Information technology has changed over the years, but there’s one thing that remained constant. It’s social engineering. Social engineering has a lot of definitions. Some people call it the art of human hacking, while others call it digital attack techniques.
Well, both of the definitions are correct. Social engineering is the manipulation of a human being through different mediums. It can be both online and offline. It all depends on how the attack is executed and how convincing the lie is.
Furthermore, social engineering is the most popular attack vector. There are social engineering toolkits available on the Internet. These toolkits can easily help a beginner to begin executing social engineering attacks. Over the course of 3 years (2013-2016), social engineering scams have stolen over $5 billion worldwide.
Not to mention that social engineering attacks have the highest percentage of being successful.
Why does Social Engineering works?
There are a lot of factors that determine why it is the most successful attack vector on the Internet. It is not restricted to a single country. In the United Kingdom, 76% of businesses have been victimized by social engineering attack specifically phishing.
Social engineering is the only attack method that does not require any knowledge of writing code. Unlike other attacks where huge corporations were at risk, it’s not the same for social engineering. Everyone is a target and they should be aware of who’s getting your personal information.
As aforementioned, social engineering targets the weaknesses in the personality of a human being. There are different weaknesses for different people, however, the perpetrators behind the attack are already aware of that. Which is why these attacks are highly customizable.
In my opinion, there are two factors that make social engineering the most successful attack even in 2019.
Human Hacking: Factors At Play
There are a lot of vectors that play in the role of “human hacking”. In simple words, the methods in play that makes social engineering the most successful attack type out of all.
What makes social engineering different is that the attacks are way too clever and are designed specifically to get inside one’s head.
Social Engineering Through Social Media
Social media attacks are the easiest because there’s a lot of variety and creativity that you can add to your attacks. Most attacks have clickbaity, attention-grabbing titles and of course, appeal to a wider audience that makes it more profitable.
This is usually done through ads and emails.
Some of them include:
- Creating fake scenarios such as “Someone has a secret crush on you! Download this application to find out who it is!”
- Insecure links with different contexts such as “Do you see this video/picture of you? Check out this link.”
These are just two scenarios out of a whole lot. Why does the first one work so much? It appeals to everyone’s fantasy of having someone admire them. The second one generates curiosity which ends up being harmful.
Phishing is the most commonly used vector and is used to target a wide audience or a specific individual. It requires the hacker to send off emails with either a fake or a legitimate email address. However, the medium of sending the malicious link doesn’t always have to be “email”.
The hacker can send you a link that looks like a trusted vendor but isn’t necessarily one. Stealing your credentials from right under your nose. Credentials may include, credit card information, passwords, bank details, and whatnot.
Gaining trust is key for this to work. It’s not even that hard to gain the trust of a stranger on the Internet. This is why you should always be skeptical while clicking on random links.
This attack method is similar to phishing. In this technique, social engineers disguise their scam as a well known or trusted source. The logic behind that is fairly simple, if the brand is trusted more it’ll get more preys.
In this category, emails are the most used medium. Emails are spoofed in order to make the user leave the secure environment to download malware or reveal private credentials to the perpetrator.
IDN Homograph Attacks
IDN homograph attacks lie in the category of phishing attacks. However, the chance of making people fall for them is higher than any other phishing attack. The internationalized domain name (IDN) homograph attack is a way to deceive people into communicating with a wrong remote system by exploiting characters that look alike. Hence the name IDN homographs.
EvilURL is an open-source tool available on GitHub that replaces certain words from a domain to different characters that look similar to the character being replaced.
Can You Counter Social Engineering?
The answer to this question is, Yes. However, tools aren’t the only things that you have to rely on to beat social engineering. There are tools available that will provide you with the online security that you need, but social engineering isn’t only used on the Internet.
Hacking involves a lot of things, sometimes it requires a person to gather information in person. Which is why you need to stay vigilant at all times about the information that you’ve made public. Without further ado, let’s see what you can do to beat social engineering.
1) Stay Vigilant and Skeptical About Anything You Click Online
This isn’t stressed enough. Most of the social engineering techniques can be rendered useless if the end-user is aware of the consequences it can have. Even if you’re clicking on links and opening emails without giving it a second thought, make sure that they’re actually from the right domain.
2) Enable Two-Factor Authentication On Everything
This renders social engineering techniques that fish for login-credentials useless since they can’t bypass the second factor. You can deny the log-in attempt and change your password if you’re stuck in this situation.
3) Install A Secure Antivirus
It’s not uncommon to see a person getting infected with malware after clicking on a malicious link. Using a secure Antivirus software will help you get rid of such malware and even provide you with added browser protection.
This will keep you safe from not only malware but also provide you security from insecure websites online.
Keeping yourself secure online can be a hectic job with all the developments in technology. It is our responsibility to keep ourselves secure by keeping up with it. However, it is also important to share the information that you learn with other people.
Social engineering exploits weaknesses in the personality of a human being which is why it is the most successful method to gain sensitive information. It can be prevented if work is done with a strong presence of mind.