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What Is Social Engineering?

Updated: Feb 22

Social engineering has become one of the biggest threats to businesses. The term encompasses a variety of malicious activities designed to persuade people into giving away confidential information. Other types of cybercrime target security systems, but social engineering goes after the biggest weakness in an organization’s cyber defense: humans.


Definition of Social Engineering


Social engineering is a form of manipulation and psychological trickery used by individuals or groups to deceive others into divulging sensitive information, granting access to restricted areas, or performing actions that may compromise security. Unlike traditional hacking methods that rely on technical exploits, social engineering exploits human psychology and trust to achieve its objectives. Forms of social engineering may include tactics such as impersonation, pretexting, phishing, or baiting, all aimed at exploiting natural human tendencies like curiosity, helpfulness, or fear. Social engineering attacks may occur in various ways, including impersonating authority figures, creating fake websites or emails, or eliciting information through casual conversation.


Social engineering attacks come in various forms. The only common denominator is human interaction. The attackers, also called social engineers, can portray anyone and often disguise themselves as familiar figures from the company. They can pretend to be coworkers and managers or even outside authoritative figures such as police, bank, and tax officials.


An attacker’s main goal is to gain your confidence and then ask for information that will eventually grant the perpetrator access to your or your company’s sensitive data. And attackers don’t stop at the first non-responder. It’s not unusual for social engineer attackers to contact a second employee or several and build a case — and credibility — using details provided by their first victim.


Ultimately, social engineering exploits the weakest link in any security system: human behavior by playing on fear, insecurity, or even presenting an opportunity for you to be "helpful" or gain a benefit. Awareness, education, and skepticism are crucial in mitigating the risks associated with social engineering attacks.



social engineering - individual on a landing


How to Avoid Social Engineering Attacks


Here are the five most common types of social engineering attacks:


Phishing

These scams come in the form of email and text messages designed to create a sense of urgency, curiosity, or fear in victims. The idea is to prompt employees to disclose sensitive information or click on malicious links.

Pretexting

This social engineering attack aims to build a false sense of trust with the victim through a credible scenario. An attacker might email, text or call an employee under a believable pretext and impersonate someone in a position of power (such as their boss) in order to gain access to data and accounts.

Baiting

Similar to phishing attacks, this strategy involves enticing the victim with a false promise. For example, baiters offer free music or movie downloads to trick users into giving up their login credentials.

Quid Pro Quo

A quid pro quo attack or a “something for something” attack, is a variation of baiting. Instead of goods, these attacks promise services or benefits after completing a specific action. A popular example of a quid pro quo attack is a hacker disguised as an IT expert who calls their victims and offers them some kind of software upgrade.

Tailgating

Also referred to as “piggybacking,” these types of attacks happen when the hacker physically follows an authenticated employee into a restricted area, such as the company’s building.

Educating employees about the dangers of social engineering attacks is the first step to avoiding future incidents. The next step is to train your staff to be vigilant of suspicious or unsolicited phone calls, emails, text messages, and even conversations initiated by individuals asking about internal information.


However, human errors are bound to happen, and your company’s most sensitive information might get into the wrong hands. One of the most effective ways to protect your data is by using secure messaging technology or encryption. Encryption keeps cybercriminals locked out by requiring a key to release a message and it ensures that your email communication can be seen by only senders and receivers.



Ready to strengthen your cybersecurity posture? Contact Gold Comet today to talk about how we can help you implement a system that will mitigate social engineering attacks and protect your sensitive data.

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