Evolution is part of life. It is, then, only natural to understand that the Internet is one of the platforms that has suffered the most changes since its invention. It is true that nowadays, it is a far more diverse environment, with more pages, sites, and options to do and visit than what it was 20 years ago. However, it is also far more insecure: now, users have to deal with hacking attacks, malware (including spyware, adware, virus, worms, Trojans, and ransomware,) crypto mining, phishing, smishing, scams, and even social engineering.
Social engineering, or the art of deceiving people
Hackers often focus on bypassing security systems and barriers to gain access to sensible and useful data or information that they can use to make any kind of profit or just to inject “cyber terror” in a specific person, system, network, organization, or location.
However, they have lately discovered that the weakest link in any security system made to protect people is the person itself; the human element. Social engineering, then, is the act of entering systems, buildings, or data by taking advantage of human psychology and naivety rather than implementing conventional hacking methods.
A social engineer will use trickery and mind games to leverage people into providing critical and sensible information about themselves that they could exploit and make a profit off. For example, a social engineering technique may be posing as a support staffer to try and trick a worker into giving his or her password.
Social engineering, for some, is an art. Engineers love the challenge of bypassing data center security measures, cloud development, defensive technologies, and other barriers with their intelligence and creativity.
People who implement social engineer practices are usually scammers or criminals that you shouldn’t underestimate. They can take advantage of human behavior and, most specifically, unawareness, naivety, and carelessness. They have various methods for inflicting damage, and they can be as simple as getting users into clicking on a malicious link they think came from a Facebook friend.
The term was popularized by one of the most famous cybercriminals in the nineties. He went by the name of Kevin Mitnick, but he wasn’t the inventor of social engineering practices as they had been around long before the term was coined.
Social engineering in the corporate world
Social engineering is most commonly implemented at the corporate level. If social engineers and scammers can have a trusted staffer’s passphrase, they could find a treasure in the form of critical information to blackmail the company, sensible documents, financial information and accounts, and more. For them, it is easy to find access cards or codes to enter specific locations that are destined for employees only.
For example, a worker in a security consultancy decided to conduct an experiment to watch for vulnerabilities in big companies. He used social engineering techniques to enter an enterprise’s building with little resistance.
He used current events, public information found on social networks, and a $4 Cisco shirt, which was enough to convince the building’s reception that he worked at the tech and networks company as a technical support staffer. Not only did he manage to let his “staffers” in as well, but he also dropped USBs with malware and hacked the company’s network.
There is a human instinct that makes them want to trust someone or something, and that is the foundation of a social engineering attack that wants to be successful.
Examples of social engineering tactics
Social engineering is a performance that can take weeks or even months of planning, whether it is made physically, by phone, or via the Internet platform. Here are some examples of things that a social engineer may do or say:
On the phone:
- Making a call and pretending to be another employee in your same firm or an outsider with authority; for example, a law enforcement agency.
- Making the person feel familiarity is crucial, so the criminal may learn the industry slang.
- Configuring a “hold” music theme is also a commonly-used approach.
In the office:
- A social engineer often asks the person if he, or she, could hold the door for them, explaining that they don’t have their keys or access cards.
- Printing badges, permission letters, or any other documents to prove that the person belongs there. Staffers and employees don’t usually look at these with attention.
- Naturally, social networks have allowed social engineering practices. Collecting information about the company or organization has never been easier.
- Social engineers get their money on LinkedIn., as it is the tool where they can find the most information about a company that could be later used for attacks.
- Looking for assistance in a peer position.
- Sending phishing emails to leverage the curiosity of the potential victims.
- Taking advantage of recent news, holidays, and other developments.
Reducing the risk and defending yourself and your employees
Everything starts with awareness. Letting your employees know that they should be alert at all times and not trusting any person that is not familiar with the working environment are good starting points. Responsible browsing is also crucial: staying away from public Wi-Fi networks, avoiding clicking on unfamiliar attachments or pop-ups, and not providing critical information on the phone to strangers are other helpful measures to take.
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Since the user’s IP is the most common way to know its location, a VPN will hide it and lend it a new one for temporary use, fending off hackers, malware developers, crypto miners, censorship, governmental surveillance agencies, copyright trolls, and other undesirable agents.
While VPNs don’t make you 100% protected against social engineering attacks, it provides a security boost that will lessen the risk of falling for specific practices, such as scams or phishing attacks. Among the many options available in the market, TorGuard is the best and most reliable, with the availability of several protocols (including OpenVPN,) a strict no logging policy, robust 256-bit encryption, and the best customer service in the business, not to mention the ability to connect to more than 3,000 servers in 55 nations.
In conclusion, social engineering is the conglomerate of practices that hackers and scammers use to take advantage of human naivety and access sensible and profitable information. It is a very dangerous concept that can threaten an entire company, so the corporate community, as well as Internet users, need to know everything they can to avoid being victims of these criminals.