In the digital era, where cyberattacks have significantly increased, social engineering attacks are the easiest door for cybercriminals to break open. There are many examples of social engineering attacks, causing catastrophic losses in terms of finance and reputation. Based on recent statistics, around 98% of cyberattacks involve some degree of social engineering. Otherwise known as one of the methods with the lowest levels of sophistication required to exploit, we’ve created a comprehensive guide on ‘How to Spot and Stop Social Engineering Attacks’ that will raise awareness about securing your digital assets.
Social engineering is a human intelligence aspect where psychology is widely involved. However, cyberspace is defined as a technique widely adopted by cybercriminals to manipulate victims into giving away sensitive data, such as personal information or credentials, using various means.
In most cases, the manipulation is done by generating a sense of emergency or quick rewards so that the victim takes prompt action without considering consequences.
We’ll see the most exploited social engineering methods with the definition and examples.
How to Spot and Stop Social Engineering Attacks
Phishing is a general term for malicious attempts to deceive the victim, generally through email. Further, they are categorized into specifics based on the methods used, such as spear phishing, vishing, smishing, etc.
In phishing attacks, the victim might attempt to send an email containing attachments embedded with malware, impersonate emails due to weak mailing configurations, or redirect to a fake website that seemingly appears legitimate.
Numbers tell that 84% of organizations based in the US fell victim to phishing attacks. These attacks can be avoided by ensuring no links are clicked, or attachments are downloaded unless verified by the sender. Strong EDRs can help detect and isolate malicious files that spread through phishing emails.
All the phishing attempts made through SMS messages are called ‘smishing’. Smishing might spam a victim with themes around expired KYC, blocking accounts, or password change. The attackers exploit a sense of emergency or reward mechanism for smishing.
Certain messaging providers criminals use for mass spamming and spreading maliciously without being banned exist.
In 2022, 76% of organizations have faced smishing attacks right after phishing through emails. Like phishing, smishing attacks can be avoided by refraining from clicking links.
Cybercriminals execute vishing attacks by calling their victims, making them believe to be calling from banks and other financial entities. With modern voice modulation techniques, it is also possible to generate sophisticated attacks from the people we know.
Common scenarios for executing vishing attacks would be expired financial policies, emergency fund transfer requests, accidents, etc.
Two types of phishing attacks target C-level executives of an organization. Connecting with an organization by posing as C-Level Executives is called BEC (Business Email Compromise), whereas targeting an upper management person from a company targeted for a phishing attack is called whaling.
In both cases, criminals conduct a thorough investigation by tracing the digital footprints of the victim to be able to impersonate them with no flaws. While this example of social engineering attack is not restricted to companies, individuals are most affected due to payment transactions to fraudsters who pretend to be dignified personalities.
Ensure the companies have robust policies regarding DKIM, SPF, and DMARC. Also, enabling multi-factor authentication and password change discipline can reduce risks by BEC.
5. Watering Hole
Unlike the name suggests, Watering Hole targets individuals with similar web activity online. Certain websites are infected by exploiting vulnerabilities that these people usually visit. Since users trust the website, they can download malicious content without thinking twice.
Falling prey to watering hole attacks can be avoided by keeping corporate devices without personal internet surfing. Also, third-party websites should not be trusted and should always be alert before executing any file downloaded from there.
6. Quid Pro Co
This example of a social engineering attack is executed by gaining access to a user’s privileges, such as credentials or PII, in exchange for tech support or other information that might benefit the victim.
Requiring one lowest level of sophistication, this attack has many real-life examples of social engineering attacks.
Employees and individuals should strictly refrain from sharing credentials or any sensitive information unless the person requesting the data is verified. Use an in-house credential-sharing system that requires the requestor to log into the same space to view the data once verified.
7. Pig Butchering
As the name suggests, pig butchering attacks the victim by manipulating them into taking certain actions. Initially, a good relationship is established with the victim by giving them a romantic angle or a too-good-to-be-true scheme. Further, criminals have monetized this pig butchering method by transitioning into crypto and other malicious spaces.
Michigan Government’s recent advisory mentions that victims would fall to a potential pig butchering attack if they get a great offer promising great rewards in no time. The criminals might share URLs to platforms that are a replica of real websites but differ in name and functions. Individuals should avoid the website marked as untrusted and flagged by popular search engines.
After discussing the examples of social engineering attacks, one can understand that humans are undeniably the weakest link to security. These attacks are easily exploited with less sophistication, and thus, statistics prove that the rise in social engineering attacks is concerning.
One can easily find emails targeted to junior employees from criminals posing as organizations’ CEOs, banks’ executives, or government bodies. As an individual or organization, staying alert and taking preventive measures can help prevent the risk.
1. Is social engineering a criminal offense?
However, using social engineering for malicious purposes such as identity theft, credential harvesting, or fraudulent activities is an offense. Cybercriminals have adopted this common methodology as a starting vector to infiltrate organizations.
2. How to protect from social engineering?
- Individuals should take alerts from anti-virus systems and browsers seriously.
- Validate that an authorized sender sends the email contents before clicking on attachments.
- Enable multi-factor authentication on emails and regularly check whether the credentials are breached. Implement robust policies on passwords on the accounts.
- Take strict action upon seeing suspicious activities in the account, and immediately change common passwords for other accounts.
3. Common red flags that indicate someone is social engineering me for negative gains?
Social engineering in all attempts can be evaded by identifying some common red flags. Based on the examples above:
- Cross-verify the sender’s details.
- Look for common mistakes in emails or messages that a reputed organization will never attempt while addressing their clients.
- Never download any attachments from attachments or email redirects.
- Keep an eye on common scams run by cyber criminals, and beware of the techniques.
- Run regular cybersecurity employee awareness programs and regulate the vulnerability assessment frequency to patch the potential risks.
4. What to do after a social engineering attack scams me?
- Alert the authorities immediately for any social engineering attacks and the actions taken by the victim.
- Run scans across the devices to check for any malware infections and suspicious activities in the accounts.
- Trace the incident logs to identify the damage caused by the phishing attack.
Author Bio: This article has been written by Rishika Desai, B.Tech Computer Engineering graduate with 9.57 CGPA from Vishwakarma Institute of Information Technology (VIIT), Pune. Currently works as Cyber Threat Researcher at CloudSEK. She is a good dancer, poet and a writer. Animal love engulfs her heart and content writing comprises her present. You can follow Rishika on Twitter at @ich_rish99.