Social Engineering and its Different Types in CyberSecurity

Social engineering is a technique to manipulate individuals into sensitive information or perform actions that compromise security.
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In this blog, we will learn about Social Engineering in Cyber Security, which is one of the most essential disciplines in Cyber Security. We will also its different types and what are its techniques. So let’s get started with the blog.

Table of Contents

Introduction

Social engineering is a technique used by cybercriminals to manipulate individuals into divulging sensitive information or performing actions that compromise security.

It is an effective way for attackers to gain access to systems or data because it targets the human element of security, which is often the weakest link.
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It is an effective way for attackers to gain access to systems or data because it targets the human element of security, which is often the weakest link.

There may be one or more steps involved. The first choice of a hacker or malicious user is to obtain the victim’s background data, such as potential points of entry and weak security mechanisms, needed to carry out the assault.

Following this, the victim’s trust and motivations may motivate activities that violate security protocols, such as disclosing sensitive information.

Phases of Social Engineering

Social engineering is a manipulation technique used by malicious individuals to deceive and manipulate people into divulging confidential information, performing certain actions, or providing access to secure systems. The success of a social engineering attack often relies on psychological manipulation rather than technical exploits. Below are the typical phases involved in a social engineering attack:

  1. Research and Reconnaissance:
    • Target Identification: Identify potential targets within the organization or community. This could be individuals, departments, or specific roles.
    • Information Gathering: Collect publicly available information about the target(s) such as social media profiles, job positions, contact details, interests, and affiliations. This information helps tailor the attack for better success.
  2. Preparation:
    • Objective Setting: Clearly define the goal of the social engineering attack, whether it’s gaining access to a system, obtaining sensitive data, or manipulating the target in some way.
    • Crafting the Attack Plan: Develop a detailed plan outlining the attack strategy, methods to be used, the timeline, and the necessary resources.
  3. Initial Contact:
    • Establishing Trust and Rapport: Build a rapport and establish trust with the target using various communication channels such as email, phone calls, or social media. Mimic a legitimate entity or person to appear trustworthy and credible.
    • Choosing the Medium: Select an appropriate medium for the attack, whether it’s email, phone, in-person, or social media. Tailor the approach based on the target’s preferred communication method.
  4. Engagement and Manipulation:
    • Pretense and Storytelling: Develop a convincing and plausible story or pretext that aligns with the chosen attack vector. This story should prompt the target to take the desired action or provide the needed information.
    • Exploiting Human Psychology: Utilize psychological tactics such as fear, urgency, authority, or reciprocation to manipulate the target’s emotions and decision-making process.
  5. Information Gathering and Exploitation:
    • Eliciting Information: Encourage the target to share sensitive information, credentials, or access details by making them believe it is necessary for a valid reason.
    • Exploiting Vulnerabilities: If successful, exploit the obtained information to gain unauthorized access, escalate privileges, or carry out further attacks.
  6. Establishing and Maintaining Access:
    • Creating a Backdoor: If the objective is to gain access to a system or network, establish a covert means of maintaining access for future exploitation.
    • Avoiding Detection: Take steps to ensure that the compromise remains undetected, enabling ongoing unauthorized access or manipulation.
  7. Covering Tracks:
    • Removing Evidence: Erase or modify any traces of the attack, including logs, communications, or activities that could lead back to the attacker.
    • Minimizing Suspicion: Act inconspicuously and avoid behaviors that may raise suspicion from the target or the organization.
  8. Post-Attack Analysis and Adaptation:
    • Review and Learn: Evaluate the success of the attack, analyze the techniques used, and identify areas for improvement.
    • Modify Tactics: Use the gained insights to refine and enhance future social engineering attacks, adapting to the evolving security measures and human behavior.

It is important to note that not all social engineering attacks follow this exact sequence of phases, and attackers may modify their tactics based on their target’s response. Therefore, it is crucial to maintain security awareness and adopt a proactive security approach to prevent social engineering attacks.

Techniques in Social Engineering Attack

Some of the techniques commonly used in social engineering attacks include:

A) Phishing:

This involves sending emails or text messages that appear to be from a trusted source, such as a bank or a social media platform, but are designed to trick the recipient into clicking on a link or downloading a malicious attachment.

B) Spear phishing:

This is a targeted form of phishing, where the attacker researches the victim and creates a tailored message that appears to be from a trusted source, such as a colleague or a manager, to trick them into divulging sensitive information.

C) Pretexting:

This involves creating a false pretext or scenario to gain the victim’s trust and obtain sensitive information or access to restricted systems. For example, an attacker might pose as an IT support staff and request the victim’s password to fix an alleged issue.

D) Baiting:

This technique involves offering something of value, such as a free download or a prize, in exchange for the victim’s personal information or login credentials.

E) Impersonation:

This involves pretending to be someone else, such as a company executive or a law enforcement officer, to trick the victim into performing an action or divulging confidential information.

F) Watering hole attacks:

This involves infecting a website that is known to be frequented by the victim’s organization or group, with malware or other malicious content that can steal login credentials or sensitive information.

It is important to be aware of these techniques and take steps to protect yourself from social engineering attacks, such as verifying the identity of the sender or caller, avoiding clicking on suspicious links or attachments, and using strong passwords and two-factor authentication.

Types of Social Engineering in Ethical Hacking

There are three types of Social Engineering in Ethical Hacking which are as follows:

A) Physical and Social Engineering

Physical social engineering in cybersecurity refers to the practice of exploiting human behavior and psychology to gain unauthorized access to physical locations, systems, or data.

This involves using various techniques, such as deception, manipulation, and persuasion, to trick people into divulging sensitive information or performing actions that can compromise security.

Some common physical social engineering techniques include tailgating, which involves following an authorized person into a secure area without proper authorization; shoulder surfing, which involves looking over someone’s shoulder to obtain sensitive information such as passwords; and pretexting, which involves creating a false pretext or scenario to gain access to sensitive information.

Other physical social engineering tactics include impersonation, where an attacker poses as someone else to gain access to a secure area or sensitive information, and baiting, where an attacker leaves an item, such as a USB drive, in a public area to lure someone into plugging it into a computer and infecting the system with malware.

To prevent physical social engineering attacks, organizations should implement policies and training programs that educate employees on how to identify and prevent these types of attacks. This includes verifying the identity of anyone attempting to gain access to a secure area, never sharing passwords or sensitive information with anyone, and being wary of unexpected emails or messages from unknown sources.

Additionally, physical security measures such as CCTV cameras and access control systems can be implemented to deter attackers and limit access to sensitive areas.

How to Avoid Physical and Social Engineering Attacks:

Here are some steps to avoid physical and social engineering attacks in cybersecurity:

A) Implement strong security policies:

Establish and enforce clear security policies that prohibit unauthorized access to sensitive areas and data, and ensure that employees are aware of the consequences of violating these policies.

B) Conduct security awareness training:

Train employees to recognize social engineering tactics and provide them with the knowledge and skills needed to avoid falling victim to these attacks.

C) Use access control systems:

Install access control systems, such as key cards, biometric scanners, and security cameras, to limit physical access to sensitive areas and monitor for any suspicious activity.

By implementing these measures, organizations can significantly reduce the risk of physical social engineering attacks and ensure the security of their physical assets and data.

B) Remote Social Engineering

Remote Social Engineering is a type of cyberattack that targets human vulnerabilities to exploit and gain unauthorized access to computer systems, networks, or sensitive information.

This type of attack typically involves tactics like phishing, pretexting, baiting, or social engineering techniques that rely on manipulating individuals to disclose confidential information or perform actions that can compromise the security of a system.

A) Phone-based Phishing

Calls will be placed by Digital Defense to your internal employees and, upon request, to your suppliers to determine their level of security awareness.

We specifically look for information that could be exploited to gain access to your network resources or data without authorization or with fraudulent approval.

B) Web-based Phishing

In this type of digital defense, the hacker will send targeted emails asking the recipient to visit a website created specifically for collecting sensitive information (phishing).

By building a unique website that resembles your intranet or public website, you can collect user input using this technique.

C) Email-based Phishing

In this type of digital defense, the hacker will send emails to certain employees, asking them to respond to the message with information (phishing). After that, data is collected and its sensitivity is examined.

D) USB Drops (physical initiation and remote analysis)

The data is checked and loaded onto USB drives by the digital defense, and when a computer is attached, the software automatically starts and sends the username, hostname, and IP address to the digital defense in a safe manner.

How to Mitigate the Remote Social Engineering Attacks:

Here are important steps and strategies to help mitigate the risk of remote social engineering attacks:

A) Use Multi-Factor Authentication (MFA):

Enable MFA for all critical accounts and systems to add an additional layer of security beyond just passwords. This helps protect against unauthorized access, even if credentials are compromised.

B) Implement Strong Password Policies:

Enforce the use of complex and unique passwords for all accounts. Regularly update passwords and avoid using easily guessable information, such as birthdates or common phrases.

C) Secure Communication Channels:

Use encrypted communication channels (e.g., HTTPS, encrypted emails) to ensure that sensitive information remains confidential and is not intercepted by malicious actors.

D) Maintain Updated Security Software:

Keep all devices, operating systems, and applications up to date with the latest security patches and updates to mitigate known vulnerabilities that attackers may exploit.

E) Enable Email Filtering and Anti-Phishing Tools:

Implement email filtering and anti-phishing solutions to detect and block malicious emails. These tools can identify and quarantine suspicious or phishing-related emails.

F) Implement Network Security Measures:

Utilize firewalls, intrusion detection systems (IDS), intrusion prevention systems (IPS), and other security measures to protect your network against unauthorized access and suspicious activities.

C) Hybrid Social Engineering

Hybrid social engineering is a type of cyber attack that combines technical and non-technical tactics to deceive and manipulate individuals into revealing sensitive information or performing actions that compromise security. This type of attack often involves a combination of phishing emails, phone calls, or texts, along with the use of malware, social media, and other online tactics.

Hybrid social engineering attacks can be particularly effective because they exploit both human psychology and technological vulnerabilities.

For example, an attacker might send a phishing email that appears to come from a trusted source but also contains a malware-laden attachment. Once the attachment is opened, the malware can take control of the victim’s computer and steal sensitive information, while the victim remains unaware.

A) The caller establishing credibility

As part of this stage, the hacker obtains the user’s basic information. For instance, the hacker would inquire, “Are you John Smith, residing at their address, with a credit card number ending with 2345?

B) The caller collects missing data

A) The SMS OTP—for instance, “You only receive one OTP via SMS. Could you please give me that OTP so that we can verify that you are John Smith, or could you please read it for me?”.

B) Ask the user for extra verification data, such as “To verify you, could you kindly give me the last four digits of your card number?”.

C) They may also request that the user construct a transaction signing code using fictitious payee and amount information, as in the sentence “We need to calibrate your transaction signing reader. Please enter the following details online and then let us know what happens.”

Impact of Social Engineering Attack

Social engineering attacks can have severe and far-reaching consequences for individuals, organizations, and even entire communities. Here are some of the magnificent impacts:

A) Financial Loss:

  • Social engineering attacks can result in direct financial losses through fraud, unauthorized transactions, ransom payments, or fund transfers initiated by the attacker.

B) Data Breach and Privacy Violation:

  • Attackers may gain unauthorized access to sensitive data, including personal information, financial records, medical data, or intellectual property, leading to breaches of privacy and potential legal consequences.

C) Identity Theft:

  • Social engineering attacks can facilitate identity theft, where an attacker uses stolen personal information to impersonate the victim, open accounts, make purchases, or conduct fraudulent activities.

D) Reputational Damage:

  • Successful social engineering attacks can damage an individual’s or organization’s reputation, eroding trust and confidence among customers, clients, partners, and stakeholders.

E) Business Disruption:

  • Social engineering attacks can disrupt business operations, leading to downtime, loss of productivity, delays in services, and decreased customer satisfaction.

Note: This blog is mainly referenced from the Edureka Learning Platform.

FAQ

What is a Social Engineering Attack?

Social engineering is a technique used by cybercriminals to manipulate individuals into divulging sensitive information or performing actions that compromise security.
It is an effective way for attackers to gain access to systems or data because it targets the human element of security, which is often the weakest link.

What are the phases of the Social Engineering Attack?

There are eight phases in Social Engineering Attacks
1) Research and Reconnaissance
2) Preparation
3) Initial Contact
4) Engagement and Manipulation
5) Information Gathering and Exploitation
6) Establishing and Maintaining Access
7) Covering Tracks
8) Post-Attack Analysis and Adaptation

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