What is Social Engineering?

Have you ever received an email from a co-worker asking for information that seemed just a little out of place, only to find out later that the email was not from your co-worker but was a fraudulent message, meant to trick you into giving away sensitive information? You are not alone! Emails such as this are all-too-common. In fact, cyber criminals are now employing very sophisticated technology to even more easily convince you to voluntarily give away personally identifiable information for you or your business. Such attacks are part of a larger category of cyber crime called ‘social engineering.’

Social engineering is a manipulation tactic used to get personal, sensitive information out of people. Targeted individuals can be tricked into giving up their passwords, banking information, confidential client information, or even control of their computers. It is easier for criminals to trick people into giving out confidential information than to hack into someone’s software or network. The recent rise in AI-powered ‘deep fake’ technology makes this type of fraud even more difficult to detect.

Identifying Social Engineering Attacks

Phishing attacks are a common example of social engineering. This kind of attack typically comes in the form of emails that include links or downloads that contain harmful content. The links may redirect the user to different and suspicious websites, and downloads could contain malware. These attacks may also be urgently asking for help, asking for charitable donations, claiming to need your information verified, or even someone posing as a boss or coworker.

Pretexting is another form of social engineering where attackers create fabricated scenarios to steal someone’s personal information. The main goal of this attack is often identity theft. They will impersonate someone you trust, get you to confirm your credentials, and then steal your identity. Sometimes, they trick their victims into bypassing their organization’s security. This could mean they are posing as an IT professional or auditor to get into the building or network. This attack relies on a false sense of trust established between the victim and the attacker.

Another tactic cyber criminals use in social engineering is baiting. They use something you want to make you more likely to take their bait. They offer a prize that is highly desirable. Once you click, your device becomes infected with whatever malicious software they have embedded within. They can then exploit your device and network however they want, getting bank information and stealing money or locking you out of important accounts. Always be wary if someone is offering you free things.

Baiting has a similar attack counterpart called quid pro quo. It is similar to baiting but promises something in return for information. This bait is a form of service rather than baiting’s promise of a good. The most common quid pro quo attack is fraud impersonating the US Social Security Administration. They contact people randomly and pose as personnel to get people to give them their social security numbers.

The last type of social engineering attack is tailgating. This happens with physical people rather than with online attackers. Tailgating is when a person follows someone into a restricted or confidential area. They could impersonate a delivery driver or maintenance. Keycard systems would prevent this type of attack. It is essential to be on the lookout for suspicious individuals because criminals can pose as anyone.

There are a few simple ways to identify fraudulent emails:

  1. Check the sender’s address carefully: Fraudulent emails often use addresses that mimic your organization but contain variations that can be identified. The display name can be easily manipulated, so check the actual sender’s address carefully.
  2. Look for suspicious URL’s: However over any links and ne sure they go to where they say they are going. If you see a long URL that you cna not identify, do not click.
  3. Urgent or threatening tone: Scammers often create a sense of urgency. Be cautious of any email that claims immediate action is needed.
  4. Requests for personal information: Legitimate organizations typically do not request sensitive information via email.
  5. Unexpected attachments: Be careful when opening attachment,s especially if they are not expected.
  6. Trust your instincts: If it feels off, it usually is. Always air on the side of caution. If in doubt, don’t click or respond. Following up on a suspicious email by phone is always a good practice.

How do you protect your business from all forms of social engineering attacks?

Protecting against social engineering attacks requires a combination of awareness, education, and implementation of security measures. Here are some effective strategies to help safeguard against all of the various forms of social engineering attacks:

  1. Employee Education and Awareness:
    1. Train employees on the various forms of social engineering attacks, such as phishing, pretexting, baiting, and tailgating. Teach them how to recognize suspicious emails, phone calls, or requests for sensitive information. Encourage them to verify the identity of unfamiliar individuals or requests before sharing any sensitive data.
  2. Strong Password Policies:
    1. Implement strong password policies throughout the organization. Encourage employees to use unique, complex passwords and enable two-factor authentication (2FA) whenever possible. Regularly remind employees to change their passwords and avoid reusing them across multiple accounts.
  3. Phishing Awareness:
    1. Educate employees about phishing emails and how to spot them. Teach them to scrutinize email sender addresses, look for grammatical or spelling errors, avoid clicking on suspicious links or attachments, and verify requests for sensitive information through alternative means of communication.
  4. Secure Communication Channels:
    1. Encourage the use of secure communication channels, such as encrypted email services and messaging platforms. Emphasize the importance of encrypting sensitive data and avoiding the transmission of confidential information through unsecured channels.
  5. Robust Security Software:
    1. Maintain up-to-date security software, including antivirus, anti-malware, and firewall solutions, on all devices within the organization’s network. Regularly update and patch software to protect against known vulnerabilities.
  6. Limited Access and Privileges:
    1. Adopt the principle of least privilege, granting employees access to only the systems, files, and data necessary to perform their job responsibilities. Regularly review and update access privileges to ensure they align with employees’ current roles and responsibilities.
  7. Physical Security Measures:
    1. Implement physical security measures, such as key card access, CCTV cameras, and secure areas, to prevent unauthorized individuals from gaining physical access to sensitive areas or equipment.
  8. Incident Response Plan:
    1. Develop a comprehensive incident response plan that outlines steps to be taken in the event of a social engineering attack. This plan should include procedures for reporting incidents, isolating affected systems, and notifying relevant parties. Regularly test and update the plan to account for emerging threats and vulnerabilities.
  9. Ongoing Security Awareness Training:
    1. Social engineering attacks evolve over time, so it is crucial to provide regular security awareness training to employees. Keep them informed about new attack techniques and emphasize the importance of remaining vigilant and following security protocols.
  10. Continuous Monitoring and Assessment:
    1. Implement continuous monitoring of network activity and user behavior to detect any suspicious or abnormal patterns. Conduct regular security assessments, including penetration testing and vulnerability scanning, to identify and address potential weaknesses proactively.

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