Social Engineering 101: How to Prevent These Attacks

Dec 17, 2021

According to Purple Sec, 98% of cyber attacks rely on social engineering.

 

But what is it, exactly? Social engineering is defined as “the use of deception to manipulate individuals into divulging confidential or personal information that may be used for fraudulent purposes.”

 

In an IT context, social engineering is a way for cybercriminals to steal your data and information without you realizing it. These attacks require users to be vulnerable, typically because they’re unaware of what’s happening.

 

This article breaks down what social engineering looks like and how you can prevent it from damaging your organization.

 

Common Social Engineering Attacks 

 

Email Phishing

 

The most common type of phishing, this kind of attack is when hackers impersonate a legitimate organization to steal a user’s data and information.

 

These emails and messages convey a sense of urgency and importance to get people to take action. But, unfortunately, they may include a malicious link or download that users make the mistake of clicking on. This then leads to malware being installed on their device or important credentials being stolen.

 

To spot deceptive phishing, take a look at the address the message came from. Chances are, if it uses a variety of letters and numbers and doesn’t come from an actual website, it’s a phishing scam.

 

Baiting

 

Baiting is when a cybercriminal offers a user something, such as a good or item, that they then use to steal their information.

 

For example, one of your team members might be offered a free USB loaded with helpful software when the USB is loaded with malware.

 

These items might also be left in public places with enticing labels. These labels encourage a person to use said item, infecting their device and leaving their information at the hands of hackers. 

 

This is why it’s essential never to use a device you can’t trust or identify.

 

Pretexing

 

Pretexting involves a hacker’s situation to trick users into giving them private information they usually wouldn’t give outside of this pretext.

 

A typical example of pretexting is when someone calls an employee pretending to be someone from the higher rankings of their company. When employees think they’re hearing from the CEO, they’re much more likely to hand over information.

 

Pretexting highlights the importance of never sharing information with someone whose identity you can’t verify.

 

Vishing

 

This form of phishing involves an actual telephone call being made, where a cybercriminal will impersonate some sort of investigator or customer service representative. The criminal will then ask the user to provide their payment information or credit card details to “verify” their identity.

 

These hackers often rely on that sense of urgency that prompts individuals to take action right away. So if you receive a call from an unknown or blocked number, it’s best not to answer.

 

Or, if you’re on a call and you’re not exactly sure who you’re speaking with, do not give them any confidential information. For example, many cybercriminals will call during tax season, convincing people they work for the IRS and need specific credentials from them for their taxes.

 

Smishing

 

Similar to vishing, smishing involves sending text messages that prompt a user to take action. These text messages often include malicious links that can install malware on a user’s device.

 

Some texts even contain a number for a user to call should they need customer support. When this number is called, a hacker might attempt to trick users into sharing their private information. This leads a user right into a vishing attack.

 

Take a look at the area code that accompanies any texts you receive. If it’s a number you don’t recognize and a request is made, there’s a good chance it’s from a cybercriminal. 

 

Quid Pro Quo

 

This social engineering attack is when users believe they’ll get something in return for the information they hand over.

 

Often, a hacker will pose as a member of the organization they’re looking to steal data from, offering support or assistance should the employee provide their login information or download a specific file onto their device.

 

Years ago, a security expert used this tactic to obtain the usernames and passwords of 85% of the employees he contacted. 

 

Watering Hole Phishing

 

Watering hole attacks involve attackers noting the specific websites your employees frequently visit and infecting these sites with malware. Since your team members are likely to visit these websites, it makes it even easier for cybercriminals to access your network, servers, and information once they do.

 

Malware is installed onto the systems of your employees who visit these websites, allowing hackers to collect sensitive data. Additionally, this malware can be spread to dozens of devices simultaneously, as multiple employees may be visiting the same sites.

 

Prevent Social Engineering Attacks

 

Now that you have a better idea of what these social engineering attacks look like, you’ll want to do everything you can to prevent them from happening. Here’s what our experts recommend.

 

Train Your Team

 

Each member of your organization should understand the common traits of social engineering attacks and avoid them through regular cyber security training. In addition, employees should understand that should they spot anything suspicious, they should let your IT service provider know immediately.

 

You should also establish clear guidelines on what information can be shared and when. Team members should know how to go about sharing information and when to keep things private.

 

Use Spam Filters

 

Since email phishing is the most common form of social engineering, you’ll want to make sure your email is protected. You can do this by enabling spam filters.

 

Should an email end up in your spam folder, be sure it’s not a phishing scam before moving it to your inbox.

 

Update Your Softwares

 

Your IT service provider should share the best of the best with you regarding anti-virus and anti-malware software. You’ll want to make sure these are always up to date, as the latest versions typically come with various updated security patches.

 

It’s essential for you and your employees to regularly update their devices, making it harder for hackers to exploit any security holes you might not be aware of.

 

Use a VPN

 

A virtual private network (VPN) is an excellent way to secure your information when using a public network.

 

VPNs encrypt any of your data that passes through the public Wi-Fi network. This way, you can access the internet without hackers being able to track your whereabouts. In addition, you won’t have to worry about your data being intercepted and held for ransom, as the VPN hides it.

 

Take the time to research which VPN is best for your needs. Then, send us a message if you have any questions, as not all VPNs do the same job. However, it may be worth the money to invest in a solid VPN to guarantee your privacy.

 

Check the Source

 

See an email or phone call from an address or number you don’t recognize? Don’t answer or provide them with any information until you can verify their identity.

 

Ask your IT service provider for help if you’re unsure how to go about this verification process. They’ll help you determine whether or not this person is someone you can trust. 

 

Be Careful of Your Downloads

 

Most of us are downloading different files or attachments daily. However, when downloading things from a site you don’t trust, you’re running the risk of downloading a virus that could have severe implications for your organization.

 

Instead, only authorize downloads from sites you trust. Ensure your employees know the importance of being mindful when it comes to every website they visit. 

 

Regularly Change Your Passwords

 

You should be using strong, unique passwords for each of your accounts. If you struggle to come up with new passwords, use a password randomization tool. Then, use a password manager such as LastPass to keep track of these passwords for you.

 

Think of your password as your first line of defense when it comes to your information. The stronger it is, the less likely hackers will be able to get past it.

 

Not sure what constitutes a good password? We break that down here [link to the blog on Itechra when published].

 

Enable Web Filtering

 

Web filtering solutions help prevent your team members from visiting websites where hackers might be waiting in the shadows. In addition, they’ll block viruses that can spread ransomware as well as any harmful links and files. 

 

These solutions make web browsing safer and prevent your employees from making any accidental mistakes regarding cybersecurity. 

 

Work With a Professional

 

Is your head spinning thinking about all of the different social engineering attacks you need to look out for? We get it. That’s why we’re here to help. Our experts will answer your questions and get you the solutions you need.

 

It’s always best to work with a professional rather than approaching cybersecurity from a DIY perspective. Send us a message today, and we’ll help put together a plan to stop social engineering before it takes hold of your organization.

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