What Does Social Engineering Look Like?

Social engineering might be an email that has been designed to seem like it is from a credible organiza- tion, like Fed Ex or even your bank. But if you open it and click on that attachment, you could be installing malware or ransomware. Or, it could be disguised to look like it comes from someone inside your organiza- tion – someone you trust. But if you respond to that email with your user name and password, your comput- er is easily compromised.

Most forms of social engineering typically use one or more of these tactics:

• Personalization • Convey a sense of urgency • Replicate trusted brands

• Prey on natural curiosity • Promise improvement

• Take advantage of conditioned responses to frequent events (such as software updates)

Attackers continue to rely more and more on social engineering to trick users into revealing credentials, installing malware or wiring funds. While few of us are still tempted to send money to distressed Nigerian princes anymore, the basic principles behind those early email scams are alive and well. We see them in large malicious email campaigns, web-based attacks, on social media, in email fraud and more.

The technical director of Symantec Security Response (publisher of Norton antivirus) reported that only about 3% of the malware they run into tries to exploit a technical flaw. The other 97% is trying to trick a user through some type of social engineering scheme. He stressed that bad guys are generally not trying to exploit technical vulnerabilities in Windows but are going after people instead. “You don’t need many tech- nical skills to find one person who might be willing, in a moment of weakness, to open up an attachment that contains malicious content.”

Techniques Used By Social Engineers

Social engineering attacks that target companies or individuals are most easily and successfully launched through email. Everyone depends on email for communication, which means it can direct a threat to every- one in an organization, including the CEO.

The 2018 Verizon Enterprises Data Breach Investigation Report found that malicious emails were involved in 96% of data breaches in 2017, up from 88% the year before. A 2016 CompTIA report titled International Trends in Cybersecurity found that human error accounts for more than 50 percent of security breaches.

Understanding the different types of attacks is vital when it comes to prevention. Here’s how the bad guys do it:

Phishing – About 91% of data breaches come from phishing, making this one of the most exploited forms of social engineering. Phishing attempts to acquire sensitive information such as usernames, passwords and credit card details by masquerading as a trustworthy source using bulk email. These emails often claim to be from popular social web sites, banks, auction sites or IT administrators to lure the unsuspecting pub- lic. While many are poorly designed with bad grammar, etc., others look legitimate enough for someone to click if they aren’t paying close attention.

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