Social Engineering: What It Is and How to Prevent Attacks

It’s a seemingly innocent term—’Social Engineering’. It could refer to the use of social networks to create new revenue streams, or it could refer to a new kind of social media software.

The reality is much more sinister. Social Engineering is the phrase that is used to describe a unique category of malicious, socially leveraged information siphoning activities targeting companies of all shapes and sizes. Make no mistake, Social Engineering is a kind of hacking technique, and if your company isn’t protected against it, you could find yourself mired in a serious cybersecurity problem without even knowing what hit you.

Mission Critical Systems is Colorado’s source for IT support and cybersecurity services, which is why we’re tackling the topic of Social Engineering in this article. Our goal is to explore this type of security threat and present you with a few key actions you can take to prevent Social Engineering attacks, keeping your company and its assets safer in the process.

How Social Engineering Tactics Work

Behind every Social Engineering attack, there is an individual or illicit organization that is actively looking for a way into the target company’s sensitive data stores.

social engineering data storeBroadly speaking, here is how Social Engineering attacks are architected and carried out:

  • A victim is identified. Hackers will use all available data to identify and investigate the personal details of an individual (or individuals) who has privileged access to the target company’s network, computer hardware, or other information systems. During this investigation period, hackers will gather as much background information as they can, and they’ll devise a plan of attack to be carried out at a later date.
  • The victim is contacted and/or deceived. In many Social Engineering attacks, the victim is groomed over time through the use of a cleverly conceived persona—often a fake social media profile or user account that seems legitimate. As the victim lets their guard down, the hackers behind the scenes slowly begin to take control of the interaction, leading to the attack itself.
  • Attack execution. When the hackers have all the information they need and the time is right, they will make their move and initiate the attack. This can involve using the information gained in step two to disrupt business, siphon data, or gain access to sensitive information that can then be sold on the black market or used to extort the target company.
  • Attack termination and exit. Just as the hackers planned their attack, chances are good that they’ve also planned their exit. After the attack has been successfully completed, they clean up their mess by removing malware, deleting their footprints (including their social media profiles and message histories), and moving on to the next victim.

Not all Social Engineering attacks will go through each of the four steps listed above, and not all attempts to deceive targets will be successful. But, with enough effort and diligence, the criminals behind Social Engineering attacks can be quite ‘successful’ indeed, resulting in data breaches, bad press, employee terminations, and potentially millions of dollars in hard and soft costs incurred in the wake of the attack.

This makes Social Engineering attack awareness and prevention a key priority for any business that wants to protect itself from cybercriminals.

How to Safeguard Your Business

Now that we’ve discussed what Social Engineering attacks are and how they’re carried out, let’s take a look at a few best practices that can go a long way in mitigating your risk of becoming a victim.

Here are a few important tips:

  • Maintain a healthy skepticism of any unsolicited email or ‘out of the blue’ request received from someone you don’t know.
  • Use 2FA or similar multi-factor authentication for credentialing access to sensitive data or software. This should include, wherever possible, biometric-based security measures.
  • Ensure your antivirus software, firewall, and other security software are all up to date.
  • Consult with a third-party cybersecurity organization to have a company-wide security audit conducted at least once a year.

In addition to these tips, it goes without saying that an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure, and that common sense can be your best defense against Social Engineering threats. If some offer or solicitation seems too good to be true, or if someone seems genuine but is asking for information that they have no business possessing, then listen to your gut.

And, be sure to share this information with your coworkers and colleagues. It only takes one chink the armor for an enterprising hacker to infiltrate your organization!

If you need more guidance or information related to cybersecurity or IT services, contact the team at Mission Critical Systems, and we’ll be happy to assist you.

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