In terms of a cyberattack, social engineering is a collective word that covers many different types of malicious activities that are carried out through human interactions. This tactic is often employed by threat operators and involves the psychological manipulation of victims with the aim of fooling them into taking a specific action that will be harmful to either themselves or their company.
Social engineering attacks usually involve several steps. A malicious operator will initially investigate a target to obtain background data. This may include security system weaknesses and potential entry points that are vital for a successful attack. Next, the threat operator must obtain the victim’s trust. Once gained, they can then offer them incentives or use a stimulus to incite them to forgo security protocols and carry out the actions requested of them. They may ask the user to part with private data or provide access to secure system areas where vital resources are kept.
Why does social engineering represent such a significant risk?
What makes social engineering so dangerous is the way that it relies on user errors, rather than technical vulnerabilities in an operating system or application. Mistakes made by an employee are much more unpredictable, and as a result, attacks are more difficult to identify and protect against.
Understanding social engineering techniques
The most common use of social engineering is found in phishing attacks, especially in spear phishing and whaling attacks which involve a specific target. These infamous messaging campaigns are designed to invoke a response from their recipient that may involve their credentials being stolen or harmful malware downloaded onto their machine. The attacker will impersonate a trusted colleague or partner so that the user feels confident they can trust them. This greatly enhances the success of a phishing attack.
Bating is another tactic where attackers use a fake promise to spark their chosen victim’s greed or curiosity. However, the promise is a trap, usually designed to deploy malware or steal data. These attacks may also take on a physical form and use infected equipment such as corrupt flash drives. Alternatively, they may be unleashed online through malicious adware.
Another technique is Scareware, which can involve empty threats or false alarms. These social engineering attacks frighten users into believing that their operating system (OS) or device is infected with malware. This tactic is engineered to fool users into installing a software solution to remedy the issue. However, it has the opposite effect and downloads malicious software onto the user’s OS or device.
Protect your employees and data from cyberattacks
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