In our recent blog post Think Like A Criminal: How To Write A Phishing Email, we examine phishing from the eyes of an attacker to help you understand and protect against this notorious email scam that is to blame for over 90% of all cyberattacks. In this article, we briefly touch on social engineering - or techniques that attackers employ to manipulate psychology. Considering 98% of all cyber attacks rely on social engineering, we want to provide readers with more information on the topic and advice for protecting against social engineering attacks. Here is what you need to know about social engineering in 2020.


What is Social Engineering and How is it a Threat to My Business?

Social engineering refers to the use of deception to manipulate individuals into sharing confidential or personal information that can be used for fraudulent or malicious purposes. Criminals have been leveraging social engineering techniques for centuries; however, in our new digital reality, the magnitude of this threat has increased exponentially. Threat actors are now able to obtain extensive information on targets by searching the Internet - relying heavily on widely-used social media platforms for their research.

Social engineering scams are highly successful because they exploit human nature. Attack campaigns often prey on people’s inherent desire to help or leverage trust relationships built with a superior, colleague, partner or organization.

Like other cyber threats, social engineering attacks generally follow a standard lifecycle methodology that can be broken down into four clearly-defined steps:

1. Information Gathering: Threat actors identify a target, employ Open Source Intelligence Techniques (OSINT) to gather as much information on the target as possible and select the attack method(s) they will use.

2. Establish Relationship: Cyber criminals engage with the victim though targeted communications such as social media messages or spear phishing emails.

3. Exploitation: Attackers use information and the relationship they’ve built with the target to gain a ‘foothold’ (i.e. giving away sensitive information).

4. Attack Execution: Threat actors perform the attack - carefully erasing any digital footprints (such as malware) in order to remain undetected.


Phishing Is A Favorite Lure Among Social Engineers 

Phishing is the most common type of social engineering attack used to gain access to account credentials, sensitive data, confidential business information and funds. Phishing has dominated the email threat landscape for decades; however, with the recent increase in remote workers and the proliferation of popular cloud platforms like Office 365 and G Suite, there has been a resurgence in phishing attacks. Unlike past phishing campaigns, modern phishing attacks are sophisticated, evasive and rely heavily on social engineering to appear legitimate. These malicious scams carry serious consequences for businesses including data theft, financial loss, reputation damage, significant downtime and, in many cases, permanent shutdown.


The Cost of a Social Engineering Attack: Two Key Examples:

  • In February 2020, an unknown threat actor successfully conned Shark Tank investor Barbara Corcoran out of nearly $400,000 with a spear phishing email using an address nearly identical to that of her assistant and containing a fake renovation invoice.
  • Spear phishing campaigns against the Democratic National Committee and the Clinton Foundation resulted in the compromise of copious confidential documents - potentially influencing the 2016 presidential election. Many of these documents were stolen by impersonating Gmail officials and asking targeted individuals to reset their passwords, or through the use of a malicious link.

How Can I Defend Against Social Engineering Attacks?

The majority of social engineering attacks are so targeted and deceptive that it has become difficult to blame a user for falling for a scam. After all, even the most security-conscious individuals can be tricked by social engineering. Thus, defending against social engineering attacks requires a comprehensive, fully-managed email security solution that creates a safeguarded environment around the user by preventing all mali
cious mail from being delivered.

In addition, users and organizations should use strong passwords for all accounts and be aware of the information they make publicly available online. We suggest checking websites for personal information that may be publicly available (like addresses, phone numbers, etc.), and requesting that it be removed. Websites like haveieenpwned, which notify users when their information is discovered online, can be helpful in monitoring the availability of your personal information on the Internet.


The Bottom Line

People are not computers - but they can still be hacked through the use of social engineering tactics. Combating modern email threats that leverage social engineering techniques requires a fully-managed, all-in-one email security solution that safeguards the inbox against all fraudulent mail potentially leading to compromise.


Interested in partnering with an industry leader to secure your users, your data and your brand against the most advanced email threats? Let’s Get In Touch

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