What is Social Engineering?

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Social engineering cyber-attacks have become increasingly prolific in recent years. Not only are the number of social engineering attacks increasing, but the attacks are becoming more sophisticated and damaging. This guide is here to help you learn more about what social engineering attacks are all about.

What is Social Engineering?

Social engineering is a term used to describe a type of manipulation technique that directly exploits human error in order to gain private information or access private files. Otherwise known as human hacking, these scams exploit an unsuspecting party to expose data or spread malware infections. These forms of attack can occur online or in person, and they are becoming increasingly prevalent.

Social Engineering attacks look to take advantage of the way that people naturally react, as well as the lack of public understanding of technology. A social engineering attack will usually have one of two aims. Either the attack will aim to steal valuable information, such as credit card details of personal data, or the aim will be sabotage.

What are the Real-Life Implications of Social Engineering

The real-life implications are absolutely gargantuan. Out of all the ransomware attacks that have been making the news recently, you can bet that the majority have some social engineering involved, and many were almost completely reliant on social engineering.

In real life, this is causing companies to move away from people and use computers instead, i.e. it is increasing the use of artificial intelligence.

AI can be expensive and can increase business CAPEX and OPEX, but the minimized risk tends to be worth it. That’s why you see businesses that use many people to handle sensitive information; for example, legal firms or scientific institutions are moving towards AI to automate those processes. A good example is the use of AI in sensitive legal work, as legal transcription 101 is quality, but also security to avoid client data being compromised and cases being lost. Another good example is the integration of AI into government security departments; why rely on expensive training of civil servants when you can automate with machine learning?

How do Social Engineering Attacks Occur?

Social engineering attacks more commonly occur in the form of direct communication between the cybercriminal and the victim rather than through brute force. Usually, a cybercriminal will try and manipulate the victim into a more vulnerable emotional state, such as fear or excitement. For example, the cybercriminal might perform a Phishing attack in which they tell a victim that their credit card information has been compromised. When the email looks like it has been legitimately sent from the victim’s bank provider, they will suddenly become worried and flustered. This state of fear means that the victim is far less likely to question the legitimacy of the email and will quickly react by clicking on a link or inputting their details.

Aside from creating a heightened state of emotions in the victim, a cybercriminal will also usually place some form of urgency in the communications. This means, again, that the victim will be more likely to react quickly, leaving less time to question the attack.

Other forms of social engineering attacks include:

How to Prevent Social Engineering Attacks

Many businesses that are particularly vulnerable to social engineering attacks are countering the threat by completely changing the way that operations are running. The implication of social engineering is that humans are the weakest part of any computer network.

For industries that are not yet able to utilize technological solutions to prevent the threat of social engineered cyber-attacks, the next best form of protection is education. Understanding the threats out there is the first step; the next is to question everything you receive online before reacting. You should ask yourself whether a message sounds legitimate. You should question why your emotional state is heightened and remember you always have time to do some research before you act, no matter how pressing the matter might seem.


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