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  • Writer's pictureSonny Phengsomphone

Basic steps to prevent social engineering attacks

Social engineering attacks are becoming increasingly common, as attackers take advantage of the fact that people are often the weakest link in an organization's security. While technical controls can help to some extent, there is no substitute for awareness and education when it comes to protecting against these types of attacks. First, we will cover the common types of social engineering attacks and then delve into some basic steps that everyone can take to protect themselves and their organizations from such attacks.

What are some of the most common types of social engineering attacks?

The most common types of social engineering attacks are phishing, pretexting, baiting, and quid pro quo.

Phishing - The practice of sending emails, texts, and other forms of communication that appear to be from a legitimate source to trick someone into revealing confidential information or downloading malicious software is known as phishing. There are other forms of phishing as well we'd like to include:

  • Spear Phishing - is a type of phishing that targets specific individuals or organizations.

  • Whaling - is a type of targeted phishing attack that targets high-profile targets such as executives, politicians, and celebrities. The attackers use highly personalized emails to entice the targets into revealing confidential information or downloading malicious software.

  • Vishing and Smishing - Vishing (Voice Phishing) and Smishing (SMS Phishing) attacks involve using voice or text messages, respectively, to target victims.

Pretexting - is the practice of using false pretenses to gain access to information or resources. This often involves creating some type of story that allows an attacker to gain the trust of their victim and persuade them to reveal sensitive information.

Baiting - is the practice of leaving malicious software, such as a USB drive or CD-ROM with malware, in a public place for unsuspecting victims to find and download. Curious victims who take the bait may unknowingly install malicious code on their devices.

Quid pro quo - is the practice of offering something in return for confidential information. This type of attack is often used by attackers to gain access to a person's accounts or passwords by offering something of value in exchange.

Pharming - A more advanced technique, is the practice of redirecting a user to a malicious website, usually through domain spoofing. The malicious website is designed to look like a legitimate website in order to trick the unsuspecting user into revealing confidential information.

Piggybacking and Tailgating - is the practice of gaining access to a secure location by following an authorized user. The unauthorized user may pretend to be a guest, client, or employee in order to gain access.

What can people and organizations do to protect themselves from these types of attacks?

There are a few basic steps that people and organizations can take to help protect against social engineering attacks.

Be aware of what social engineering is and how it works

Understanding social engineering is essential to protecting yourself in the digital age - it involves criminals using psychological manipulation tactics to gain access to sensitive information, such as passwords and financial information. It's important to remain vigilant and aware that these attempts are out there: often, social engineers will pose as trustworthy authority figures attempting to coax you into giving them information you should keep private. They may use various tactics such as impersonation and jealousy, so ensure that your guard is up when exchanging sensitive data with outside parties. Learning how to recognize common warning signs of attempted social engineering is key to protecting yourself against these malicious crime-methods - whether it be emails disguised as legitimate sources or suspicious phone calls that you can't verify. Be aware and stay alert - by doing this, you will increase your security and hopefully avoid falling victim to a potential attack.

Don't give out personal information unless you're sure who you're talking to

Giving out personal information, such as your address, phone number or bank account details, can come with risks. It is important to be certain that who you are giving the information to is legitimate — a criminal could pretend to be someone trustworthy in order to get access to sensitive information about you. Under no circumstances should you give out any personal data over the telephone or online unless you are absolutely sure of who is asking for it; if in doubt, verify the identity of the person by getting in touch with them by alternate means - such as emailing them from an address you know belongs to them. If something feels wrong or does not seem right, trust your gut and do not proceed – there are plenty of other options for protecting your security and privacy.

Be suspicious of unsolicited emails, phone calls, or text messages

In the digital age, it is extremely important to be vigilant of any unsolicited emails, phone calls, and text messages you receive. It’s important to remember that scammers are always working to find new ways to target people. If you ever get an email from someone or a company you don’t know asking for personal or financial information, or for your bank details, it is advised that you do not respond and delete the message immediately. Similarly, if you get an unsolicited call or text message which requests updates to accounts or asks for your social security number, never provide any details as this is likely an attempt at fraud. Exercise caution when responding to these types of interactions and seek advice if needed before disclosing any information.

Don't click on links or open attachments from unknown sources

It is important to exercise caution when using the internet, particularly with regard to clicking on links or opening attachments from unknown sources. Unknown sources can include emails from unfamiliar senders, links posted in message boards that have no information about the source, and pop-up ads on websites. Cybercriminals often use such links and attachments to spread malware into your system and gain access to sensitive information like passwords, banking details, and account numbers. Taking even a few extra moments to scan an email for signs of malicious intent or suspicious content is a smart precautionary measure. Doing so could save you from the headaches of identity theft, ransomware payments, losses due to fraudulent activity, and countless hours trying to restore your compromised accounts.

Keep your anti-virus up to date and run regular scans

Keeping your anti-virus up to date with the latest security features and running regular scans is one of the most important aspects of staying safe online. This includes not just the home computer, but also on any device connected to the internet. By making sure that your anti-virus software is updated, you can keep up with recent threats that have emerged, ensuring that your devices are better protected from malicious links and files. Additionally, regularly running scans will help identify any potential issues and allow you to take preventive measures quickly, saving you time and hassle in the long run. It's an essential part of staying secure online and should be incorporated into everyone's routine cybersecurity practices.

Stay aware of emerging cyber threats and take advantage of your organization's security awareness training

It is important to stay aware of emerging risks and take advantage of the available security awareness training your organization provides. If you do not work for an organization or if they do not offer one, there are various free resources available on the internet. Google "free cybersecurity awareness training" and we promise you will find multiple sources that are more than happy to provide this.

For organizations - Implementing and maintaining a security awareness training program is an effective way to prevent social engineering. The most effective method of preventing security incidents and data breaches is to provide adequate training and resources to employees. Organizations should promote ongoing security training and foster an environment of awareness and transparency. Implementing programs and training strategies that are simple to digest, enjoyable, educational, and applicable in and out of the workplace significantly increases employee engagement.

If you need help in this area, BitSpartan offers Security Awareness Training implementation. We are partners with some of the top SAT vendors and can help you build out a program tailored to your organization. Contact us to learn more about how we can help you stay secure online.

When you stay on top of your security awareness training you are equipping yourself with the right knowledge and skills necessary to stay safe online. This can include things such as recognizing phishing attempts, avoiding malicious websites and links, understanding how your device stores data, verifying requests for sensitive information, and more. Being educated on these topics is a great first step in protecting your personal data and keeping your information secure.

Validate and verify the person on the other end of the conversation

In addition to staying aware of potential cyber threats, it is also important to validate and verify the person on the other end of the conversation. Never provide personal information or account credentials over an email, instant message, or phone call unless you have verified that it is a legitimate request. Be mindful of any requests for payment or donation, as this is likely an attempt at fraud. Exercise caution when responding to these types of requests and always double-check to ensure they are legitimate. If possible, try to contact the person or organization through an alternate form of communication such as a secure website or an official phone number.

Conduct Social Engineering Penetration Testing

Social Engineering Attack Simulations like the ones BitSpartan offers are a form of penetration testing designed to test the effectiveness of an organization's security awareness training program. It is a human-run attack using automated and manual techniques to simulate an actual attacker. Some of those techniques for example may be the tester pretending to have their hands full and asking one of your employees to hold the door for them. Another would be, calling one of your employees pretending to be IT, offering help, and attempting to extract personal and confidential information.

Last but not least!

Report any suspicious activity to the authorities

Suspicious activity should always be reported to the authorities. Many cases of potential criminal activity, such as theft and fraud, can be thwarted simply by bringing suspicious activity to light. In some instances, a seemingly minor occurrence may end up being part of a larger pattern of criminal behavior - suspicious activity should be brought to the attention of local and state law enforcement personnel so they can investigate any potential threats. By reporting these activities in a timely fashion, we protect ourselves and our communities at large. If you work for an organization, report all security-related matters to your IT department. They will investigate the event, and conduct a thorough assessment that may lead to activating an incident response plan that will then include the authorities.

Social engineering is a serious threat. By understanding how it works and being aware of common tactics, you can protect yourself and your organization from becoming victims. If you receive an unsolicited email, phone call, or text message from someone you don't know, be suspicious and do not respond. Do not click on links or open attachments from unknown sources. Keep your anti-virus software up to date and run regular scans. If you believe you are the victim of social engineering or have witnessed suspicious activity, report it.

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