtaining unauthorized information or access.
An attacker could scare people by pretending to be a bank official and warning them about strange account activity. They could also make people curious by offering a unique view of a popular news story.
The attackers make an effort to appear trustworthy. They do this by pretending to be real businesses, friends, or authority figures. Their goal is to gain the trust of their targets.
Trust is important for their schemes to work. People are more likely to share personal information or do things if they think they are dealing with someone trustworthy.
Pretexting describes the creation of a fabricated scenario or pretext to obtain valuable information. The attacker often poses as a trusted entity, such as an IT support agent, to manipulate the target into sharing confidential data or performing actions that compromise security. Similarly, phishing attempts targeting IT support lines may impersonate employees looking for a password or credential reset.
Baiting attacks involve offering something enticing to the target, such as free software or an irresistible deal, to lure them into a trap that will compromise their security. Once the victim takes the bait, their system becomes vulnerable to further attacks.
Techniques Employed in Social Engineering Attacks
Social engineering is not a one-size-fits-all approach; it’s a dynamic and evolving field where threat actors continuously innovate to deceive their targets. They adapt their techniques to suit the vulnerabilities of different individuals, whether it’s a regular employee, a high-ranking executive, or even an IT specialist. By tailoring their attacks, they increase the likelihood of success, making social engineering a particularly challenging threat to defend against.
Moreover, as technology and security measures advance, so do the methods employed by these attackers. They quickly adapt, developing new ways to get past their victims’ defenses. Whether it’s through sophisticated phishing emails that bypass security filters or voice impersonation techniques that are increasingly convincing, the landscape of social engineering is constantly changing. This makes it imperative for individuals and organizations to stay updated on the latest tactics and techniques used in social engineering attacks.
What is Phishing? If you talk about social engineering and cybersecurity, you’re sure to see that odd word. Broadly speaking, the definition of phishing refers to any attempt to compromise access or information through impersonation. Phishing attacks are most commonly delivered via email.
Spear Phishing is a more targeted and customized form of phishing. The attacker tailors the deceptive message to a specific individual or organization, often using personal information to make the email more convincing.
Whale Phishing, or “whaling,” targets high-profile individuals, such as executives or IT leaders. The attacker aims to trick these individuals into revealing highly sensitive company information or performing unauthorized financial transactions.
Clone Phishing involves intercepting and resending a legitimate email with malicious attachments or links. The attacker makes it appear as if the email is a follow-up to the original communication, thereby gaining the recipient’s trust.
Angler phishing occurs on social media platforms and involves an attacker posing as a reputable company’s customer support team. The attacker intercepts your interaction with the brand and redirects the conversation to private messages, where they escalate the attack.
Vishing, or Voice Phishing, involves phone calls where the attacker impersonates trusted entities, such as bank representatives or help desk agents, to obtain sensitive information like passwords.
Smishing is phishing via text or instant messaging. It exploits the generally lower levels of suspicion people have towards text messages, asking recipients to click on a malicious link sent via text.
How to Protect Yourself and Your Organization
In the ever-changing landscape of social engineering threats, organizations must be flexible, resilient, and adaptive to counteract attacks effectively. A multi-faceted approach that evolves with emerging tactics is essential for robust protection. By fostering a culture of security awareness and implementing layered defenses, organizations can better anticipate and mitigate the risks associated with social engineering.
Email Security Filters
Secure Email Gateways and filters are essential fundamental tools to catch and quarantine suspicious emails and spam, serving as the first defense against phishing and other social engineering attacks. However, they aren’t foolproof; the best-in-breed solutions have a catch rate in the high 90% range, which means that some emails will always find their way to the inbox.
Since employees will almost certainly receive some phishing emails, training is crucial for educating your workforce to recognize and avoid social engineering attacks. Regular workshops and seminars can significantly reduce the likelihood of a successful attack.
Phishing simulations are exercises that send fake phishing emails to employees to test and train them to identify and report phishing emails. Regular exposure and feedback will help employees spot the common indicators of phishing attempts and learn how to respond.
Implementing Multi-Factor Authentication (MFA) adds an extra layer of security. It makes it difficult for attackers to gain unauthorized access, even if they have some of the required information.
A Defense-in-Depth Strategy
A defense-in-depth strategy involves multiple layers of security controls and detection mechanisms. This comprehensive approach identifies and neutralizes threats that have breached the initial security perimeter.
Regular Audits and Security Checks
Regular audits and security checks can help identify vulnerabilities and ensure that all security measures are functioning optimally. These audits can also provide insights into areas requiring additional focus or improvement.
Social engineering remains a unique challenge that targets human vulnerabilities. A multi-layered defense strategy encompassing advanced email filters, employee training, and phishing simulations is essential. However, the cornerstone of effective cybersecurity is a vigilant and educated workforce. By making social engineering awareness part of your organizational culture, you not only safeguard sensitive data but also fortify your most valuable asset—your people. In this ongoing battle, awareness is the first step, and collective action is the next. Let’s make cybersecurity a shared responsibility. Speak with one of our advisors if you want to learn more.