Social engineering attacks encompass a variety of business threats that have evolved and become more insidious in recent years. The ‘social’ element simply refers to the action taken – that is, these malicious activities are conducted via human interaction.
The main tool at the attacker’s disposal is psychological manipulation. Rather than a pump-and-dump attack directly into a system, social engineering attacks instead ‘trick’ a human into revealing sensitive business information or making security errors, which opens the door for the attacker to deploy their payload.
The biggest problem with social engineering attacks isn’t their prevalence or even their potential to cause damage to organizations. Rather, it’s that they rely very heavily on both human error and fear to be executed. This means the victim – whether it’s an individual employee or the entire company as a whole – must be at some level complicit (even unconsciously) for the attacks to be successful.
And because business leaders must not only worry about the threat of external social engineering threats, but also how their staff will react in adverse situations, the key to overcoming them is two-fold: adoption of secure technologies, and education.
It’s important to recognise that social engineering attacks are based on a ‘phased approach’ – that is, there are usually multiple steps from the first point of contact to the actual attack. The perpetrator will gather information on their target, unravel any weak security points or obvious entryways, then reach out to the victim and gain their trust before guiding them towards a particular action that leaves the business vulnerable to attack.
This social engineering life cycle of Investigation (identifying the victim), Hook (engaging and deceiving the target), Play (getting the necessary information and deploying the attack) and Exit (cutting contact without arousing suspicion or leaving any tracks) is something all business leaders should be aware of to spot a potential attack before it threatens the organization’s security.
Moreover, anyone with even low-level access to sensitive business materials should know some of the most common social engineering attacks:
Prevention is always better than cure, which is why forward-thinking organizations must stay up to date on the latest evolution in social engineering attacks. Depending on the variation of the attack, there are a number of preventative tools at your disposal:
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