Social Engineering 101: The Most Common Ways Hackers Manipulate You

Social Engineering 101: The Most Common Ways Hackers Manipulate You

Social engineering refers to the psychological manipulation of people into revealing sensitive information or granting access to systems, networks, or physical locations.

Cybercriminals use social engineering tactics to trick people into divulging passwords, financial data, or other confidential details that can enable further malicious activities.

Even robust cybersecurity measures can be undermined if an employee or individual is deceived into providing unauthorized access.

Here are some statistics regarding social engineering attacks:

  • 98% of cyber attacks involve social engineering tactics, leveraging human interaction to breach security defenses.
  • Social engineering schemes costs a mid-sized company $1.6 million annually in losses.
  • Phishing remains the most common type of social engineering, responsible for 90% of data breaches in recent years.

Phishing Attacks

Phishing is one of the most prevalent social engineering techniques employed by cybercriminals. It involves sending fraudulent emails, texts, or other messages disguised as legitimate communications from trustworthy sources.

The goal is to trick victims into revealing sensitive information or to persuade them to download malware or visit malicious websites.

“Your account has been compromised, click here to reset your password”

“There’s a problem with your recent transaction, please verify your details.”

These are the messages phishing emails might have. They even include the company’s logo, branding, and a convincing replica of their website, making it challenging for the untrained eye to detect the fraud.

To protect against phishing attacks you should implement robust email filtering and antivirus solutions, as well as regular employee training programs to educate their workforce on identifying and reporting phishing attempts.

Pretexting

Pretexting is a social engineering technique where an attacker creates a plausible pretext or scenario to impersonate someone with authority, such as a colleague, vendor, or government official. The goal is to manipulate the victim into divulging sensitive information or granting access to systems.

For example, an attacker acts as an IT support technician and convinces an employee to “verify” their login credentials for a “routine system update”. With those stolen credentials, the attacker gained access to the company’s network and sensitive data.

To defend against pretexting, organizations should have clear verification procedures, such as calling authorized contacts directly using known phone numbers. End-user security awareness training is also crucial so employees can recognize and report suspicious pretext scenarios.

Baiting

Baiting is a social engineering tactic where attackers leave physical media devices like malware-infected USB drives, CDs, or other storage devices in locations where unsuspecting victims are likely to find and insert them out of curiosity.

The goal is to trick people into compromising their own systems by executing malicious code from the planted device.

More recently, the U.S. Department of Defense issued a warning in 2022 about USB drives labeled with the department’s logo being scattered around public parking lots near military bases and installations. These were suspected to be part of a baiting operation to infiltrate military networks.

To mitigate baiting risks, organizations can configure systems to disable AutoRun functionality for removable drives and use antivirus software to scan external media before accessing content.

Quid Pro Quo Attacks

Quid pro quo attacks involve manipulating someone into disclosing sensitive information or granting access by offering them something valuable in return.

Cybercriminals may promise employees rewards, favors, or other benefits to entice them into revealing passwords, bypassing security protocols, or installing malware.

One infamous quid pro quo attack was the case of an IT administrator who was offered a lucrative contracting job and stock options by a criminal hacker group. In exchange, the admin installed a remote access tool on their employer’s network, giving the hackers full control. The breach resulted in millions in losses for the company.

To guard against quid pro quo tactics, monitoring and auditing, can help deter employees from succumbing to these tempting but criminal offers.

So yes, social engineering attacks rely heavily on human error, making ongoing security awareness training crucial for all employees.

Regular security audits and penetration testing can uncover vulnerabilities that may be exploited through social engineering tactics. If you’d like to test your defenses, email us at [email protected]

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