UNDERSTANDING SOCIAL ENGINEERING BASED SCAMS

Social engineering Definition

In the context of information security, social engineering is the psychological manipulation of people into performing actions or divulging confidential information. This differs from social engineering within the social sciences, which does not concern the divulging of confidential information

Social engineering is also the art of manipulating people so they give up confidential information. … Criminals use social engineering tactics because it is usually easier to exploit your natural inclination to trust than it is to discover ways to hack your software.

Social engineering is a manipulation technique that exploits human error to gain private information, access, or valuables. Once an attacker understands what motivates a user’s actions, they can deceive and manipulate the user effectively. 

How does social engineering work?

Social engineering is still one of the most common means of cyber-attack, primarily because it is highly efficient. To criminals, the user is the ‘weakest link in the security chain’.

Users are normally targeted in two ways: either over the phone or online.

– By phone, criminals pose as employees of a company or organization, say a bank or ISP, and after going through some typical questions and statements in order to gain the trust of the potential victim, they will then ask for login credentials and passwords.

– The most common fraud technique on the Internet is phishing In this technique, users reveal data because they think they are on a trusted website. Another way that social engineering is used online is using attachments to emails from people known to the victim. Malware is used to attack users’ address book sand send emails –with the attacker’s file attached- to all their contacts.

Types of Social Engineering Attacks:

There are many social engineering tactics depending on the medium used to implement it. The medium can be email, web, phone, USB drives, or some other thing. So, let’s tell you about different types of social engineering attacks:

1. Phishing

Phishing is the most common type of social engineering attack. The attacker recreates the website or support portal of a renowned company and sends the link to targets via emails or social media platforms. The other person, completely unknown of the real attacker, ends up compromising personal information and even credit card details.

You can prevent phishing emails by using spam filters in your email accounts. Most email providers do this by default nowadays. Also, don’t open any emails coming from an untrusted source or you find it suspicious.

2. Spear Phishing

A social engineering technique known as Spear Phishing can be assumed as a subset of Phishing. Although a similar attack, it requires an extra effort from the side of the attackers. They need to pay attention to the degree of uniqueness for the limited number of users they target. And the hard work pays off, the chances of users falling for the false emails are considerably higher in the case of spear phishing.

3. Vishing

Imposters or social engineers can be anywhere on the internet. But many prefer the old fashioned way; they use the phone. This type of social engineering attack is known as Vishing. They recreate the IVR (Interactive Voice Response) system of a company. They attach it to a toll-free number and trick people into calling the phone number and entering their details. Would you agree on this? Most people don’t think twice before entering confidential info on a supposedly trusted IVR system, do they?

4. Pretexting

Pretexting is another example of social engineering you might’ve come across. It’s based on a scripted scenario presented in front of the targets, used to extract PII or some other information. An attacker might impersonate another person or a known figure.

You might’ve seen various TV shows and movies where detectives use this technique to get into places where they’re personally not authorized, or extract information by tricking people. Another example of pretexting can be fake emails you receive from your distant friends in need of money. Probably, someone hacked their account or created a fake one.

5. Baiting

If you have seen the movie Troy, you might be able to recall the trojan horse scene. A digital variant of this technique is known as Baiting and it is one of the social engineering techniques used by people. Attackers leave infected USB drives or optical disks at public places with a hope of someone picking it up out of curiosity and using it on their devices. A more modern example of baiting can be found on the web. Various download links, mostly containing malicious software, are thrown in front of random people hoping someone would click on them.

6. Tailgating

Similarly, there are other social engineering techniques, like Tailgating, where a person takes help of an authorized person to get access to restricted areas where RFID authentication or some other electronic barrier is present.

7. Quid pro quo

Another social engineering method Quid pro quo involves people posing as technical support. They make random calls to a company’s employees claiming that they’re contacting them regarding an issue. Sometimes, such people get the chance to make the victim do things they want. It can be used for everyday people also.

Quid pro quo involves an exchange of something with the target, for instance, the attacker trying to solve a victim’s genuine problem. The exchange can include materialistic things such as some gift in return for the information.

What Does a Social Engineering Attack Look Like?

Email from a friend

If a criminal manages to hack or socially engineer one person’s email password they have access to that person’s contact list–and because most people use one password everywhere, they probably have access to that person’s social networking contacts as well.

Once the criminal has that email account under their control, they send emails to all the person’s contacts or leave messages on all their friend’s social pages, and possibly on the pages of the person’s friend’s friends.

Taking advantage of your trust and curiosity, these messages will:

  • Contain a link that you just have to check out–and because the link comes from a friend and you’re curious, you’ll trust the link and click–and be infected with malware so the criminal can take over your machine and collect your contacts info and deceive them just like you were deceived
  • Contain a download of pictures, music, movie, document, etc., that has malicious software embedded. If you download–which you are likely to do since you think it is from your friend–you become infected. Now, the criminal has access to your machine, email account, social network accounts and contacts, and the attack spreads to everyone you know. And on, and on.

Email from another trusted source

Phishing attacks are a subset of social engineering strategy that imitate a trusted source and concoct a seemingly logical scenario for handing over login credentials or other sensitive personal data.

Using a compelling story or pretext, these messages may:

  • Urgently ask for your help. Your ’friend’ is stuck in country X, has been robbed, beaten, and is in the hospital. They need you to send money so they can get home and they tell you how to send the money to the criminal.
  • Use phishing attempts with a legitimate-seeming background. Typically, a phisher sends an e-mail, IM, comment, or text message that appears to come from a legitimate, popular company, bank, school, or institution.
  • Ask you to donate to their charitable fundraiser, or some other cause. Likely with instructions on how to send the money to the criminal. Preying on kindness and generosity, these phishers ask for aid or support for whatever disaster, political campaign, or charity is momentarily top-of-mind.
  • Present a problem that requires you to “verify” your information by clicking on the displayed link and providing information in their form. The link location may look very legitimate with all the right logos, and content (in fact, the criminals may have copied the exact format and content of the legitimate site). Because everything looks legitimate, you trust the email and the phony site and provide whatever information the crook is asking for. These types of phishing scams often include a warning of what will happen if you fail to act soon because criminals know that if they can get you to act before you think, you’re more likely to fall for their phishing attempt.
  • Notify you that you’re a ’winner.’ Maybe the email claims to be from a lottery, or a dead relative, or the millionth person to click on their site, etc. In order to give you your ’winnings’ you have to provide information about your bank routing so they know how to send it to you or give your address and phone number so they can send the prize, and you may also be asked to prove who you are often including your social security number. These are the ’greed phishes’ where even if the story pretext is thin, people want what is offered and fall for it by giving away their information, then having their bank account emptied, and identity stolen.
  • Pose as a boss or coworker. It may ask for an update on an important, proprietary project your company is currently working on, for payment information pertaining to a company credit card, or some other inquiry masquerading as day-to-day business. 

What is the most common form of social engineering?

phishingThe most common form of social engineering attack is phishingPhishing attacks exploit human error to harvest credentials or spread malware, usually via infected email attachments or links to malicious websites.

Social engineering prevention

Social engineers manipulate human feelings, such as curiosity or fear, to carry out schemes and draw victims into their traps. Therefore, be wary whenever you feel alarmed by an email, attracted to an offer displayed on a website, or when you come across stray digital media lying about. Being alert can help you protect yourself against most social engineering attacks taking place in the digital realm.

Moreover, the following tips can help improve your vigilance in relation to social engineering hacks.

  • Don’t open emails and attachments from suspicious sources – If you don’t know the sender in question, you don’t need to answer an email. Even if you do know them and are suspicious about their message, cross-check and confirm the news from other sources, such as via telephone or directly from a service provider’s site. Remember that email addresses are spoofed all of the time; even an email purportedly coming from a trusted source may have actually been initiated by an attacker.
  • Use multifactor authentication – One of the most valuable pieces of information attackers seek are user credentials. Using multifactor authentication helps ensure your account’s protection in the event of system compromise. Login protect is an easy-to-deploy 2FA solution that can increase account security for your applications.
  • Be wary of tempting offers – If an offer sounds too enticing, think twice before accepting it as fact. Googling the topic can help you quickly determine whether you’re dealing with a legitimate offer or a trap.
  • Keep your antivirus/antimalware software updated – Make sure automatic updates are engaged, or make it a habit to download the latest signatures first thing each day. Periodically check to make sure that the updates have been applied, and scan your system for possible infections.

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