Since the beginning of time, humans have been wired to help one another. When we see another person in need, most of us are naturally inclined to want to help. We feel obliged to help the elderly woman trying to lift her groceries or the young man whose car is broken down on the side of the road. Whatever the situation, it is our instinct to reach out and lend a hand. When it comes to cyberattacks, it is this exact instinct that hackers seek to exploit. Social engineering is the art of manipulating people into giving up confidential information. Cybercriminals are well aware of the average person’s desire to help, and they exploit this natural tendency to trust and help others to trick you into giving up passwords, banking information, and other secure information. Criminals use social engineering because it is actually a much easier way to access information than trying to hack a password. This psychological manipulation is effective, and it’s the new trend for cybercriminals.
What Does Social Engineering Look Like?
Social engineering is simply a manipulation of the mind and it can take many forms. The fraudster could use a variety of methods to retrieve information. Here are some examples of the most common types of social engineering attacks.
Emails from a Friend or Family Member
If a criminal manages to hack a person’s email password they will have access to that person’s contact list and perhaps even their social networking contacts. Once the criminal has control of the victim’s email account, they will send emails to all of the person’s contacts or leave messages on their friends’ social media accounts. Since the email looks as if it is coming from someone they know, they open it. Oftentimes, these emails and messages contain a link (and because we are curious beings) we click on the link that is infected with malware. Now, the criminal has access to your email account and contacts and the attack continues to spread. This tactic is effective because it plays on a person’s natural inclination to trust the source.
Emails from Another Trusted Source
Phishing attacks are another form of social engineering that imitate a trusted source or institution. For example, the cybercriminal might send an email that appears to come from a trusted source like a bank or a legitimate company. They may warn you that your account has been hacked and advise you to give information or click on a link to solve the problem. They may also ask you to verify your information by clicking on a link that is unknowingly embedded with malware. Some attacks might also claim that you are the winner of a lottery or that you have money from a dead relative. In other instances they might ask you to donate to a charitable cause or political campaign. Though there are multiple examples of phishing attacks, people fall victim because they have a tendency to trust the source.
These social engineering schemes lure victims by enticing them with something they want. For example, they might post a download to a hot new movie, a popular song, or a coupon to a popular store. Once the person clicks on the download, they unknowingly pass along their personal information.
Vishing is another popular form of social engineering and mimics a phishing attack. The scam attempt is much like the email scam, except that it involves the voice of the hacker rather than an email. The criminal will use a phone call to trick the victim into giving up valuable information. They might call an employee, posing as a co-worker to convince the victim to give up login credentials or other secure information.
How to Avoid Becoming a Victim
Social engineering has become increasingly popular and it is one of the most common scams that people fall victim to. The popularity of this trend among hackers puts businesses and organizations at risk and can lead to costly consequences and frustrating situations. Here are a few tips to help you avoid becoming a victim of social engineering.
* Educate Yourself- The power of knowledge is the most powerful tool in avoiding social engineering. Familiarize yourself with common types of scams and how to identify and ward off hackers.
* Slow Down- Social engineering attacks convey a sense of urgency and they want you to act quickly. Cyber criminals know that people might falter and act irrationally under pressure. Therefore, slow down and take the time to really think about the email or phone call. Consider the fact that banks, credit card companies, and even the IRS don’t ask for personal information and social security numbers over the phone. If you slow down and do your due diligence, you could save yourself from a scam.
* Install Antivirus Software- Make sure all of your devices are equipped with antivirus software and keep that software up to date. If possible, set your operating system to update these programs automatically.
* If It Sounds Suspicious, It Probably Is
When you get an email or message that seems odd, chances are it is not from a reliable source. Avoid clicking on any links or downloads from an unusual email. Furthermore, if the request or offer sounds too good to be true, it probably is and you need to do some research. You also need to use common sense to weed out suspicious emails. Reputable companies and financial institutions will never ask for personal information over the phone.
Social engineering can happen to anyone, but these simple and effective tips can help you avoid these attacks.
Your business is important and that’s why it’s recommended to work with a trusted cyber security partner like Contextual Security. We offer a personal, customized plan to help your business navigate cyber threats and we are committed to helping you develop a plan that fits your needs and budget. To learn more about our services, check us out at contextualsecurity.com or call and speak with one of our knowledgeable representatives 844-526-6732. You can also email us with any questions at [email protected].