Social engineering is a tactic where the attacker influences the victim to obtain valuable information. Office employees are targeted to reveal confidential data about a corporation while non-specialists can come under the radar to disclose their credit card information. One might also be threatened that the attacker will hack/his her system if he isn’t provided the asked material.
In this method, the perpetrator can take any form of disguise, but at most times, he/she poses as tech support or from a bank. However, this isn’t the case always, although the objective is the same. They sniff the information, which you conceal from everybody, by gaining your trust.
Social Engineering ends successfully when the wrongdoer gets to know the victim’s weaknesses and then manipulates his trust. Often, the victim shares his private information without paying much heed to the one who contacts him. Later, the victim is blackmailed by providing his sensitive data otherwise he will be charged under unlawful situations.
Examples of Social Engineering attacks
As defined above, the attacker can take any form of disguise, but the most common ways will be described here. The wrongdoers update themselves daily to penetrate your system, and even you should be extremely wary of your online security. Always stay alert whenever providing someone with your private credentials.
The listed examples are variations of the others. There are many others as well, but the most common has been described. The purpose of all of them is to configure you. As the name states, Social Engineering merely is how an individual can be tricked to give up everything to the person who gains his trust.
Phishing is a malicious attempt to access a person’s personal and sensitive information such as financial credentials. The attacker behind a phishing attack pretends as an authentic identity or source to fool an individual.
This social engineering technique mainly involves email spoofing or instant messaging to the victim. However, it may steer people to insert their sensitive details into a fraudulent website, which is designed to look exactly like a legitimate site.
Unwanted tech support
Tech support scams are becoming wide and can have an industry-wide effect. This tactic involves fraudulent attempts to scare people while putting them into the thought that there is something wrong with their device. Attackers behind this scam try to gain money by tricking an individual into paying for the issue which never exists.
Offenders usually send you emails or call you to solve issues regarding your system. Mostly, they tell you that there’s an update needed. If you are not wary of this bogus, you can land yourself in danger. The attacker might ask you to run a command on your system which will result in it getting unresponsive.
This belongs to the branch of social engineering known as scareware. Scareware uses fear and curiosity against humans to either steal information or sell you useless pieces of software. Sometimes it can be harsher and can keep your data as a hostage unless you pay a hefty amount.
Term clickbait refers to the technique of trapping individuals via a fraudulent link with tempting headlines. Cybercriminals take advantage of the fact that most legitimate sites or contents also use a similar technique to attract readers or viewers.
In this method, the attacker sends you enticing ads related to games, movies, etc. Clickbait is most seen during peer-to-peer networking systems with enticing ads. If you click on a certain Clickbait, an executable command or a suspicious virus can be installed on your system leading it to be hacked.
Fake email from a trusted person
Another tactic the offender utilizes is by sending you an email from your friend’s or relative’s email address claiming he/she is in danger. That email ID will be hacked, and with this perception, it’s most likely you will fall to this attack. The sent email will have the information you should give so that you can release your contact from the threat.
Pretexting is also a common form of social engineering which is used for gaining sensitive and non-sensitive information. The attackers pretext themselves as an authentic entity so that they can access the user information.
Unlike phishing, pretexting creates a false sense of trust with the victim through making stories, whereas, phishing scams involve fearing and urgency.
In some cases, the attack could become intense, such as in the case when the attacker manipulates the victim to carry out a task which enables them to exploit the structural lacks of a firm or organization. An example of this is, the attacker masking himself as an employee from your bank to cross-check your credentials. This is by far, the most frequent tactic used by offenders.
Sending content to download
The attacker sends you files containing music, movies, games or documents that appear to be just fine. A newbie on the internet will think about how lucky his day is that he got his wanted stuff without asking. Little does he know that the files he just downloaded are virus embedded.
Tips to Prevent Social Engineering
After understanding the most common examples of social engineering, let us have a look at how you can protect yourself from being manipulated.
1) Don’t give up your private information
Will you ever surrender your secret information to a person you don’t know? No, obviously. Therefore, do not spill your sensitive information on the web unnecessarily. If you do not identify the sender of the email, discard it. Nevertheless, if you are buying stuff online, only provide your credit card information over an HTTP secure protocol.
When an unknown person calls or emails you, think before you submit your data. Attackers want you to speak first and realize later. Remain skeptical and converse over a conversation regarding when the other is digging into your sensitive information. Therefore, always think of the consequences if you submit your credentials to an authorized person.
2) Enable spam filter
Most email service providers come up with spam filters. Any email that is deemed as suspicious shall automatically be thrown away in the spam folder. Credible email services detect any suspicious links and files that might be harmful and warn a user to download them at your own risk. Some files with specific extensions are barred from downloading.
By enabling the spam feature, you can ease yourself from categorizing emails. Furthermore, you shall be relieved from the horrendous tasks of detecting mistrustful messages. The perpetrators of social engineering will have no door to reach you, and your sensitive data will be shielded from attackers.
3) Stay cautious of your password
A pro tip for you is that you should never use the same password on the platforms you log onto. Keep no traces behind and delete all sessions after you are done with surfing and browsing. Utilize the social media wisely and stay cautious of people you tag and the information you provide since an attacker might loom there.
This is necessary in case your social media account gets hacked, and you have the same password for different websites, your data can be breached up to the skin. You will get blackmailed to pay the ransom to prevent your details from being leaked over the internet.
Perpetrators can get your passwords pretty quickly but what happens if you get infected with ransomware? All of your files will be encrypted, and you will be forced to pay the ransom with no data back guarantee which is why the best countermeasure against this attack is to prevent it from happening primarily.
4) Keep software up to date
Always update your system’s software patch. Maintain the drivers and keep a close look on your network firewall. Stay alert when an unknown person connects to your Wifi network and update your antivirus according to it. Download content from legitimate sources only and be mindful of the dangers.
Hacks often take place when the software the victim’s using is out of date. When vulnerabilities are exposed, offenders exploit the system and gain access to it. Regularly updating your software can safeguard you from a ton of dangers. Consequently, there are no backdoors left for hackers to abuse.
5) Pay attention to what you do online
Think of the time that you got self-replicating files on your PC after you clicked on a particular ad. Don’t what that to happen again? Train yourself to not click on Clickbait and scam advertisements. Always know that most lotteries you find online are fake. Never provide your financial details there.
Carefully inspect the URL of a website you land on. Most scammers make a copy of a website’s front page and change the link slightly. This is done with such efficiency, that the average eye cannot detect a change in the URL and the user opens the website and enters his credentials. Therefore, stay alert.
6) Remain Skeptical
The solution to most problems is that one should remain skeptical online. Do not click on spam links, do not open suspicious emails. Furthermore, do not pay heed to messages stating that you have won a lottery or you have been granted a check of a thousand grand. Remain skeptical of the supreme pinnacle.
With this strategy, a hacker will have no attraction of reaching you out since you aren’t paying attention to him. Most of the time, this tactic has helped many people from staying safe online and has never been intercepted by hackers digitally. Consequently, as you aren’t getting attracted to suspicious content, you will be saved from social engineering.
All the tips described above summarize that you are doubting, is vital for your digital secrecy. As you are doubtful, of your online presence, you are entirely protected from online manipulation. Not even you, your credit card information and other necessary information will be shielded as well since you never mentioned it to anyone in the first place.
All of this was achieved when you were doubtful of what’s occurring online. You inspected the links you visited and discarded suspicious emails, and thus you are secure. With these actions taken, you have prevented social engineering from occurring.
Peter Buttler is a Cybersecurity Journalist and Tech Reporter, Currently employed as a Senior Editor at PrivacyEnd. He contributes to a number of online publications, including Infosecurity-magazine, SC Magazine UK, Tripwire, Globalsign, and CSO Australia, among others. Peter, covers different topics related to Online Security, Big data, IoT and Artificial Intelligence. With more than seven years of IT experience, he also holds a Master’s degree in cybersecurity and technology. @peter_buttlr