There are many ways to compromise a corporate network and steal information. But in the end, the most popular and successful tactic is social engineering.

Within the last year, you have likely heard of organizations like Uber, Microsoft, and Okta, being breached by malicious hackers. In almost every such instance, the attackers gained initial access to systems by social engineering. Social engineering is a tactic used by attackers to manipulate individuals into divulging sensitive information or taking actions that compromise their organization’s security.

Here are a few facts about social engineering cyber-attacks:

  • Upwards of 90% of breaches include social engineering. (Source)
  • 63% of data breaches come from internal sources.

What makes these types of attacks even more alarming for IT professionals? The human factor – unlike traditional attack vectors, which target vulnerabilities in systems and networks, social engineering attacks focus on manipulating individuals into divulging sensitive information or taking actions that compromise an organization’s security.

The success of social engineering attacks can also be attributed to the ability to create highly personalized campaigns and tailor them to specific individuals or companies. This makes social engineering incredibly effective at bypassing traditional security measures. Overall, the effectiveness of social engineering as an attack vector lies in its ability to exploit human behavior and emotions.

Common Social Engineering Attacks to Watch Out For

While social engineering attacks come in many different forms and can be performed anywhere where human interaction is involved, here are three of the most common tactics we see:

  1. Phishing and Spear Phishing. The most common social engineering attacks we see are phishing emails. Phishing email attacks involve sending emails or other communications that appear to be from a legitimate source, with the goal of tricking the recipient into divulging sensitive information or clicking on a malicious link. In spear phishing, the attacker targets very specific employees with a message that seems more personal and genuine. When the employee responds or interacts with the email, it can allow an attacker to hack into the computer or install malware.
  2. Vishing. Vishing, or “Voice Phishing” is a telephone-based attack that verbally targets victims into performing actions or providing sensitive information. The attacker may attempt to manipulate an employee into resetting/providing company credentials or divulging sensitive system, facility, trade, or employee information. Vishing is a highly effective form of social engineering because verbal communication often gives people a false sense of trust.
  3. Baiting/Scareware. As the name implies, baiting attacks use a false promise to pique a victim’s curiosity that lures them into a trap – stealing their personal information or inflicting their systems with malware. Scareware involves using fear or urgency to persuade the victim to take a specific action. Scareware often deceives users to think their system is infected with malware, prompting them to install software that is malware itself.
  4. Pretexting. Pretexting involves creating a fake persona or using one’s role in an improper way to secure sensitive information. This may involve pretending to be a trusted colleague or a representative from a legitimate organization. Because human interaction seems more trustworthy, all sorts of sensitive data (such as network or system credentials, trade secrets, etc.) can be gathered using this tactic.

Protecting Your Organization Requires People, Processes, and Technology

While several technical solutions are available to prevent social engineering attacks, the weakest link is often the human.

At LBMC Cybersecurity, our team has identified three key areas to help organizations take a holistic approach to protect against social engineering attacks by addressing people, process, and technology.

  • People—Protecting your organization against social engineering attacks requires rigorous training, education, and testing. This means developing and establishing a targeted security awareness program centered on social engineering. One of the most effective ways to protect against social engineering attacks is to educate employees about the tactics used by attackers and teach them how to recognize and resist these attempts.
  • Process—In addition to educating employees, it’s important for organizations to identify your critical data and establish handling guidelines or policies for protecting it. Organizations should have clear and well-defined security policies in place, including guidelines for controls such as password management, data handling, and access control.
  • Technology—It’s essential that technology be implemented to reduce the risk of a social engineering attack. Testing should be conducted to validate those controls. Additionally, regularly monitoring network and system activity can help identify any suspicious behavior that may indicate a social engineering attack.

Because each of these areas encompasses many different dependencies, creating a comprehensive plan for preventing social engineering attacks can be overwhelming. However, there is a way for organizations to regularly test these areas to proactively prevent an attack.

Penetration Testing: How to Proactively Protect Against Social Engineering Attacks

Penetration testing has become a vital way for organizations to ensure they are completely protected against a social engineering attack. These comprehensive tests are custom-designed for your organization and allow you to identify and determine risks with your people, processes, and technology by simulating how a social engineering attack would target your organization. One of the best ways to protect against social engineering is to educate employees about the tactics used by attackers and teach them how to recognize and resist these attempts.

From sending fake phishing emails with spoofed sites to posing as callers who try to secure sensitive information to dropping a USB drive in the office, penetration testing uses a variety of techniques to gauge your company’s susceptibility to these common social engineering attacks.

Content provided by LBMC Cybersecurity’s Cori Brown. 

LBMC Cybersecurity provides a safe and controlled environment for organizations to experience realistic social engineering scenarios and test their defenses against common tactics. With our customized approach, we can create scenarios that closely mimic the types of attacks your organization may face, providing valuable insight and allowing you to identify and address any weaknesses in your security posture.

If you’re looking for a way to enhance your ability to prevent social engineering attacks, we’d love to discuss specific ways we can help.