Imagine receiving a call from your bank representative asking for personal information to update their records. Not wanting any issues with your bank account, you provided the requested information. Everything seems okay until later, you discover your account has been drained.
How would you feel? Perhaps you are frustrated and wondering how you could fall for that. This kind of fraud is called social engineering, it has different approaches, and the truth is everybody can become a victim. Even the biggest companies get data breaches, and it may take just one compromised device.
It’s critical to understand social engineering because it’s one of the most popular methods used by hackers and cybercriminals to gain access to your data.
What is social engineering?
Social engineering is a psychological manipulation technique to influence or deceive individuals or groups into sharing sensitive data or performing some harmful actions.
People may fall for social engineering because they exploit certain vulnerabilities in human psychology. For example, many social engineering approaches rely on the person’s desire to help or their fear of negative consequences. Some of them may also appeal to the victim’s sense of curiosity or desire for social validation.
Additionally, cybercriminals usually design their attacks to appear credible and trustworthy. They may use convincing language, official-looking logos or documents, or other tricks to make their requests or actions appear legitimate.
Such attacks are more likely to happen when people aren’t aware of the risks, when they are emotionally vulnerable, or when the attacker manages to gain one’s trust and establish a rapport with the victim.
Types of Social Engineering
Knowing how to detect social engineering will help you protect yourself. Here are the common methods of attacks.
Phishing is the act of impersonating a reputable entity to deceive individuals into divulging sensitive data. For instance, phishing may involve sending deceptive emails or text messages, appearing to originate from a legitimate organization, such as a bank, to request login credentials or personal information. To avoid falling victim to phishing scams, it is recommended to verify the identity of the sender and refrain from clicking on links or downloading attachments from unverified sources.
Baiting means offering something you may be interested in, i.e., a free download of software, to lure someone into giving away their sensitive information. Examples include fake antivirus software that promises to protect your device from malicious software. Prevention techniques include being cautious about free downloads and checking the software’s authenticity prior to downloading.
Pretexting involves fabricating a situation to establish trust with the victim and gain access to sensitive information. it may be an IT technician that needs remote access to your victim’s computer, or a customer asking for personal information, etc. Prevention techniques include verifying the identity of the person or organization requesting information and questioning the authenticity of the scenario.
Tailgating refers to the act of gaining unauthorized entry into a secure area by following someone who has legitimate access. This may involve, for example, holding the door open for an authorized employee and following them into a building. To prevent tailgating, measures such as requiring authentication for access to secure areas and exercising caution when encountering unfamiliar individuals are recommended.
Scareware bombards victims with false alarms and fictitious threats, deceiving them into installing malware or useless software. It may appear as popup banners on websites or spam emails with phony warnings and offers for worthless services.
The Psychology Behind Social Engineering
Understanding the psychology behind social engineering is important to be able to protect yourself. Here are some common tactics used by cybercriminals to manipulate and convince a victim that immediate action is needed.
- Urgency or fear: Criminals try to create a sense of fear in the victim and that some urgent actions are needed, making them act quickly without thinking through the consequences. For example, they may say that the victim’s account has been compromised and they need to act immediately to avoid loss of data or funds. The phrase “We’ve detected suspicious activity on your account.” is often used in phishing attacks. This way, attackers usually convince their target to provide credentials or other data.
- Authority or trust: The victim receives an email or message that seems to be from a bank, a social media platform or another legitimate source. It may even be a friend or an IT support. In a message, there’s usually a request for sensitive information or a malicious link.
- Scarcity or reward: The attacker creates a sense of scarcity or a reward to make you take a particular action. For example, they may offer a prize or reward for providing certain information or completing a task.
Attackers may use phrases like “You need to act now to avoid a problem” to create a sense of urgency to pressure their victims into taking quick action or say “This is a confidential matter” to create a sense of secrecy or importance around their request.
How to Protect Yourself from Social Engineering
Protecting yourself from social engineering involves:
- Education and training: Provide training to your employees on the identification and prevention of social engineering attacks
- Software and technology: This includes using antiviruses and setting multi-factor authentication to all your accounts
- Best practices for personal and business security: This includes strong passwords, regularly updating software, and limited access to sensitive information.
Remember that psychology is the most powerful weapon of fraudsters. That’s why the primary countermeasure to social engineering is to doubt any suspicious messages or calls you receive and don’t take any urgent actions.
Social engineering is a powerful strategy that criminals use to get access to sensitive information. It relies mostly on human psychology, manipulating human weaknesses and vulnerabilities, rather than relying solely on technical means.
To defend against social engineering attacks, individuals and organizations should understand common techniques of social engineering, implement robust security policies, educate employees on risks, and test security measures for weaknesses.
By taking proactive steps to prevent social engineering attacks, we can better safeguard our personal and organizational information and ensure that our online interactions are secure and protected. If you have questions about your cybersecurity and would like to protect your transactions feel free to contact us. Our experts will gladly help you.
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