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Cyber attackers use Social engineering attacks which are a type of attack that targets the human element, rather than the computer system and its software. The attacker attempts to trick a person into performing an action that allows them to gain access to the victims’ computers.

One of the most common types of this kind of an attack is a man-in-the-middle attack. A man-in-the-middle attack occurs when an attacker impersonates someone else to fool the victims into believing they are talking directly to each other via normalizing protocols like interactive voice response, email, instant messaging, and web conferencing.

Hacking through human manipulation is easier to execute than hacking directly from an external source. This article discusses why SE attacks are on the rise and why cyber attackers commonly use these tactics.

Why do Cyber Attackers use Social Engineering Attacks : Probable Causes & Reasons

Social engineering attacks are one of the most popular and effective methods used by hackers today. These attacks often exploit human-to-human relationships, such as employee trust and familiarity, or physical proximity between employees, and customers.

a. The Human Element Is The Weakest Link In Traditional Security

Attacks tend to be more effective when they rely on human interaction, which means that there is no way for technology to protect us from them.

All an attacker needs is a bit of information about their target’s habits or preferences and some creativity in how they present themselves to the victim.

This results in the attackers getting what they want without having to resort to more complicated techniques, like hacking into an organization’s network or breaking into a company’s systems.

b. There’s No Need for Advanced Hacking Techniques

Social engineering attacks utilize the trust of people to gain access to a system or network. These attacks are effective because it is easy for an attacker to gain access, rather than using advanced hacking techniques to brute force their way into a network.

When an attacker does this, they typically use psychologically manipulative techniques such as phishing, spear phishing, and pretexting.

➜ Phishing is when an attacker sends emails that appear legitimate but are designed to trick users into giving up their personal information like passwords or credit card details.

➜ Spear phishing is when an attacker uses the same methods as phishing but with more advanced techniques such as impersonating someone else to fool you into giving up your information.

➜ Pretexting refers to when an attacker uses pretenses to gain the trust of their victims before attempting to steal from them.

Once attackers have gained access to your system or network they can do anything they want inside it including installing programs, modifying files, or even deleting them all without getting caught by a security system or administrator who could stop them from doing so if they knew what was happening inside their network!

c. Dumpster Diving is Easier Than Brute Forcing Into a Network

Dumpster diving is the act of retrieving information from discarded materials to carry out social engineering attacks. The technique involves searching through the trash for treasures like access codes or passwords written down on sticky notes. Dumpster diving makes such activities easy to carry out because it allows the hacker to gain access to the network without actually having to break in.

The information that dumpster divers unearth can range from the mundane, such as a phone list or calendar, to more seemingly innocent data like an organizational chart. But this seemingly innocent information can assist an attacker in using social engineering techniques to gain access to the network.

In addition, if a computer has been disposed of, it could be a treasure-house for cyber attackers. It is possible to recover information from storage media, including drives that have been erased or improperly formatted. Stored passwords and trusted certificates are often stored on the computer and are vulnerable to attack.

The discarded equipment may contain sensitive data on the Trusted Platform Module (TPM). This data is important to an organization because it allows them to securely store sensitive information, such as cryptographic keys. A social engineer could leverage the hardware IDs that are trusted by an organization to craft potential exploits against their users.

d. Makes Use Of People’s Fear, Greed, And A Sense Of Urgency

Social engineering attacks are easy to carry out because they rely on the human element. The cyber attacker may use charm, persuasion, or intimidation to manipulate the person’s perception or exploit the person’s emotion to get important details about their company.

For instance, a cyber attacker might talk with a company’s disgruntled employee to get hidden information, which can then be used to break into the network.

The disgruntled employee may provide information about the company to an attacker if he/she feels that he/she is being treated unfairly or mistreated by his/her current employer. The disgruntled employee may also provide information about the company if he/she doesn’t have another job and will be out of work soon.

The more advanced methods of hacking would involve breaking into a network using more advanced techniques like malware, keyloggers, and Trojans. These advanced techniques would require much more time and effort than just talking with a disgruntled employee to get hidden information that can be used in breaking into a network.

The Six Major Principles of Influence

Social engineering scams exploit six specific vulnerabilities in the human psyche. These vulnerabilities are identified by psychologist Robert Cialdini in his book “Influence: The Psychology of Persuasion” and they are:

Reciprocity – Reciprocity is the desire to repay favors in kind. We tend to feel indebted to people who have helped us; we feel like it’s our responsibility to help them out. So when someone asks us for something—a password, access to financial records, or anything else—we’re more likely to comply if they’ve helped us before.

Commitment and consistency – We tend to do things over time rather than just once. We’re more likely to agree with a request if we’ve already agreed with one of its parts—or even several. If someone has asked for access to your financial records before, perhaps asking again isn’t such a big deal after all!

Social Proof – It is a deception technique that relies on the fact that we tend to follow the lead of people around us (also known as the “bandwagon effect”). For instance, employees could be swayed by a threat actor who presents false evidence that another employee has complied with a request.

Liking – We like people who seem like they’re in charge; so, a hacker might send a message to your email address that looks like it’s from your boss or a friend of yours, or even an expert in a field you’re interested in. The message might say something like, “Hey! I know you’re working on this project and we need some help. Can we get together sometime soon?” It usually asks for your help—and by agreeing, you’re giving away sensitive information.

Authority – People generally submit to authority figures because we see them as the “right” ones for us to follow and obey. In this way, social engineering tactics can exploit our tendency to trust those who seem authoritative to get what they want from us.

Scarcity – Scarcity is a human instinct that’s hardwired into our brains. It’s the feeling of “I need this now,” or “I should have this.” So when people are being scammed by social engineers, they’ll feel a sense of urgency to give up their money or information as soon as possible.

Personalities that Are Vulnerable to Social Engineering & Why?

According to Dr. Margaret Cunningham, the principal research scientist for human behavior with Forcepoint X-Labs—a cybersecurity company—agreeableness and extraversion are the personality traits most vulnerable to social engineering exploits.

Agreeable people tend to be trusting, friendly, and willing to follow directions without question. They make good candidates for phishing attacks because they are more likely to click on links or open attachments from emails that appear genuine.

Extroverts are also more susceptible to social engineering assaults because they often prefer being around others and they may be more likely to trust others. They are more likely to be suspicious of others’ motives than introverted people are, which might cause them to be deceived or manipulated by a social engineer.

Personalities that Are Resilient to Social Engineering & Why?

People who are resilient to social engineering assaults tend to be conscientious, introverted, and have a high self-efficacy.

Conscientious people are the most likely to be able to resist social engineering scams by focusing on their own needs and desires. They are also less likely to conform to the demands of others.

Introverts tend to be less susceptible to external manipulation because they take time for themselves and enjoy solitude, which means that they are less likely to be influenced by social cues or pushy people who try to influence them.

Self-efficacy is important because it helps us believe in ourselves, so we have more confidence that we can resist pressure from others or outside influences.

Protect Your Organization From Social Engineering Scams with PowerDMARC

Social engineering is the practice of manipulating employees and customers into divulging sensitive information that can be used to steal or destroy data. In the past, this information has been obtained by sending emails that look like they came from legitimate sources such as your bank or your employer. Today, it’s much easier to spoof email addresses.

PowerDMARC helps protect against this type of attack by deploying email authentication protocols like SPF, DKIM, and DMARC p=reject policy in your environment to minimize the risk of direct domain spoofing and email phishing attacks.

If you’re interested in protecting yourself, your company, and your clients from social engineering attacks, sign up for our free DMARC trial today!

Before diving into the types of social engineering attacks that victims fall prey to on a daily basis, along with upcoming attacks that have taken the internet by a storm, let’s first briefly get into what social engineering is all about. 

To explain it in layman’s terms, social engineering refers to a cyberattack deployment tactic where threat actors use psychological manipulation to exploit their victims and defraud them.

Social Engineering: Definition and Examples

What is a social engineering attack?

As opposed to cybercriminals hacking into your computer or email system, social engineering attacks are orchestrated by trying to influence a victim’s opinions into manoeuvering them to expose sensitive information. Security analysts have confirmed that more than 70% of cyberattacks that take place on the internet on an annual basis are social engineering attacks.

Social Engineering Examples

Take a look at the example shown below:

 

Here we can observe an online advertisement luring the victim in with a promise to earn $1000 per hour. This ad contains a malicious link that can initiate a malware installation on their system. 

This type of attack is commonly known as Online Baiting or simply Baiting, and is a form of social engineering attack. 

Given below is another example:

As shown above, social engineering attacks can also be perpetrated using email as a potent medium. A common example of this is a Phishing attack. We would be getting into these attacks in more detail, in the next section.

Types of Social Engineering Attacks

1. Vishing & Smishing

Suppose today you get an SMS from your bank (supposedly) asking you to verify your identity by clicking on a link, or else your account will be deactivated. This is a very common message that is often circulated by cybercriminals to fool unsuspecting people. Once you click on the link you are redirected to a spoofing page that demands your banking information. Rest assured that if you end up providing your bank details to attackers they will drain your account. 

Similarly, Vishing or Voice phishing is initiated through phone calls instead of SMS.

2. Online Baiting / Baiting 

We come across a range of online advertisements every single day while browsing websites. While most of them are harmless and authentic, there might be a few bad apples hiding in the lot. This can be identified easily by spotting advertisements that seem too good to be true. They usually have ridiculous claims and lures such as hitting the jackpot or offering a huge discount.

Remember that this may be a trap (aka a bait). If something appears too good to be true, it probably is. Hence it is better to steer clear of suspicious ads on the internet, and resist clicking on them.

3. Phishing

Social engineering attacks are more often than not carried out via emails, and are termed Phishing. Phishing attacks have been wreaking havoc on a global scale for almost as long as email itself has existed. Since 2020, due to a spike in email communications, the rate of phishing has also shot up, defrauding organizations, large and small, and making headlines every day. 

Phishing attacks can be categorized into Spear phishing, whaling, and CEO fraud, referring to the act of impersonating specific employees within an organization, decision-makers of the company, and the CEO, respectively.

4. Romance scams

The  Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) defines internet romance scams as “ scams that occur when a criminal adopts a fake online identity to gain a victim’s affection and trust. The scammer then uses the illusion of a romantic or close relationship to manipulate and/or steal from the victim.” 

Romance scams fall under the types of social engineering attacks since attackers use manipulative tactics to form a close romantic relationship with their victims before acting on their main agenda: i.e. scamming them. In 2021, Romance scams took the #1 position as the most financially damaging cyberattack of the year, closely followed by ransomware.

5. Spoofing

Domain spoofing is a highly evolved form of social engineering attack. This is when an attacker forges a legitimate company domain to send emails to customers on behalf of the sending organization. The attacker manipulates victims into believing that the said email comes from an authentic source, i.e. a company whose services they rely on. 

Spoofing attacks are hard to track since emails are sent from a company’s own domain. However, there are ways to troubleshoot it. One of the popular methods used and recommended by industry experts is to minimize spoofing with the help of a DMARC setup.

6. Pretexting

Pretexting can be referred to as a predecessor of a social engineering attack. It is when an attacker weaves a hypothetical story to back his claim of sensitive company information. In most cases pretexting is carried out via phone calls, wherein an attacker impersonates a customer or employee, demanding sensitive information from the company. 

What is a common method used in social engineering?

The most common method used in social engineering is Phishing. Let’s take a look at some statistics to better understand how Phishing is a rising global threat:

  • The 2021 Cybersecurity Threat Trends report by CISCO highlighted that a whopping 90% of data breaches take place as a result of phishing
  • IBM in their Cost of a Data Breach Report of 2021 delegated the title of most financially costing attack vector to phishing
  • With each year, the rate of phishing attacks has been found to increase by 400%, as reported by the FBI

How to protect yourself from Social Engineering attacks?

Protocols and tools you can configure: 

  • Deploy email authentication protocols at your organization like SPF, DKIM, and DMARC. Start by creating a free DMARC record today with our DMARC record generator.
  • Enforce your DMARC policy to p=reject to minimize direct domain spoofing and email phishing attacks
  • Make sure your computer system is protected with the help of an antivirus software

Personal measures you can take:

  • Raise awareness in your organization against common types of social engineering attacks, attack vectors, and warning signs
  • Educate yourself regarding attack vectors and types. Visit our knowledge base, enter “phishing” in the search bar, hit enter, and start learning today!  
  • Never submit confidential information on external websites
  • Enable caller ID identification applications on your mobile device
  • Always remember that your bank will never ask you to submit your account information and password via email, SMS, or call
  • Always recheck the mail From address and Return-path address of your emails to ensure that they are a match 
  • Never click on suspicious email attachments or links before being 100% sure about the authenticity of their source
  • Think twice before trusting people you interact with online and do not know in real life
  • Do not browse websites that are not secured over an HTTPS connection (e.g. http://domain.com)