The 6 Most Used Social Engineering Attacks and How to Avoid Them
Social engineering is an attack on human intellect, not a computer system. It takes advantage of human nature, typically using social media, to acquire confidential information which can be used to breach a computer system.
For example, an attacker could reach out to a victim by sending a message over LinkedIn, pretending to be a colleague. The attacker could then send the victim a message asking for the password to the company’s SharePoint site.
Social engineering attacks make up a large percentage of all cyberattacks, and they are on the upswing. According to a Purplesec 2021 report, 98% of cyberattacks use social engineering tactics. In light of these statistics, business organizations should be on guard for the key social engineering attack methods. This article will explore the six most frequently used social engineering attacks and provide advice on avoiding them.
The Most Used Social Engineering Attacks
There are many kinds of social engineering attacks, and they often go unnoticed until it is too late. The following is a list of the 6 most used social engineering attacks.
Phishing is when an attacker sends an email message pretending to be from a trustworthy source. They may claim to have vital information and might ask for complete name, birth date, social security number, or business account information.
A spear-phishing assault is when the social engineer has targeted a specific user. An attacker may build a convincing targeted attack by searching public social media profiles and Google for information about the victim. For example, assume someone frequently publishes on social media that they go to a particular gym. The attacker might send them a spear-phishing email posing as their local gym. The victim is more likely to fall for this since it seems the sender is their gym.
Whaling is another type of phishing. Whaling is the practice of pursuing “big fish” inside a business. Instead of the typical employee, the attackers target high-value victims like CEOs and CFOs.
While phishing typically refers to fake emails, vishing, or “voice phishing,” is phishing over the phone. Like email phishing, a vishing attacker will pose as a trusted authority like a bank or government organization. Most vishing scams originate outside Canada. However by using caller ID spoofing, the attacker might appear to be calling from within Canada. The victim’s trust is earned by answering the call and being convinced that the person on the other end of the line is who they say they are.
Smishing (SMS phishing) uses identical methods to email phishing and vishing, except it’s done through SMS/text message.
Pretexting is a kind of social engineering when the attacker creates a situation in which the victim feels obligated to obey. An attacker will construct a false identity and provide a made-up scenario to their victim to gain vital information. For example, an attacker may pose as an external IT auditor to trick a company’s security staff into disclosing confidential information.
Baiting lures the victim into the social engineering trap. A baiting technique could offer a free music download or gift card in exchange for credentials. For example, users may be given complimentary USB drives during a conference. Instead of an empty storage device, the attacker may have loaded it with remote access malware in the form of dangerous files or even a virtual keyboard interface that executes commands on the machine when connected.
6. Quid Pro Quo
This is a type of social engineering where the attacker offers a service in exchange for information. An attacker could contact a company’s main phone line pretending to be from the IT department, trying to reach someone with a technical issue. When the attacker discovers a user who needs help, they say something like, “I can help you. Now I need your login credentials.” With that information, they can gain access to the system.
Tips for Avoiding a Social Engineering Attack
The human factor is the most common vulnerability in cyberattacks and especially in social engineering. To guard against this, every business organization needs a comprehensive IT security awareness training program to help employees learn how to identify potential cyberattacks and protect themselves. Here are four tips to help employees stay cybersecure:
1. Verify the sender’s identity
If the email is unexpected or seems a little off, it’s best to play it safe and verify with the sender when possible. For example, if an IT employee asks for specific information or credentials via email, the receiver should call to confirm if the IT employee sent that email. Email hijacking is common. When in doubt, verify with the sender using an independent source of information.
2. Verify links and attachments
An abbreviated link, like a bit.ly link, may hide a malicious URL. Use a link expander to test the link without clicking it. When an attachment or link is received unexpectedly, the receiver should verify with the sender if possible.
3. Inspect the content
Social engineering emails, texts, and other methods of contact frequently have red flags. Is there a sense of urgency? Potential victims may look past red flags when the person on the other end is rushing them. How’s the grammar? Phishing emails often have misspellings or poor sentence structure. Some other potential red flags are generic greetings and signatures, unusual layouts, and off-brand or out-of-character tones.
4. Keep IT Security Awareness Training up to date
The best defense against social engineering is employee training. Hackers are constantly coming up with new ways to exploit IT systems. If employees are trained and retrained frequently to avoid these types of attacks, they are more likely to be careful when receiving suspicious emails, texts, or phone calls.
Stay Ahead of Social Engineering
Cybercrime has continued to rise in the last two years. In fact, there has been a 300% increase since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic. As most attacks typically involve some form of social engineering, providing frequent security awareness training is the best way to guard against them.
Outsource IT helps business organizations secure their IT infrastructure against cyberattacks. Our team of IT experts are also experienced in implementing effective IT security awareness training programs. Contact an Outsource IT account manager for more information.