Social Engineering Attacks: A Pay4Me Guide
Uloma Okorie lost the seven months' salary she had saved for her master's in the United States. She didn't share her password with anyone, but a hacker bought into her vulnerability and stole her funds. The bank couldn't help her recover the funds; neither could she explain how the money left her bank account. She suffered from a social engineering attack.
Today, social engineering attacks have become a common threat that can affect individuals and businesses online.
What is Social Engineering?
Social engineering describes malicious activities accomplished through human interactions. The attack involves psychologically manipulating users into violating personal information and company policies or revealing confidential data. Hackers use this attack to inflict damage on personal accounts and computer networks.
Rather than depending on a network’s vulnerabilities or weaknesses, hackers focus on human errors to lure them into downloading or clicking on links filled with viruses. Therefore, it could be difficult to pinpoint these social engineering attacks because of the complex processes required.
Here’s Why Hackers Don’t Need Your Passwords
You don't have to depend on your security setup or strong password because hackers understand that they must find and exploit your vulnerability. When you make a mistake, it becomes less predictable and more challenging for experts to discover the loophole and thwart such intrusion.
For instance, in 2021, the FBI received over 550,000 complaints of these crimes from Americans, with reported losses exceeding $6.9 billion, while hackers used social engineering techniques in 20% of all data breaches in 2022.
The accounts of people like Kanye West, President Joe Biden, and Elon Musk had suffered breaches through social engineering attacks. How do you protect your business, family, and personal account from these evolving social attacks? This guide has made it easier for you to understand this malicious attack.
How Social Engineering Works
Social engineering attacks can happen with different tactics to win your trust and exploit your weaknesses. Here are the methods used by hackers:
1. Preparation: Hackers study their victims’ information via text messages, calls, social media, or email.
2. Infiltration: Hackers approach their victims as legitimate sources with the information gathered to win their trust.
3. Exploitation: The hackers lure victims into revealing information like payment methods, account details, credential logins, and contact information before attacking them.
4. Disengagement: The damage has been done, and communication stops.
Note: A social engineering attack can take months depending on the victims' reception level.
What Do Social Engineers Want?
Social engineer hackers need the following:
1. Login details
2. Account numbers
3. Server and network information
4. Access cards and identity badges
5. Personal Identifiable Information (PII)
6. Computer system information
How Does Social Engineering Affect Businesses?
Organizations can suffer.
1. Disruption: An organization can stay out of business for hours or days, depending on the severity of the attack.
2. Financial loss: Organizations suffer financial losses when a successful social engineering attack happens.
3. Loss of trust: Customers may no longer trust businesses that suffered data breaches or financial losses. It takes time to rebuild an organization’s trustworthiness.
4. Productivity loss: An organization suffers productivity loss and may struggle to recover lost data and other sensitive information.
Types of Social Engineering Tactics
Social engineers use different manipulative tactics to carry out their attacks. We have listed some of these tactics below:
Hackers understand that humans are emotional and work on scenarios or stories to lure victims into following their instructions.
1) Generates a sense of being helpless
2) It creates confusion for you
3) Create a sense of time sensitivity for receiving the information
4) Project guilt if you refuse to help
5) Use anger or fear if you try to resist helping
6) Develops a sense of trust in you
7) Appeals to your curiosity, sense of decency, and kindness
Social engineers offer false reasoning that can fool their victims. When victims lose their guards with such reasoning, they lose their vulnerabilities to these hackers.
Favours and Gifting
Who doesn't like gifts? Hackers leverage offering favors or gifts, and when human nature reciprocates, like offering sensitive information, the baiting works.
Liking and Reciprocity
Social engineers appear likable and easy to trust. When they rub off these traits on their victims, the kindness expressed becomes their victims' doom.
Consistency and Commitment
Social engineers show commitment and consistency when they relate with their victims. Since humans like showing commitment in their relationships, like giving out their names, hackers use this against their victims.
Social Proof and Authority
Hackers recognize that humans approve of authority or social proof. For instance, they can easily trust influencers without doing homework on some claims. Therefore, hackers make use of social proof and authority to attack.
Urgency and Scarcity
Hackers create a sense of urgency or scarcity, which leaves their victims confused to think things through before acting on instructions.
Common Types of Social Engineering Attacks
Phishing has become the most common type of social engineering involving emails or other forms of communication to retrieve information. While these phishing messages might look authentic from trusted sources, they are false.
Phishing scam goals include:
1) Luring victims to click a link that contains malware.
2) Disguise viruses or malware as legitimate attachments.
3) Get victims to enter their credentials on a website.
Common phishing email subject lines:
- Notice of payment
- Treat as urgent and get back to me
- Re: Your installation
- Your phone number
- Notice: Your online account was accessed
- Service cancellation [date]
- SHIPPING DOCUMENT / TRACKING CONFIRMATION
- Confirmation for your delivery
- Incoming fax
Spear phishing targets organizations or individuals for financial reasons or data breaches.
Angler phishing implements social media platforms to send messages as customer service and steal information.
Whaling targets specific, high-profile persons like celebrities, government officials, or executives.
Smishing (SMS phishing) / Vishing (voice phishing)
Hackers use smishing via SMS text messages to push messages containing malicious links. In addition, they can use voice phishing to contact the company’s customer service, HR, front desk, or IT and claim to need personal information about an employee.
Baiting lures victims to provide sensitive information by promising them something valuable.
Piggybacking / Tailgating
Tailgating and piggybacking happen when an authorized person allows an unauthorized person access to a restricted area, especially access to companies’ devices or passwords.
Pretexting happens when someone misuses their roles or creates a fake persona during data breaches from the inside.
Business Email Compromise (BEC)
The business email compromise (BEC) can happen in the following ways:
Impersonation: Scammers can use spoof emails and pose as trusted vendors, employees, or clients.
Account compromise: Scammers access a legitimate employee email address and send emails containing malicious code.
Thread hijacking: Thread hijacking is an advanced compromise attack when scammers scan compromised inboxes for subject lines containing “Re.”
Quid Pro Quo Attacks
Quid pro quo (“a favour for a favour”) or tech support scams happen when scammers pose as IT departments or other technical service providers.
Honeytraps (romance scams)
Honeytraps allow scammers to generate fake social media profiles on Snapchat, Instagram, and other platforms, including online dating websites with stolen photos.
Fraudware, deception software, scareware, or rogue scanner software makes victims believe they are attacked or threatened. It comes as pop-ups in your browser or spam emails.
Watering Hole Attacks
A watering hole attack happens when hackers infect websites their target victims regularly visit.
How to Protect Yourself From Social Engineering Attacks
1) Reduce your online footprint by sharing less online and on social media.
2) Install antivirus software.
3) Regularly check your credit report and bank statements.
4) Use a VPN when browsing and shopping online.
5) Always use two- or multi-factor authentication (2FA/MFA).
6) Monitor the Dark Web for your exposed data.
7) Consider signing up for identity theft protection
8) Carefully check emails, including names and addresses, and copy
9) Never open emails from senders you don’t know.
10) Slow down and assess any emotions that the message generates
11) Verify the identity of anyone whom you don't know personally
12) Never pay a ransom.
How to Protect Your Business From Social Engineering Attacks
1. Create a positive security culture.
2. Commit to ongoing security awareness training.
3. Regularly test your team.
4. Keep your site, app, and hardware updated.
5. Set up data monitoring.
The Bottom Line: Social Engineering Attacks Can Be Avoided
You don't have to lose your identity online if you take the time to process the information sent to you. Many families, brand reputations, or individuals have suffered consequences because of social engineering attacks. The first step of defense is to learn how to detect any of these attacks.