Social engineering involves psychological manipulation that taps into human emotions of trust, fear, loyalty, curiosity, and greed. When these schemes are used against your business, you can lose sensitive data.
Employee training is critical in spotting and preventing social engineering attacks, but it begins with understanding the common attacks to watch out for.
Common social engineering schemes
You have probably received a phishing email or text. In a phishing attack, the fraudster will send a message vial social media, instant messengers, text, or email, impersonating a known organization or person.
The message will contain a call to action that arouses curiosity, sending a warning or asking for help. It often contains instructions on how to avoid a risk or take advantage of a benefit.
For example, the message will ask you to send your credit card information to confirm your data on a website where you regularly shop.
In addition to the call to action, phishing messages elicit a sense of urgency to avoid a negative consequence.
2. Spear Phishing or Whaling
Spear phishing attacks target people with privileged access to sensitive information such as wealthy individuals, senior executives, and network administrators.
Unlike regular phishing, spear phishing involves meticulous research and planning to get the target to respond and act on the message.
These attacks are similar to phishing in that they require the target to take the desired action.
Criminals who engage in pretexting create a fake identity through which they manipulate victims into providing sensitive information such as bank account details, passwords, and user account details.
In most cases, the attacker will request sensitive information from the victim to confirm his or her identity. The attacker will use that information to launch further attacks or commit identity theft.
Pretexting mostly relies on establishing trust with the victim by masquerading as employees in a finance department, as external IT auditors, or as HR personnel.
Baiting attacks exploit human emotions of greed and curiosity. These schemes can be executed online or offline.
For instance, an attacker will leave a flash drive in a conspicuous area on the premises of the targeted company.
Naturally, people who see it will be curious to see what is in the driver, prompting them to insert the drive into their computers. Once inserted, the malware will automatically install in their system and allow the criminal access to that system.
Criminals could also use enticing ads that land users onto malicious sites. The sites then prompt users to download malicious applications or attachments.
Scareware is a type of malware which manipulates users into downloading or buying malicious software.
Criminals initiate scareware activity through pop-up ads to manipulate users into thinking that their devices are exposed to malware. The criminal could, for instance, recommend that you install antivirus software.
Once you install the software or download these tools, the criminal will have access to your data.
Identifying social engineering attacks
Most people and businesses become victims of social engineering attacks and never realize it until they have lost a significant amount, or even, in some cases, until they themselves are charged with fraud.
Since social engineering attacks manipulate your natural emotions to suit criminals’ whims, you have to be a little more careful. You can protect yourself by taking the following steps:
- Avoiding offers that seem too good to be true
- Do not click or open attachments from unknown sites
- Do not divulge personal information via phone, text, or email
- Use spam filter software
- Educate your employees about security
- Use antivirus and endpoint security tools to help filter malicious websites and phishing messages
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