Do you Know what is social engineering? How it important? Let's dive to understand it's concept.
What is Social Engineering?
Social engineering means the act of using human sentiment to manipulate them into giving up sensitive information. This is a technique used by cybercriminals to loot common people. Social engineering mostly uses human psychology rather than a technical approach to access systems or data. So yes, cybercriminals started seeing that it’s much easier to manipulate human emotions and reactions rather than directly attacking them by technology.
How does Social Engineering Work?
Imagine that a group of robbers wants access to a safe, but it’s impossible to break in. Plan B is to ‘convince’ the safe owner to give the codes to open it willingly.
The same concept is used in cybersecurity. Here’s an example.
Imagine you want to access a computer network of “ABC Company.” First, you will try to find the software flaws, and if there are none (or if it’s too difficult), you go to plan B (this is where social engineering comes in). You will pose as a technical support person and trick an employee into letting you inside the company and their computers, giving you direct access to their networks.
This seems too easy. There have been many cases where hackers have infiltrated companies using similar techniques. Most of the attack was based on tricking the human brain. So what are the “human flaws” that hackers manipulate in social engineering? Scroll through the below section to know that.
Different Ways of Social Engineering:
All social engineering techniques target human decision-making attributes and are exploited in various combinations to attack a victim. Most social engineering techniques are used to steal confidential information from people.
There are many flaws when we make decisions, but six key attributes are used for social engineering. The 6 principles of influence were established by psychiatrist Robert Cialdini. They are as follows:
- Commitment and consistency
- Social proof
Let’s discuss these points in detail.
In social psychology, this is a social norm of responding to a positive action with another positive action. People are wired to return a favour. A commonplace to see this tactic being used is in marketing. In supermarkets, free samples are a good example.
In cybersecurity, this is used when an attacker is generous or thoughtful; the victims feel like providing special access or overlook some things.
2. Commitment and Consistency
This is a powerful influence on our behaviour because it reflects on our self-image. A common social engineering tactic is asking for small requests and then building up a huge favour. This builds trust between the victim and the attacker, making it easier to exploit them.
A real-life example of commitment and consistency can be seen in online marketing, where pop-ups appear on sites saying, “I’ll sign up later.”
3. Social Proof
There’s a saying, “don’t go with the flow,” based on people doing things based on others doing the same thing. In the disco age, the owners would unnecessarily make a big line outside the club even though there was plenty of room inside. This tactic drove more people to come.
Politicians frequently emphasise their popularity and overstate their winning margins (they're lying btw), which convinces the people to vote for them.
People tend to respect and obey authority figures even if they ask to perform objectionable actions. A famous ransomware attack occurred where people got their files encrypted and were notified to pay a fee to the FBI to retrieve their data.
It’s more likely that a person would respond to a bank or government agency call without hesitation, which is widely used among cyber criminals.
People are easily persuaded by other people whom they like. In marketing, this is also used, where companies use famous people to sell their products. Again, people were more likely to buy it if they liked the person selling the product.
In the case of cybercrime, an attacker can go through your social media and quickly grasp what the things you like (if you have a very active social media presence) are. After gathering the information, they can contact you as the person/brand requesting you to take action.
Scarcity will generate very high demand because everyone wants to get the best deal or to be unique from everyone else. For example, if there’s a specific unique item, but there are only 30 in the whole world. People would want to get their hands on that as fast as possible.
Another example would be a special offer like black Friday, where there are huge discounts for products and people want to get their hands on them.
All the mentioned tactics are used in social engineering to persuade a person to give up confidential information. The most common types of social engineering attacks usually occur over the telephone, social media, and email.
Types of Social Engineering-Based Scams
There are many ways to measure scams, but most are measured from the number of people affected and the amount of money being scammed. Here are the top 5 scams that use social engineering:
- Debt Collection
Most complaints under this scam involve debt collectors where the victims receive calls from harassing collectors who threaten and repeatedly call, attempting to collect a debt. This includes but is not limited to credit/debit card fees, payday loans, and unauthorised use of credit/debit cards.
- Fake Government officials
If you received an email, letter, or phone call from a government agency (like the IRS) instructing you to wire Western Union or MoneyGram money someplace or follow some link to enter information, it’s a scam! No government will ever instruct people to conduct financial transactions using these methods.
There are a lot of videos on YouTube where people are prank-calling these scammers, and it’s hilarious.
- Identity Theft and Phishing
The most common form of a social engineering type of scam is where the attackers gain access to your sensitive information like social security numbers and date of birth which is then used to apply for loans, credit cards, and financial accounts. Also, scammers will impersonate you on social media and other sites by collecting personal information.
Phishing usually happens via emails, where a victim receives an email that appears to come from a trusted source. These emails will have links or attachments requesting the victim to update existing account information. But those websites and emails are fake.
- Phone Scams
Scammers will call people pretending to be from banks, government officials, or credit card companies. They will request your personal information and request payments to be made. These people are persuasive, and an example of this type of scam is the “your Microsoft license key has expired,” among many others.
- Fake Prizes, Free Gifts, and Fake Lotteries
Have you ever received an email claiming that you won a prize, lottery, or gift, and you will have it if you paid a “small fee” or the delivery charges? These scammers will use genuine companies and brands to persuade the victim.
Usually, a lottery scam will take the form of the following. First, you will receive an email saying that you have entered a lottery, and a couple of hours later will receive a follow-up email saying you won a huge amount of money. To claim the prize, you have to pay the “administrative fees.” No genuine lottery asks for money to pay any type of fee.
Life Cycle of a Social Engineer
Here we’ve mentioned the complete life cycle of a social engineering hacker. Have a look to stay ahead of the cybercriminals.
1. Information gathering
This is the first and most important step in a socially engineered attack. This requires a lot of patience and keenly watching the target's habits. During this stage, the attacker will gather all the information of the target, which includes but is not limited to the following:
- Personal information
- His/her interests
- Work details
- User credentials
And many more. The more information the attacker has on the victim, the higher the chance of the attack being successful. Here’s a complete list of Personally Identifiable Information.
This stage determines the success rate of the overall attack.
2. Engaging with the victim
After gathering all the information, the attacker will start opening up a conversation with the victim without the victim finding anything suspicious. Since there was enough background research, engaging with the victim was easier.
3. Attack phase
This step generally takes place after a period of engaging with the target. During this time, the needed information is retrieved using social engineering techniques and builds trust between the victim and the attacker.
However, during this period, the attacker is very subtle, not to make anything look suspicious and spook the victim. After the attack, the results will also be in effect during this stage.
4. Ciao, Adios, Good-bye
In the last step, the attacker slowly ends the communications with the victim. He will shut down all communications with the victim with time but slowly without raising any suspicion.
This leads for the motive to be fulfilled and for the victim to know that the attack rarely happened.
Cybercriminals lurk everywhere, waiting for us to slip and share data. So while the criminals have to be lucky just once to get into your system, you must be cautious every time to fail those attempts.
Always be attentive and pay attention to detail. Have multiple security measures installed so that you will be able to stop the hackers in their tracks. Trust your gut, and it probably is if it seems too good to be true.
Frequently Asked Questions
1. What do Social Engineers want?
The method of manipulating, swaying, or duping a victim in order to take over a computer system or steal sensitive data is known as social engineering. Users are duped into divulging critical information or committing security blunders via psychological manipulation.
2. What are the six principles of social engineering?
The six Principles of Influence developed by behavioural psychologist Robert Cialdini are frequently used in social engineering. The six fundamental principles mentioned are reciprocity, Commitment and Consistency, Social Proof, Authority, Liking, and Scarcity.
3. What are examples of social engineering?
Phishing, Spear Phishing, Baiting, Malware, Pretexting and Tailgating are some examples of social engineering.
4. What are Social Engineering Techniques?
All instances of social engineering rely on people's willingness to trust one another and other aspects of human nature to deceive them into disclosing private information. Even though it is common, social engineering might be difficult to sum up in a single formula.
5. Why do hackers use social engineering?
Attackers typically use social engineering because it is much simpler to take advantage of individuals than it is to find a network or software weakness. Hackers frequently begin a broader effort to compromise a system or network and steal sensitive data by using social engineering techniques as a first step.
6. Who is most vulnerable to social engineering?
Agreeableness and Extraversion are the two most vulnerable personality types to social engineering attacks.
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