What Are Social Engineering Attacks? Its Types & Examples

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Written By Aditya Sharma

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Social engineering attacks could impact severe losses to companies. So, how can organizations tackle this challenge?

Social engineering attacks are a big term. It incorporates a myriad of threatening and malpractice activities.

Previously, social engineering frauds happened a lot because people weren’t aware of the technology so much and security practices were not strong enough to stop bleaches.

However, this practice is still in play by hackers.

In general, hackers often target a computer system and their network in order to obtain sensitive information so they could use it as a weapon to cause potential harm.

From a number of options, they use social engineering methods, primitively - it’s a tricky process in which they manipulate individuals and divulge confidential or personal information.

It could be done by both mediums; personally and digitally.

Therefore, organizations have taken precautions from educating employees about social engineering attacks and prevention methods to protecting digital information with the use of digital cybersecurity techniques and technologies.

Social Engineering Definition

Social engineering has two meanings.

In general observance, it means the use of centralized planning in an attempt, either, to bring new social changes or modified in the existing for future development and behavior of a confraternity.

In the context of information security, it is a non-friendly practice of deception to manipulate individuals into divulging confidential or personal information. It is done with the intention of crooked.

Look at the below cycle chart that depicts how hackers use social engineering in real-life.

Social engineering attack lifecycle

Social Engineering Life Cycle

  • The lifecycle of social engineering initiates from Investigation propaganda in which learning and gathering information is structured.
  • Next, deceiving the party to gain a foothold. Hackers try to hook the notch to develop engagement and take control thereafter.
  • After this, when it seems the victim is in control, they expand their foothold, executing the attack, and disrupting business, all of this which they call it Play.
  • At last, when they are done they exist like a phantom. Meaning they leave no trace, cover tracks, and bring the charade to a natural end.

The most important consideration to put here is that the cause arises only when an error is made by humans. The success of this process legitimately depends on human error. If you make a mistake, they will get benefits.

What Are Social Engineering Attacks?

Social engineering attacks are defined as a method that uses several infringement ways to make social engineering practice successful.

Some popular social engineering attacks are phishing, smishing, and vishing. Later we explore them in detail.

Mostly these attacks incorporate psychological study. Meaning the attack modes directly impacts the individual's psychology (mind).

Various Types Of Social Engineering Attacks

Following are the list of social engineering attack techniques used by threat actors to manipulate or trick users into revealing sensitive information.

Phishing: It’s a most common kind of social engineering attack technique in which fraudulent emails are sent to targeted users (but seen as legitimate emails) with an intention to trick the recipient into providing financial or personal information, or lead them to install malware.

Baiting: Decoding the characteristics, it’s something that uses a false promise to pique a victim’s greed. This is done intentionally to lure users into a trap to provide harm.

Vishing: Usually involves voice and hence also known as voice phishing. It’s a practice of stealing information from the target over the phone or other voice-based communication technology.

Smishing: Smishing is a type of phishing assault that objectives cell phones. Rather than sending phishing content over email, they use SMS or MMS instant messages to convey their messages.

Whaling: This kind of attacks are specific and occur less frequently as they target high-profile employees, for instance; Chief Executive Officer to trick them to reveal sensitive information.

Pretexting: It’s a brutal social engineering fraud practice by an imposter. The communication started through a series of cleverly crafted lies. Hackers disguise their personality and impersonate into something that can be trusted easily like police or tax officials.

Scareware: In this practice, victims have been falsely misled to think that something infiltrated into their system. Then the attacker offers a solution with a promise that will fix the bogus problem, but, instead, install the malware.

Watering hole: Not a frequently used scam but could be dangerous as it uses advanced social engineering techniques to infect a website and its visitor. It is not similar to website hacking because it is done to infect a targeted user's computer and gain access to the network.

Quid pro quo: It means something for something. It’s a most basic technique mostly used by professionals engaged in the investigation process. Intent to derive some useful information from a person in exchange of money or something valuable.

Social Engineering Attack Example

Social engineering attacks are not fictional and there are some real-based incidents mentioned below in brief.

Precisely, between 2011 and 2015, a lot of social engineering attacks came into the picture.

In the 1960s, one of the brutal cases of social engineering scam glimpsed when Frank Abagnale (expert in social engineering technique) impersonated at least eight people, including an airline pilot, a doctor and a lawyer.

Another trajectory scam to this context occurred in 1992. The world’s most wanted hacker, Kevin Mitnick tricked a Motorola worker to give him the source code for the MicroTAC Ultra Lite (a cellular phone first manufactured as an analog version) which is available in a limited edition and the company’s new flip phone. He is most popular for his high-profile 1995 capture and five years in jail for different PC and correspondence related wrongdoings.

In 2011, a successful social engineering attack of data breach of security company RSA was addressed in the news. An assailant sent two different phishing messages for more than two days to little gatherings of RSA workers. The messages had the headline "2011 Recruitment Plan" and contained an Excel file attached (contained malicious code). The company spent close to $66 million recovering from the attack.

In 2013, the Syrian Electronic Army accessed the Associated Press' (AP) Twitter account using a phishing method. The attacker tweeted a phony report from AP's record that said two blasts had gone off in the White House and afterward President Barack Obama had been harmed.

In 2015, a group of imposters gained access to the personal AOL email account of John Brennan, then the director of the Central Intelligence Agency. Reportedly, they acquired Brennan's Verizon account subtleties, they reached AOL and involved the data to accurately address security inquiries for Brennan's email account.

How To Prevent Social Engineering?

One thing to coincide is that social engineering scams are often related with organizations and superior companies like Motorola.

So, following are number of social engineering prevention tips and methods companies could think of implementing to prevent phony attacks.

  • Begin a security awareness training program, which can go far toward forestalling social engineering assaults.
  • Carry out secure email and web passages to examine messages for infiltrated links and channel them out.
  • Keep antivirus programming up-to-date to help forestall malware in phishing messages from introducing itself.
  • One more thing companies can do is securing administrative servers and assets by regulating them frequently.

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Frequently Asked Questions

Is social engineering a crime?

The end objective of social engineering is manipulating, phishing, and tricking victim(s) to obtain sensitive information for fraudulent purposes. So, yes social engineering is a crime and doing so could lead to severe accusations.

What is the most common social engineering?

The most common social engineering practices are phishing, vishing, and smishing. These are dangerous techniques and lead to anguish loss.

Why do cyber attackers commonly use social engineering attacks?

There are many real life examples that address use of social engineering attacks by hackers. It is because easier to exploit people than it is to find a network or software vulnerability.

What can I do to fight social engineering?

Educating yourself about social engineering attacks techniques is the best way to save getting trapped into it. However, there are some possible prevention methods you could follow. Simply, keep antivirus up-to-date and use good email security servers to examine phishing.

What are some great social engineering hacks?

Backing into the time and eyeing on the techniques used to gain sensitive information includes phishing, baiting, pretexting, and vishing. So, these are some great social engineering hacks.

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