What Is Social Engineering, and How Does It Work?

What Is Social Engineering?

Social engineering is the act of exploiting human weaknesses to gain access to personal information and protected systems. Social engineering relies on manipulating individuals rather than hacking computer systems to penetrate a target’s account.

KEY TAKEAWAYS

  • It is against the law to use social engineering.
  • Individuals can be subjected to social engineering attacks both online and in person.
  • Identity theft is a form of social engineering.
  • You can take a variety of safeguards, such as setting up a two-step authentication system for your accounts or using a different password for each one.
  • There are other types of social engineering attacks, but phishing is the most popular.

Understanding Social Engineering

The manipulation of a target to obtain vital information is referred to as social engineering. Social engineering can be used to get a company’s trade secrets or exploit national security, in addition to stealing an individual’s identity or compromising a credit card or bank account. 

A woman might, for example, call a male victim’s bank and pretend to be his wife, claiming an emergency and requesting access to his account.

If the woman is successful in socially engineering the bank’s customer service representative by appealing to the person’s empathy, she may be able to gain access to the man’s account and take his money. 

Similarly, an attacker could contact an email provider’s customer care department to request a password reset, putting them in a vulnerable position.

Preventing Social Engineering

The prevention of social engineering is difficult for potential targets. Strong passwords and two-factor authentication can be used to protect accounts, but third parties having access to accounts, such as bank personnel, can still compromise them.

Individuals, on the other hand, can reduce their risk in a variety of ways. These include not disclosing confidential information, being cautious when posting personal information on social media, and not using the same password for many accounts.

Utilizing two-factor authentication, using bogus or difficult-to-guess answers to account security questions, and keeping a tight eye on accounts, particularly financial ones, are other strategies to reduce hacking.

Set your spam filters to high to keep junk communications out, and never open an attachment without first thinking about what’s within.

And it is always a wise decision to pay close attention to any emails that seem suspicious or out of the ordinary, even if they seem to come from someone or a business you know.

Social Engineering Tactics

Attackers often use surprisingly simple tactics in social engineering schemes, such as asking people for help. Another tactic is to exploit disaster victims by asking them to provide personally identifiable information such as maiden names, addresses, dates of birth, and social security numbers for missing or deceased loved ones. Why? Because this information can later be used for identity theft,

It’s simple to acquire illegal access to an account by posing as tech support or delivery person, or by sending an apparently valid email with a harmful attachment. Such emails are frequently sent to business email addresses, where recipients are less likely to suspect a stranger.

When emails are sent by a hacker, they might be disguised to appear as if they came from a known sender. Learning about a person’s interests and then providing them with a link linked to that interest are more advanced strategies that can be used to target specific people.

The URL may include dangerous code that can access their systems and steal personal information. Phishing, catfishing, tailgating, and baiting are all common social engineering strategies.

If you aren’t expecting a link or attachment from a friend or colleague, it may even be worth a phone call or text to them to find out if they did send it to rule out a scammer.

Types of Social Engineering Attacks

There are many ways hackers create social engineering attacks, from posing as tech support professionals and offering to “fix” a bug in your computer to sending you a “friend” request on your social media account. Here are three popular social engineering attacks.

Online Baiting

Online baiting occurs when hackers send out ads with links that look like opportunities to find jobs, earn side money, or appear to provide useful information. When an unsuspecting person clicks on the bait, malware infects their computer.

Phishing

These scams are done in the form of texts or emails that impersonate a bank or other financial institution, or even a government office, claiming you have violated a policy, forgotten to pay your taxes, or asked you to change your password.

These scams are designed to elicit fear or concern from the receiver and get them to give out sensitive information.

These types of attacks lure unsuspecting individuals to provide personal information such as bank account numbers, social security numbers, and other sensitive information with the hacker’s goal of breaching your financial accounts.

Physical Interactions

Social engineering attacks don’t just happen online. Physical interactions can occur, such as an individual pretending to work in your office and asking you to let them in because they “forgot the door code or their card key” and need help.

Social Engineering FAQs

What Is the Most Common Form of Social Engineering?

Phishing used to obtain social security numbers, addresses, and other forms of personal information is the most common form of social engineering.

How Common Is Social Engineering?

Social engineering is extremely common and hackers and scammers are becoming more sophisticated in their methods.

Is Social Engineering Illegal?

Yes. Social engineering attacks are illegal, and some forms, such as identity theft or breaking into a government facility, are considered serious crimes.

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