Social engineering is a concept of manipulating the minds of different computer users and leading them to disclose their confidential data. Individuals using this concept to gain unauthorized access to other people’s devices are called social engineers. They exploit human emotions for their benefit illegitimately.
It is the art of breaking into a system or a restricted building to illegally gain access by tricking the human behavior and cause harm to the concerned person or organization. They take advantage of the user’s skills in handling and protecting personal data.
One must be alert and aware of the various techniques, adopted by social engineers, to protect themselves from being at a loss.
We shall discuss here how social engineering works, its methods, its threats and how to fight them. So, let’s start.
How social engineering works?
The actions of human beings are driven by their psychology. Social engineers attempt to gain control over this human ability and utilize it to fulfill their goals.
That’s why almost all types of attacks involve social engineering concepts.
The cybercrook planning the attack follows a procedure which is discussed below.
The attacker gathers information about his target victim. He studies the potential entry points and possible security vulnerabilities that will make way for him to infiltrate into the system.
He does this either by following different websites/publications or by direct communication with the victim, without letting the victim realize the fate.
They may take the guise of an official employee, say a bank officer or an ISP, and discuss some questions and issues in the beginning to win the trust of the user.
After that, they will ask about the login credentials to solve any persisting problems.
Planning and Attacking
They prepare the attack very carefully. They acquire different computer programs needed to launch the attack.
They can use phishing emails or virus containing attachments, malwares to damage the user’s device and restrict their authorized access.
The cyber crooks may then misuse all the confidential data as a medium for extortion and bribery or modify the data without user’s consent and circulate to create confusion and chaos and so damaging reputation of person or enterprise, etc.
Once they finish exploiting the weaknesses of the target as far as they could, they remove all trails to catch them. They cover all tracks and shut entire interaction with the target, securing their escape.
The perpetrators can invade in multiple ways to achieve their pernicious goals. They are very skilled in playing with human psychology and crafts the entire mechanism very adeptly.
Common social engineering attack techniques
The cybercriminals mix guilt, confusion, and fear in their techniques in a perfect combination to manipulate and skillfully gain control over human psychology and get their mission accomplished.
The common methods are
It is one of the most popular types of social engineering attacks worldwide. Phishing typically involves emails and text messages. They tend to generate curiosity, fright, and confusion inside people’s minds dexterously.
Attackers usually send emails or messages that lure the victims to visit any website or click any link or download infected attachments.
For example, they might send a message saying that the system has been affected by severe threats.
Hence, the user must mandatorily fill certain specifications in a website instructed by them to resolve such issues.
As soon as the user enters all his credentials as instructed, they open the door for social engineers to access their confidential data, handle their system and offer them the key to the destruction of the system.
Through this, the attackers take advantage of the human nature of curiosity. They deliberately leave physical media, say infected flash drives, in prominent places. They wait for it to be picked up by some curious users.
When the user plugs it into his device, lets say computer, the malicious programs in the drive affect the system. It may inflict the system with malware or virus.
Online baiting scams occur through attractive advertisements encouraging the viewers to click it and lead to harmful insecure websites or downloading pernicious files.
It is also known as fraudware, rogue scanner software or deception software. Scareware displays fake warning messages to the users and prompts the users to download their software.
They will legitimately display the message with authoritative wording so that the user is forced to consider it valid. They instruct to install software (often malware-infected) or lead them to detrimental websites.
Installing these softwares or visiting the sites can affect the user’s computer with malware, causing damage.
Misuse of familiarity
People do not suspect familiar faces. The attackers often familiarize themselves with the victims before the attacks. They can meet them at parties or on public transports and get acquainted with them gradually.
The attacker may involve himself with the victim in discussions and dig out information from his personal life like birthday, school name, college name, residential address, etc and then implement all these data for hacking.
Launching of the attacks often occurs by leading the user to open an infected file or clicking a link to a malicious website. Email worms use these ways.
For example, the LoveLetter worm overloaded several company servers in the year 2000 and is one of the most devastating attacks causing massive financial damage.
An email was sent to the employees inviting them to open the attached love letter and doing so allowed the worm to copy itself to all the contacts in the concerned victim’s address book.
Peer to peer/ P2P network attacks
These networks are also used as a tool to spread malware. A worm or a Trojan worm will appear on the network. It will be named in such a manner that it will attract users to download and launch the particular files.
For example, Microsoft CD Key generator.exe, Playstation Emulator Crack.exe, etc.
The user often unknowingly leads the attackers to restricted areas (tailgating) and falls for fake promises like winning crores of cash on filling up a form.
Once lured and then caught, they finally surrender in front of attackers who threaten with crafted consequences for disobeying them.
By now, you could have understood how much innovative and talented the social engineers are and also how much daring to use your emotions against you for their benefit.
Won’t you like to find out how to avert them?
How to prevent social engineering?
The perpetrators would want your immediate response and fast reaction to their traps. They are great actors as they can skillfully lure people into trouble by staying amidst them and also from a remote distance.
How can you protect yourself from being attacked?
As stated, the attackers will drag you to such a state of mind that you will be bound to react and respond first and fast before thinking what was needed to be done. Do not let this happen.
Be reasonable and decide wisely. Do not let their urgency rule you.
Beware of emails and files
Avoid opening emails from unknown sources. Even if the email is from your acquaintance but contains doubtful files, do not straight away click or download them.
These files can be a way for the spammers to steal away your data or damage your system.
Do not be so friendly with a person that you also share all your credentials like bank account number, passwords, login details, etc which can be an open door for security breach and destruction.
“Congrats, you have won Rs 4 crore. Please send your details (name, email, contact, and address) to the following mail id to claim your prize!”
I am confident that many of you must have received or heard others receiving such messages. Be very careful about similar traps as they can directly get access to your data.
Keep your antivirus and anti-malware softwares updated. Periodically scan your devices to check if all is okay.
Thus, people need to be highly aware and educated about social engineering and its threats so that they do not fall in such deadly traps.
Even after knowing all the techniques, people may do something by mistake which can facilitate the attackers to rule over the victims.
To err is human and therefore, people must be well trained and undertake strong security measures for prevention.
Thus, you see that social engineering is a talent of cybercriminals in exploiting human behavior to gain access and obtain information from their target users illegally.
They use a number of techniques to fool the users and lure them to reveal confidential data.
They can attack you while being in front of you and you won’t even realize being victimized. They are highly skilled and can undertake any technique to fulfill their purpose. They can use phishing, baiting, worm attacks like “I LOVE YOU” etc.
It is the inherent behavior of humans to “trust” which is used by social engineers as a weapon to threat innocent victims in taking out information from them.
So, be very alert and careful with your actions. Do not share your credentials, do not be carried away with enticing offers and also do not click unknown links or files. Take as many countermeasures as possible.