Social engineering, in the context of information security, refers to psychological manipulation of people into performing actions or divulging confidential information. A type of confidence trick for the purpose of information gathering, fraud, or system access, it differs from a traditional “con” in that it is often one of many steps in a more complex fraud scheme.
Def.: – Social engineering is an attack vector that relies heavily on human interaction and often involves tricking people into breaking normal security procedures.
The term “social engineering” as an act of psychological manipulation is also associated with the social sciences, but its usage has caught on among computer and information security professionals.
Phishing scams might be the most common types of social engineering attacks used today. Most phishing scams demonstrate the following characteristics:
- Seek to obtain personal information, such as names, addresses, and social security numbers.
- Use link shorteners or embed links that redirect users to suspicious websites in URLs that appear legitimate.
- Incorporates threats, fear and a sense of urgency in an attempt to manipulate the user into acting promptly.
Some phishing emails are more poorly crafted than others to the extent that their messages oftentimes exhibit spelling and grammar errors but these emails are no less focused on directing victims to a fake website or form where they can steal user login credentials and other personal information.
Pretexting is another form of social engineering where attackers focus on creating a good pretext, or a fabricated scenario, that they can use to try and steal their victims’ personal information. These types of attacks commonly take the form of a scammer who pretends that they need certain bits of information from their target in order to confirm their identity.
More advanced attacks will also try to manipulate their targets into performing an action that enables them to exploit the structural weaknesses of an organization or company. A good example of this would be an attacker who impersonates an external IT services auditor and manipulates a company’s physical security staff into letting them into the building.
Unlike phishing emails, which use fear and urgency to their advantage, pretexting attacks rely on building a false sense of trust with the victim. This requires the attacker to build a credible story that leaves little room for doubt on the part of their target.
Baiting is in many ways similar to phishing attacks. However, what distinguishes them from other types of social engineering is the promise of an item or good that hackers use to entice victims. Batters may offer users free music or movie downloads if they surrender their login credentials to a certain site.
Baiting attacks are not restricted to online schemes, either. Attackers can also focus on exploiting human curiosity via the use of physical media.
Another social engineering attack type is known as tailgating or “piggybacking.” These types of attacks involve someone who lacks the proper authentication following an employee into a restricted area.
In a common type of tailgating attack, a person impersonates a delivery driver and waits outside a building. When an employee gains security’s approval and opens their door, the attacker asks that the employee holds the door, thereby gaining access off of someone who is authorized to enter the company.
Tailgating does not work in all corporate settings, such as in larger companies where all persons entering a building are required to swipe a card. However, in mid-size enterprises, attackers can strike up conversations with employees and use this show of familiarity to successfully get past the front desk.
In fact, Colin Greenlees, a security consultant at Siemens Enterprise Communications, used these same tactics to gain access to several different floors, as well as the data room at an FTSE-listed financial firm. He was even able to base himself in a third-floor meeting room, out of which he worked for several days.
5.QUID PRO QUO
Similarly, quid pro quo attacks promise a benefit in exchange for information. This benefit usually assumes the form of a service, whereas baiting frequently takes the form of a good.
One of the most common types of quid pro quo attacks involve fraudsters who impersonate IT service people and who spam call as many direct numbers that belong to a company as they can find. These attackers offer IT assistance to each and every one of their victims. The fraudsters will promise a quick fix in exchange for the employee disabling their AV program and for installing malware on their computers that assume the guise of software updates.
Social engineering is a serious and ongoing threat to many organizations and individual consumers who fall victim to these cons. Education is the first step in preventing your organization from falling victim to savvy attackers employing increasingly sophisticated social engineering methods to gain access to sensitive data.