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Social Engineering Attacks: Don’t Get Fooled!

Posted on May 13, 2022 | By Sowmya

With the sudden increase in the number of establishments completely operating via remote means, internet exposure is higher than ever before. The cyber threats of an organization expose the vulnerabilities present in its assets. Attackers typically use multiple attack vectors to gain access to sensitive information such as Social Security Number and proprietary information, eventually leading to monetary and reputational loss. One of the most successful strategies used by attackers to tear down security defenses is social engineering.

Social engineering attacks are made possible by leveraging the negligence of humans. Attackers use several different types of social engineering attacks to gain access to confidential information.

Social Engineering Attack Techniques

Phishing

Phishing is one of the most commonly used and effective social engineering attack techniques. Phishing campaigns are usually done over emails and text messages. These emails often have links to forms that are controlled and maintained by the attacker with the intent to collect usernames, passwords, and other sensitive information. It is also common for attacks to use phishing emails to manipulate a user into downloading a virus or malware. Since these emails often appear to be from a legitimate source, without active validation, a user is bound to open attachments or click on malicious links.

 

Screenshot of Email Phishing

Spear Phishing 

Spear Phishing is a more strategic approach where the attacker targets specific individuals or organizations. These campaigns are oftentimes far more successful since the attacker typically goes to a  great extent to understand the workings of an organization and to build a tailor-made message to ensure that it is difficult for the receiver to detect any anomalies. Spear phishing campaigns take a long time to execute but are highly effective and oftentimes, lead to a high-level data breach.

Screenshot of Spear Phishing

Vishing 

Voice phishing is a form of social engineering attack wherein an attacker tries to gain access to sensitive information by contacting the victim by phone. The attacker usually poses as an authorized person in an attempt to manipulate the receiver into disclosing information.

Why is it Important to Combat Social Engineering Attacks?

A lapse in human judgment can be an overlooked threat in most organizations, causing Social engineering to be one of the most common attack surfaces with the potential to lead to an initial foothold. Through phishing assessments, companies are trying to identify, eliminate, and address the weaponization of one of the most significant threats to information security. 

Phishing assessments are implemented within the context of an organization using the following methodology. 

This can be carried out with a predefined list of email addresses to target or through a complete black box methodology with the organization’s domain defining the scope of the assessment, in which case the email addresses will be enumerated through open-source intelligence technologies.

Identification of a squatted domain that bypasses existing spam filters is the most significant roadblock that would arise in a phishing assessment. 

What is Squatting of domains?

Squatting of domains is a process of procuring/purchasing a domain name that closely resembles that of an organization with an intent to perform social engineering attacks, amongst other things. This is resolved usually by assessing the available squatted domains and identifying the right one to use. Domain expertise plays a major role in identifying which squatted domain is least likely to be flagged by Google spam filters.

The content of the phishing emails is also causing concern since certain emails could be marked as spam based on it. This is overcome by performing recon on the organization and software solutions used by them to craft the content of the phishing email.

Key Challenges with Social Engineering

Most organizations perform monthly or quarterly vulnerability assessments and penetration tests to protect their internal and external facing assets. As effective as these vulnerability assessments are in detecting and remediating the technical vulnerabilities, it does little to nothing to prevent an organization from a social engineering attack.

 

Social engineering does remain a serious security threat to multiple organizations, and there it has become a priority to increase awareness among employees. Increasing awareness about the various cyber threats among employees is the first step in establishing security controls for social engineering. These assessments enable organizations and their employees to be trained on how to identify a phishing email and the course of action that needs to be taken after identifying it. 

 

It is always recommended not to click on any links or attachments that are present in emails sent from untrusted sources. Phishing emails often come from an untrusted source, and the content of the mail typically has a sense of urgency. Other factors that characterize phishing emails are grammatical errors, the presence of suspicious attachments, and hyperlinks.

 

One of the most efficient ways to protect an organization from social engineering attacks is by conducting regular phishing assessments that simulate real-world phishing scenarios. 
 

Phishing Assessments as a Service simulate a typical attack scenario by initially enumerating and performing reconnaissance on an organization and its internal operations. These assessments, when done periodically, ensure that the organization is well protected against the crucial threat posed by carefully programmed Social Engineering attacks.

 

At Cyber Security Works (CSW), our expert penetration testers are able not only to identify possible attack vectors but also to predict the moves of attackers in advance using state-of-the-art threat intelligence data to ensure your organization’s attack surfaces remain secure and robust against external or internal threats. 

 

Warding off such threats demands continuous discovery and agile patching driven by priority and trends.

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