What is Social Engineering
Updated on 17th Nov, 22 85 Views

The blog covers the following topics:

Meaning of Social Engineering

Social Engineering is a cyber-attack technique where manipulation is the key weapon used by hackers. It exploits any human error to gain access to sensitive information, confidential and private files, etc. In Social Engineering attacks, the hackers are usually someone who is known to the victim or lure the victim into exposing data, allowing system access and other malicious activities. Social Engineering takes advantage of how users think, act and react to a particular situation.

Social Engineering is used in the majority of cases or situations where manipulation of human behavior is easy to hack into systems. The hackers use this technique to read the behavior of the user. Once he gets an idea of what triggers or motivates the user to initiate a specific action, the hacker tries to manipulate and deceive the user.

It has been witnessed that a large number of users do not even know which emails or links to open. There is still a certain percentage of lack of awareness regarding suspicious links constantly sent by hackers. Social Engineering takes advantage of this lack of knowledge and hence targets users who are clueless about falling into cyber attack traps.

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To completely understand Social Engineering, let us understand how or in what form these attacks are carried out.

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Who are Social Engineers?

Social Engineers are hackers or attackers who carry out Social Engineering attacks by exploiting human weaknesses and manipulating users to break into their systems with the sole purpose of stealing confidential data.

How is a Social Engineering Attack Carried Out?

In the above section, we discussed that Social Engineering attacks are based on exploiting human weaknesses. Now we will discuss how this entire process is carried out. So, the lifecycle of a Social Engineering attack consists of the following steps:

  • Prepare: As a first step, the hackers gather necessary background information about their target user or group of users. This data is later used to act as a legit party and gain the target’s trust.
  • Infiltrate: This is the first point of contact with the target user or group of users, where the hacker tries to establish a relationship with them by gaining trust. This trust is gained by using the background information that was collected in the step before. 
  • Exploit: Once the trust is gained, the hackers initiate an actionable by exploiting the user’s trust in the hacker.
  • Disengage: This is the final step where the hacker disconnects and disappears after getting the required information or data from the user.

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What are the various weaknesses that the hacker exploits?

Human emotions and behavior form the base of Social engineering attacks. Some of the common ones that are exploited by Social Engineers are:

  • Kindness
  • Fear
  • Anger
  • Guilt
  • Hurrying
  • Excitement
  • Curiosity
  • Sadness

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Types of Social Engineering Attacks

Social Engineering attack is a more evolved version of Cyber Security attacks. As we all know, hackers are becoming more and more advanced and hence Social Engineering is today considered one of the most sophisticated cyber attacks in the Cybercrime world.

Thus, it also becomes equally important to understand the various forms or types in which Social Engineering attacks are carried out.

Created Scenarios

Sometimes, hackers tend to create fake stories or events to extract money from users. For example- You might get a call from a hacker who will claim that your relative met with an accident and is admitted to XYZ hospital, where the bill amount is Rs.10XXXXX. To many, this would look like a genuine situation, and without delay, you would pay the required amount for the treatment. Such calls are common when it comes to Social Engineering

Fraudulent Donation and Fundraisers

Social Engineering attackers feed on the kindness, generosity, and simplicity of innocent users. By creating fake donations and fundraiser events, these attackers extract huge sums of money from these users. Since it’s a human tendency to donate a small sum for the benefit of the needy, these hackers reach out to the maximum number of people to make huge sums of money. Hence, it is always recommended to cross-check the details of the organization asking for donations.

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Emails from a trusted source

It is not rare to see friends’ or relatives’ emails getting hacked. But this leads to a bigger risk as the hacker now has access to other contacts on the victim’s list. Social Engineering comes into the picture when the hacker sends you a mail from your friend’s or relative’s mail id asking for some important info or sends any link for you to open. You will naturally intend to open the link or share the asked details trusting the source as your friend. Hence, even if the mail you received is from a trusted source, you should always cross-check and verify the same.

Phishing emails

It has been constantly observed that Phishing attacks form a major portion of Social Engineering. In phishing attacks, the hacker will send you very genuine mail from a trustworthy-looking site or mail id. The mail might contain a malicious link for downloading pictures or files. Considering it to be authentic, the user might end up clicking on the link thus giving control of his/her system to the hacker. Hackers engaging in Social Engineering understand how the user will react in such situations and hence this type of attack is very common.

Fake Contests

This has become a very common form of Social Engineering attacks, wherein the hackers design an authentic-looking contest to gain the trust of the user. Once they gain the trust, they send malicious links to the user claiming him to be the winner. If the user clicks on these links, his system is exposed to threat and the attackers get access to his files and linked financial accounts.

False Query Resolutions

Have you ever received a resolution and answer to a question or query that you never had? Well, if not, you are lucky. Social Engineering attackers send answers to users regarding random queries. There are hidden malicious links in the answers that when clicked by the user expose him/her directly to the threat and leave the system accessible to hackers.

The above-discussed attacks are just a few of many forms of Social Engineering attacks. Studying human behavior has become easier for Social Engineering hackers and hence this has led to an incline in the number of cases.

Diversion Theft

A diversion theft is nothing but a con act carried out by professional hackers and Social Engineers. Usually, these attacks are targeted at transport or logistics companies. The hacker tricks the company into making the delivery somewhere else instead of the designated location.

Water-Holing

Naturally, people have some favorite websites that they regularly visit. Water-Holing is one such Social Engineering attack where the attacker takes advantage of this behavior of people. Usually what happens is the attacker targets a certain set of users and keeps a track of the websites they visit. One of the websites is infected deliberately so that the virus can be passed on to all these users. Once their systems get infected, the attacker takes hold of the system to steal any sensitive data.

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Real-life Examples of Social Engineering Attacks

There have been many instances where Social Engineering drew the entire world’s attention. One of the biggest examples is the RSA data breach attack in the year 2011, where the employees of RSA received phishing emails from the attacker. The emails contained malicious links aimed at stealing confidential information of the organization. It is still unknown to date what information was stolen in the attack. Another example of a Social Engineering attack is the one carried out on the US government in the year 2013. The Associated Press (AP) Twitter account received phishing emails claiming fake news that the White House is under attack and then-President Barack Obama is also injured. This fake news created uncertainty for some time resulting in a hit on Dow Jones Industrial Average.

How to prevent Social Engineering attacks?

There are many ways in which you can protect your confidential data and system from Social Engineering attacks. A few of the most helpful ones are given below:

  • Organizations should carry out routine penetration tests and must regularly educate their employees on how to handle suspicious links or emails.
  • Firewalls help in reducing the chances of receiving emails from unauthorized sites and email ids.
  • Keeping your Antivirus and Antimalware software updated helps in Install web gateways and update them regularly to scan any malicious email at the very beginning to stay protected. This helps in reducing the number of phishing emails to an extent.
  • Cross-verify if you receive any information related to any damage to your financial accounts, balance, or net banking.
  • Never share any password, login IDs, or any personal information via emails, texts, etc. even if the source/ sender email looks authentic.
  • Never store any message or link on your device that asks for any financial data. Always delete these messages or emails from your inbox so that nobody makes use of it.
  • Make use of Two-Factor Authentication wherever possible. Never trust any website or allow them to save your passwords. 2FA is the best possible way to prevent unwanted users from logging in to your system or device
  • Financial details such as card numbers, CVVs, ATM pins, Netbanking passwords, etc should never be shared with anyone online.

The above-mentioned tips are just preventative measures to fight Social Engineering. Staying cautious, educated, and updated regarding Cyber Security attacks is the only way to reduce the chances of becoming a victim of Social Engineering Attacks.

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Conclusion

We hope this blog has helped you in figuring out what you need to do to handle Social Engineering attacks or any suspicious cyber activity. Even though with time these attacks will only get sophisticated, we must not forget the golden rule of not clicking on any suspicious links without cross-verifying. In this blog, we talked about what Social Engineering is and its various forms and examples. Cyber Security is an interesting career and we hope this blog will help you decide on your career path in the domain.

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