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Social Engineering: Tips for Avoiding the Trap

It’s no secret that cybercrime is on the rise. Not only are these threats becoming more frequent, but they’re also becoming more complex in nature – making it even more difficult to prevent an attack.

While the pandemic has allowed for much more flexibility in the workplace, it’s also increased the susceptibility of businesses to fall victim to cybercrime.

Social engineering is one tactic that has steadily increased, especially over the last couple of years. It can present itself in many different forms, making it hard to spot and prevent from occurring before it’s too late. To help keep your organization protected, it’s important to make sure your team is knowledgeable on how this attack can look, and given the proper steps to take in avoiding the trap.

What is social engineering?

Social engineering refers to a broad range of malicious cyber attacks that use human interaction to make its way into an organization. Users are commonly deceived into willingly giving up sensitive information or access to confidential data, without necessarily knowing they’ve done so.

Once the attacker has successfully tricked the user into giving them what they need, they then have free reign as to what they can do with the information. At that point, the cybercriminal typically cuts off all communication with the original user as they carry out the remainder of the attack.

These types of attacks differ from others, as they depend on mistakes made by users, rather than a vulnerability in the system. It’s extremely difficult to predict when a user may make a simple mistake, making it nearly impossible to know when one of these attacks will occur.

Knowing the different forms that a social engineering attack can take will help your organization stay as protected as possible against this type of threat.

What does it look like?

Scareware:

Scareware is a form of social engineering that quite literally “scares” a user into believing that they need to download or buy malicious software or updates to their system. This usually takes form in the shape of a pop-up ad, attempting to convince the user that they should install a fake anti-virus software.

If the attack is successful and the victim downloads the malicious content, the device can quickly be compromised and sensitive data/information can be stolen.

Phishing:

You’ve probably heard us mention phishing many times before, seeing as how it’s one of the most common email scams out there. Phishing refers to fraudulent emails being sent to users that include malicious links or attachments within the message that contain malware. Once the link is clicked or the attachments are downloaded, the malware can quickly infect the device, leaving the user and their accounts vulnerable to the attack.

Phishing attempts can be more difficult to spot, seeing as how some attempts can be intricately designed to resemble a legitimate email. Paying close attention to a few key items within an email can help users determine whether or not the email is safe to interact with.

Spear Phishing:

Spear phishing is similar to the phishing attempts mentioned above, however this tactic takes it to another level. In these attacks, the cybercriminal targets a specific individual or group within an organization. By targeting a particular person, the hacker can use prior research to obtain basic information about that individual and use it to their advantage.

For example, the hacker may use the victim’s name or rank within their organization, making the email seem more legitimate. By using a personalized message, the hacker has a better chance at tricking the user into falling for the scam.

Baiting:

Baiting is another form of social engineering that occurs when a cybercriminal tries to lure the user to fall victim by making a promise or piquing their curiosity. For example, an attacker may leave an infected USB flash drive out for a user to find, hoping that the user tries to figure out what’s on it. Once the flash drive is inserted into a device, malware can quickly take over.

This form of social engineering does not always come in the form of a physical trap. Baiting can also be seen as a tempting website or ad to download a malicious application that can quickly result in a malware-infected device as well.

What can you do to avoid these attacks?

There are a few steps you can take to keep your guard up against these malicious social engineering attacks.

  1. Carefully inspect any emails that come to your inbox. While it may look legitimate at first, there could be malicious links or files embedded within the email. A few key places to double check the legitimacy of the message are the “from” line, the “subject” line, and the general body of the email. Spelling errors, requests for urgency, and unexpected senders are always red flags to be on the look out for.
  2. Provide regular security awareness training for your team. End-users are the #1 target for cybercriminals. As mentioned above, the nature of cyber threats is ever-changing. Making sure that your team is well-equipped with the knowledge of what to look out for can help protect your organization from these threats.
  3. Use multi-factor authentication. The intent of many cyber-attacks is to gain a user’s credentials in order to obtain sensitive data from the victim’s account. If multi-factor authentication is properly in place, your account may still be protected in the event of a compromise.
  4. If it looks phish-y, trust your instinct. It’s always better to be overly cautious when it comes to cybersecurity. For example, if an email looks suspicious, it’s smart to double check the validity of the message before taking any other action. If you receive something that you know is malicious, you should always report the incident to help others be alert and potentially save someone else from falling victim.

Don’t Click!

Cyber threats can come in all different shapes and sizes. They’re also constantly evolving and becoming more difficult to spot before it’s too late.

Making sure that your organization and team members are aware of the threats and how to handle these situations can save your organization a large amount of time, money, and resources in the long-run.

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